Minister Frank Klees has halted route planning for the controversial
mid-peninsula highway under threat of a court challenge by Burlington
yesterday abandoned his attempt to limit environmental studies of
the 130-kilometre corridor through Niagara, Hamilton and Halton.
the same time he said he would restart the approval process after
consulting further with the municipalities and other stakeholders.
a stunning -- if temporary -- victory for those who don't want a
new road to slice through the Niagara Escarpment in Burlington.
a setback for Niagara and Hamilton politicians who say the mid-pen
would speed cross-border traffic, spur economic growth and ease
congestion on the Queen Elizabeth Way.
issue are proposed terms of reference for an environmental assessment
of the megaproject.
say the terms are illegally narrow. As the public comment period
on those terms came to an end a week ago, Burlington and Halton
applied to have them reviewed by Ontario's Divisional Court.
on the application was headed off yesterday when Klees sent a letter
to Environment Minister Jim Wilson withdrawing the terms.
Mayor Rob MacIsaac said he hoped the withdrawal "signals an opportunity
for the ministry to meaningfully address the concerns we have been
raising for some time. MacIsaac said his city is willing to work
with the ministry, Hamilton and Niagara "to find an expeditious
way of moving forward."
spokesman Brian Kelcey said: "The government remains committed to
moving ahead with the highway. This is not a withdrawal of the project."
He said the terms would be rewritten and resubmitted within "weeks,
said the new terms would include changes negotiated with Burlington
before the court challenge and would "more accurately clarify the
sensitivity of our environmental assessment process."
minister's adviser said the province is willing to go to court if
necessary, but doesn't want to do so "without being absolutely certain
the residents of Burlington and everyone else who, in our view,
would be beneficiaries of the highway, are certain of how flexible
the terms can be."
MPP Cam Jackson, who clashed with Klees over the mid-pen in the
legislature last week, said he was encouraged "the minister listened
to my advice and listened to the concerns of our city and region."
said he wants the assessment split so the route from Fort Erie to
Hamilton is evaluated separately from the section through Halton,
adding that "in no way should it cut through the escarpment."
MPP also noted the Divisional Court last week struck down sections
of provincial law allowing the environment ministry to limit the
scope of an assessment as the transportation ministry was asking
it to do on the mid-peninsula highway.
Thorne of Coalition on the Niagara Escarpment said he thinks the
court ruling may have been a key factor in the decision to withdraw.
any event, he said, the withdrawal shows Burlington and Halton were
on the right track.
said he hoped Klees would now broaden terms of the assessment, as
mid-pen critics have been asking for a year.
McMaster of Citizens Opposed to Paving the Escarpment also wants
the terms widened.
said the ministry was wrong to seek an assessment that excludes
the issue of need for a new highway and possible alternatives.
also said: "We are looking for the minister now to come clean on
the toll issue and to listen, actually listen, to our concerns."
Creek MP and Labour Minister Brad Clark said he'd "rather see a
six- to 10-week delay now than have a protracted fight with Burlington
on an environmental assessment.
believe we can come to a resolution with Burlington in that regard."