Wetland project a matter of ‘wait and see’

Dave Barnes is feeling optimistic.

On Monday, members of the Assiniboine Food Forest shared with city councillors their hopes of turning a weedy field in Brandon’s east end into a wetland, to garner support for the conservation project from the city.

The Assiniboine Food Forest, a non-profit conservation organization for which Barnes is the chair, leases a plot of land from the City of Brandon as well as manages and funds it independently. The city, however, has a conservation agreement over the land with Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation.

The MHHC has previously denied the AFF’s request to convert the property into a wetland, citing restrictions within the conservation agreement. However, the Assiniboine Food Forest is once again seeking permission from the corporation to raise money and eventually transform the land.

The Assiniboine Food Forest requires a land-use permit or a memorandum of understanding from the MHHC, as outlined in the conservation agreement, to move forward with its plan. But the AFF has once again hit a roadblock, Barnes said.

Attending the city council meeting on Monday was an opportunity to educate councillors and the public about the proposed wetland, while also putting pressure on the MHHC to come to the table and talk about the project, Barnes said.

“It’s been eight years and we’ve had one meeting, and at that meeting, [MHHC] said, ‘Don’t ask us for a wetland,’” Barnes told the Sun last month.

Part of the project would entail building an earthen dam to collect snow melt to support the wetland. However, the MHHC told the AFF a dam would “fail,” and it has concerns about flood risks in the area, Barnes said. But that opinion is not shared by the Assiniboine Food Forest’s own consultant, he added.

Curtis Hullick, a habitat field manager with the MHHC, previously told the Sun a better understanding of the wetland project was needed before his organization could move forward. He didn’t attend Monday’s council meeting and declined to tell the Sun any further information about the possibility of collaborating with the food forest.

However, Hullick did say the MHHC was working with the city on the proposed wetland but wouldn’t elaborate.

“There are no details to provide at this time,” Hullick wrote in an email.

In the meantime, it seems the city is taking a more hands-off approach. Mayor Jeff Fawcett said Brandon doesn’t have much to do with any future land development done by either organization.

“We’ll probably just wait to hear back on how their [the Assiniboine Food Forest] discussions go with MHHC,” he said.

While Barnes said the $500,000 needed to convert the property into a wetland would be raised exclusively by the food forest, Fawcett said the city must be forward-thinking when it comes to any large endeavours it may end up paying for in the long run.

“If they do … approve [the wetland] and go ahead with it, AFF can do all the fundraising on their own. That’s all well and good, but ultimately … if AFF doesn’t exist anymore over time, then the city would be taking that on.”

The Assiniboine Food Forest is scheduled to host its next board meeting Tuesday. Barnes said he hopes there will be more discussion about the organization’s next steps in terms of the project and obtaining a land-use permit from the MHHC.

“My argument will be to wait and see [or] otherwise to write the authorities — the city and MHHC — and ask for a land-use permit.”

Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun