Cities diverge on mid-peninsula road

Apr. 21, The Hamilton Spectator

Hamilton endorses it, while Burlington is planning court action against the province

Dan Nolan

 

Hamilton and Burlington are taking different forks in the road over support for a proposed $1.5 billion super highway between Fort Erie and Burlington.

Hamilton council has officially endorsed the need for the mid-peninsula corridor, while Burlington council is threatening legal action to halt the entire project.

And, in an interesting twist, Burlington has hired environmental lawyer David Estrin to advise it on the legal manoeuvres surrounding the highway's approval process. Estrin worked for Hamilton and won the 2001 court case exempting the Red Hill Creek Expressway from federal review.

Burlington has been concerned about the mid-peninsula corridor for over a year, ever since it was first suggested it might run over the environmentally sensitive Niagara Escarpment into Burlington and connect with Highway 407 at Walker's Line.

The transportation ministry has since said it will look at ending the highway at Highway 403, Highway 6 in Flamborough and running it up past Freelton to Highway 401.

The two cities are staking out positions to meet an April 30 deadline for comment to the ministry on draft terms of reference for an environmental assessment (EA) of the project.

The ministry plans to draft final terms by mid-May. A route may be determined in 2006 and traffic could be on the highway by 2011. In a 10-3 vote, Hamilton council recently endorsed the findings of the Niagara Peninsula Transportation Needs Assessment Study, which concluded there is a legitimate need for the highway.

Council voted to tell the Ontario government that the city "strongly supports the need for the proposed mid-peninsula highway" to spur economic growth and reduce traffic congestion. Hamilton and Niagara helped fund the needs study.

Ward 15 Councillor Margaret McCarthy, worried about the highway's impact on Flamborough, asked councillors to defer approval of the study until it heard from her residents, but her request was rejected. The majority of councillors believe the highway will help the city create valuable industrial land.

"To do nothing could be catastrophic," said Ward 7 Councillor Bill Kelly.

City staff noted it has concerns about the terms for the EA. This included concerns about gathering public input, ignoring First Nations' issues, not taking into account federal environmental legislation and the impact on streams and all wetlands.

Staff asked to be allowed to try to resolve concerns with the ministry and, if that fails, seek a third-party mediator.

Burlington has decided to appeal to Transportation Minister Frank Klees and Environment Minister Chris Stockwell. That decision was made at community development committee last Monday night. It will be further debated April 28 at council.

Burlington has concerns that the highway is not needed, the transportation ministry didn't look at alternatives and the EA terms of reference are "deficient" and allow development of the highway to bypass provincial and federal laws. If its concerns are not met, the city promises to bring legal action against the province.

"I think the province needs to understand we are serious about this," Mayor Rob MacIsaac said.

"It's repugnant to me that two levels of government are fighting each other in court, but we're not going to be bullied on an issue of this magnitude."

905-526-3351 or dnolan@thespec.com