Mid-pen war of words

Carmela Fragomeni The Hamilton Spectator June 17, 2003

Burlington and Halton are turning up the heat on the Ernie Eves government to stop its controversial 130-kilometre mid-peninsula highway proposal from Fort Erie to Burlington.

Burlington Mayor Rob MacIsaac and Halton Chairman Joyce Savoline held a press conference at Queen's Park yesterday, an hour after filing documents with the Superior Court of Justice, the first step in a legal action to force the province to conduct a full environmental assessment and give assurances the highway will not cut through the Niagara Escarpment in Burlington.

The Queen's Park press conference is an unprecedented move for the mayor and chairman, who had harsh words for the Eves government. The press conference aimed for more media attention before a possible fall election.

"We're just trying to get our message out to the broadest audience possible," MacIsaac said. "We think that as more and more people become aware of how the issue has been handled, there will be more pressure on the province to respond."

He took a shot at the Tory election platform for promising to build the mid-pen and also protect the Niagara Escarpment.

MacIsaac and Savoline said environmental laws are being ignored in the push to get highway approvals through.

"It's almost as if the Ministry of Transportation ripped up our 30-year-old Environmental Assessment Act and wrote a new set of rules and kept the single copy of those new rules all to themselves," Savoline said.

Transportation Minister Frank Klees responded briefly on behalf of the government, saying it is "in no way compromising" environmental standards. "The mayor is entitled . . . to take whatever action, but I think it's an unnecessary waste of taxpayers' dollars," Klees said.

MacIsaac, a member of the provincially-appointed Smart Growth panel, also blasted

the Eves government for going against smart growth principles. The highway encourages urban sprawl, congested highways and dangerous levels of air pollution, he said.

Smart Growth says, "all new planning should protect the environment, protect rural lands, and consider cleaner methods of moving goods and people, including rail and transit."

He said it's absurd to protect absolutely the Niagara Peninsula's tender fruitlands while being open to destroying part of the Escarpment, a United Nations world biosphere reserve.

They say the government is blatantly disregarding hundreds of Burlington residents who packed MoT public meetings to speak out. Residents fear the highway will create more urban sprawl, air pollution and congestion, and reduce their quality of life.

Court documents contend the mid-pen process: fails to protect the Escarpment as required, disregards Planning Act protections for natural heritage, disregards the Environmental Assessment Act, and excludes Burlington and Halton from the study.

Politicians in Niagara Region and Hamilton and big business want the highway, calling it a major trade corridor with the United States and an impetus to economic prosperity.

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