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Could this turtle derail North Bay's casino plans?

'Council should have been aware that this is a habitat for a protected species when they rezoned it'

A group of local citizens is pinning hopes of stopping a casino on Pinewood Park Drive in North Bay on the lowly Blanding’s Turtle.

The turtle is considered a threatened species, which means it is not endangered but is likely to become endangered if steps are not taken to address factors threatening it.

The group, called “Save the Turtle, Stop The Casino” plans to make a presentation to City council tomorrow saying a proposed casino on Pinewood Park Drive could critically threaten some key habitat.

Cook Creek runs along the border of the anticipated site, then drains into the LaVase River and into Lake Nipissing. The group claims the wetland complex — and the marshy shallow ponds and creek on the property in question provide especially important microclimate conditions for the turtle's overwintering habitat.

See: Local students helping threatened turtles

And: It may be slow to catch on, but high school students have built new nesting mounds as protection for endangered Turtles

It has the nickname “Smiling Turtle,” because it has a gentle disposition and an expression that resembles a perpetual grin, but sits on Ontario’s Species "At Risk" list.

"The turtles have been found on this site and they are nesting," spokesman Grey Gray told BayToday. "They are all over the area. There is a massive turtle population in the Callander lagoon. We feel all the restrictions and protections need to be enforced and put in place."

Gray wants the council to block the construction of the casino due to the turtles in the area,

"I'll be asking them not to proceed on this site and what process led to the selection of this site. What made you decide to go into a watershed and destroy the natural habitat of turtles and reptiles in the area?"

See: North Bay's 'Cascades Casino' to open in spring of 2020

Gray says the protection applies automatically in any area where they live, nest or overwinter. 

"Increased local traffic in the immediate area presents a secondary concern about the proposed casino location. Nesting females are especially susceptible to roadkill because they often attempt to nest on shoulders of the roads." says a news release from the group. "In a recent court case, an expert witness testified that 'losing a couple of females can, in the long run, do a population in.'

"The kind of wetlands on the proposed casino land is considered to have the lowest tolerance to any alteration. If the casino proponent, Gateway Casinos & Entertainment Limited, follows the provincial laws, the mandatory natural buffer around nesting and overwintering sites may make that parcel of land unsuitable for a 37,000 sq/ft casino, plus a parking lot."

Gray says Council should have been aware that this is a habitat for a protected species when they rezoned it.

"Having lived in North Bay for over 25 years, I was shocked to think our Council would consider building a casino on Pinewood Park Drive in North Bay. It is a watershed area for Lake Nipissing and such a major development would be very harmful to threatened species like the Smiling Turtle. The Smiling Turtle is the most unique turtle on the planet, it actually has its own Genus — and it is our turtle, it is only found in the Great Lakes Watershed.”

Individual turtles have a range of 8 to 9 kilometres according to the North Bay Mattawa Conservation Authority, which is conducting a Blanding's study on the LaVase. 

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Jeff Turl

About the Author: Jeff Turl

Jeff is a veteran of the news biz. He's spent a lengthy career in TV, radio, print and online, covering both news and sports. He enjoys free time riding motorcycles and spoiling grandchildren.
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