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Dumping of soil raises fears among opponents of Daman Farm development

A group of residents in South St. Vital worry a proposed development on an area of renaturalized former agricultural land could pose a risk to their drinking water and the surrounding wildlife. 

While residents have called for work on the property known as Daman Farm to halt, the area councillor says the developer has the necessary permits and has changed its project to protect the groundwater.

The fight between residents and the owner of the property, A&S Homes, goes back years, but reignited earlier this year when trucks began dumping soil from the nearby University of Manitoba’s Southwood Circle project onto the land, south of the Perimeter Highway, between the Red River and St. Mary’s Road.

Mounds of soil now cover the overgrown farm fields on the property, raising fears among residents over how it could impact the surrounding ecosystem, and possible drainage issues onto neighbouring properties.

“This will never be recovered if that soil is put on this property,” said Bill Lopuck, one of the residents.

“We want the dumping stopped. We want the soil removed.”

The dumping continued for weeks, until city officials issued a stop work order on Feb. 14 because the property owner did not have the proper permit.

The city later approved a permit for “temporary stockpiling of fill” on Feb. 23, city spokesperson Kalen Qually wrote in an email to CBC News.

“Any work beyond the scope of ‘stockpiling,’ including lot grading, would require additional development permits,” Qually wrote.

Although the city’s permit only applies to stockpiling soil, St. Norbert-Seine River Coun. Markus Chambers told CBC News the soil was being brought in by the developer as fill to prepare the land for future development.

“It’s my understanding that there was an agreement between the University of Manitoba … and the developer to bring in that clean fill,” he said.

“It’s a business opportunity that the developer couldn’t pass on free fill. It is a matter of flood protecting the area.”

CBC News requested comment from A&S Homes, but did not receive a response.

A spokesperson for UM Properties, the lead developer on the Southwood project, wrote in an email that it hired a contractor to remove clean soil as part of riverbank stabilization work.

The contractor had permission from the owner of Daman Farm to stockpile the soil there.

“We have no other connection to the Daman Farm development so are unable to comment further,” Nancy Orris-Snidal wrote.

Impacts on water, wildlife

Residents in the area also worry that any development could impact the quality of their drinking water.

Houses in the area are not connected to the City of Winnipeg’s water system, instead drawing water from an underground aquifer.

A 2004 report advised that building too many houses in the area could lead to higher levels of salt in the groundwater, and lot sizes in the area of Daman Farm should be no smaller than five acres.

Earlier proposals from the developer had called for smaller lots, but city council rejected those plans, Chambers said.

A eagle is sitting in a nest in a tree.
An eagle nests in a tree on the Daman Farm property. (Submitted by Werner Ens)

Residents have also called the area a significant natural habitat, comparable to the Lemay Forest across the river, which has also been the subject of disputes between a developer and neighbours. 

“You’ll see the ducks as they’re coming when they’re migrating there,” said Shelly Killeen. “There’s the frogs. There’s all sorts of other habitat.”

Chambers, who has supported efforts to preserve the Lemay Forest, disagrees with the comparison. He asked the city naturalist to report on the quality of the land. 

“He compared it to, or assessed as B, C or D-type of land. So by comparison, Lemay Forest is A-B riparian river-bottom forest,” Chambers said.

If the residents want to preserve the Daman Farm property, they should come to an agreement with the owner to purchase it, Chambers said.

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