Little -- The Hamilton Spectator – Mar. 17, 03
mid-peninsula highway -- also known as the mid-pen, stretching from
the U.S. border at Fort Erie and bisecting the GTA -- is the latest
local symbol of provincial bumbling.
set an unrealistic March 17 deadline for citizens and municipalities
to respond to the 179-page draft terms of reference (TOR) for an environmental
assessment, posted on its Web site Feb 1. Burlington requested an extension
to April 30 to enable its consultants to analyse this complex document.
When no extension was granted, it rushed to schedule a special committee
meeting for tonight, since cancelled.
MacIsaac offered to interrupt his holiday to meet with Transportation
Minister Frank Klees. No meeting was granted, but on Thursday the minister
faxed approval of the extension. His fax touted the many opportunities
for public consultation, and stressed there would be no further extensions.
and municipalities deserve enough time to respond to such a complex
undertaking. Burlington hosted a public meeting in February, and worked
with citizen advisory committee input and the consultant to prepare
a rushed response. Last week entailed endless staff sessions, even delayed
holidays, to meet the early deadline. Now the city can prepare the careful
analysis it had hoped.
it bow in gratitude for this last-minute provincial largesse? No way.
MPP Cam Jackson deserves thanks for working on the extension, but Ontario's
disregard for citizens and municipalities created the furor in the first
place. Issuing the extension two working days before the deadline ignores
the mid-pen saga has evoked exasperation. Burlington prides itself on
meaningful public participation. But the province appears to decide
where it is going, then bulldoze ahead to justify its position, even
hosting "public information centres" for window dressing. At its Feb.
4 window dressing, Burlington Councillor John Taylor asked publicly
for an April 30 deadline. The mayor followed up in writing.
citizens are pessimistic about effecting change in the TOR anyway, even
if they respond, saying their input has been virtually disregarded so
has assumed a unique status. Niagara politicians and bureaucrats see
it as the answer to gridlock, economic stimulation and a route avoiding
tender fruit lands. Its residents are less enthused. Hamilton foresees
economic benefits from the tie-in to the airport. Citizens along proposed
corridors see it bisecting their communities and harming air quality,
a view shared by air experts.
claims the terms of reference fail to meet the province's own EA requirements
and ignore Ontario's own "smart growth" principles, inviting the inevitable
sprawl that accompanies highways. Many believe approval of the transportation
ministry's "option C" -- crossing the Burlington escarpment -- is a
foregone conclusion. It not only crosses the Niagara Escarpment, but
fragments North Burlington's fragile rural area.
asks, are Niagara's tender fruit lands of apparent provincial concern,
yet crossing the escarpment (so significant it warranted special provincial
legislation and international recognition) is not? Burlington also questions
inadequate evaluation of rail and transit options.
mid-pen is becoming a political football elsewhere, too.
Link of the Parkway Belt West straddles the brow from Dundas through
Burlington to about No. 1 Side Road and Walker's Line. In the early
'70s, Parkway Belt planning was ready before Niagara Escarpment legislation,
so some sensitive escarpment lands were included in it, to be transferred
later to the Niagara Escarpment Plan. In 1989, the province and the
Niagara Escarpment Commission agreed on lands eligible for the transfer
and in 1998 Ontario authorized it.
lawyers can stymie any process, and that happened to the proposed transfer.
From the beginning, rural landowners, with little development potential
under Parkway Belt legislation, used the process to try to get development
costing us. The first "preliminary" hearing under a Niagara Escarpment
Commission hearing officer was June 13, 2001. Since then there have
been four more, a dismissed judicial review, and now a "leave to appeal"
by landowners, all requiring legal defence.
"preliminary" Niagara Escarpment hearing, on Feb. 27, was a spectacle,
I counted 14 lawyers -- eight funded by taxpayers -- from Hamilton,
Burlington, Halton, and provincial ministries. Also there were five
planners, three from public agencies.
was a new spin. Lawyer Michael McQuaid, acting for five landowners,
had filed a "notice of motion" Feb. 19 to postpone the public hearing.
Among the reasons cited, he wanted delay until the EA study for the
mid-pen is completed and a preferred alignment selected. The next "preliminary"
hearing is scheduled for April 29 and 30.
mid-pen project provided an excuse to seek derailment of the escarpment
land transfer. What other surprises will it spawn?
Burlington alderman and Halton councillor Joan Little is former chair
of the Niagara Escarpment Commission. She does not identify with any
political party. She is a freelance columnist and her views are her