Let's fight to save Escarpment
|Sep. 10, 12:51 EDT
|Let's fight to save Escarpment
The Hamilton Spectator
In recent times, Canadians have had more and more occasions
to observe governments that have become arrogant and have compromised,
ignored, or even imposed their agenda against the public will.
A particularly odious example of this is the current Ontario
government's violation of the spirit of due process in its decision
to blast a highway through an ecologically sensitive portion
of the Niagara Escarpment.
In spite of strong objections from the city of Burlington and
Halton region, the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario (MTO)
has identified a corridor approximately one kilometre wide where
the proposed mid-peninsula highway will cut through the Escarpment.
Then the mid-peninsula highway will undergo an environmental
assessment (EA), at which point the city of Burlington and the
region of Halton will be involved in the process.
However, without prior meaningful input by local stakeholders,
the EA will have very little room to manoeuvre, except to determine
whether the route should be adjusted a few metres north or south
to minimize environmental damage.
The Niagara Escarpment is one of 12 natural environments in
Canada that UNESCO, an agency of the United Nations, has declared
as a special biosphere reserve. The Seville Strategy for Biosphere
Reserves contains several recommendations for the management
of such special ecological treasures. In particular, condition
14 under Objective IV.1 states:
"(To integrate the function of environmentally sensitive areas)
ensure that the local community participate in planning and
management of these biosphere reserves."
Indeed, Ontario Premier Ernie Eves has acknowledged his awareness
of the need to protect the Niagara Escarpment biosphere with
"I fully believe in protecting the Niagara Escarpment. I believe
that the NEC (Niagara Escarpment Commission) plays a valuable
role in protecting what I think is a great natural resource
in the province for many years to come."
These comments would suggest that the Ontario government is
aware of the importance of preserving the Niagara Escarpment
and involving the local jurisdictions in anything that might
be potentially injurious to this biosphere reserve. However,
the MTO plan to bulldoze a highway through the Escarpment stands
in stark contrast to the position expressed by Eves. The MTO
initiative began with a "Needs Assessment" in which the implications
for the environment and the Niagara Escarpment were not even
No doubt, with anticipated population and economic growth in
these regions, over the next two or three decades, transportation
needs will have to be addressed. However, the full range of
alternatives such as expanded GO transit from Niagara, possible
expansion of railway systems and alternative highway corridors
were not analyzed with a view to minimizing environmental damage
and urban sprawl.
The timeline on the process has been so contracted that it appears
there has not been sufficient time to investigate such alternatives
in what is called "alternatives to" phase of the process. It
would seem that a legitimate environmental assessment should
begin with a study of the impact of a highway on Niagara Escarpment
wetlands, wildlife, and aquifers before a corridor can be selected.
However, the structuring of the process by the MTO is clearly
designed to block all alternatives to the proposed corridor.
These concerns were expressed in letters to Eves and Transportation
Minister Norm Sterling, dated July 4. Sterling's response was
received on Sept. 3. It states: "Although the recently completed
Niagara Peninsula Transportation Needs Assessment Study has
recommended a new mid-peninsula highway and a study area has
been identified, no route has been selected."
The point is that the study-area corridor through Burlington
and Flamborough is so narrow (one kilometre) that it is, in
effect, a route.
The Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing is in
the process of developing guidelines for smart growth. The intent
of these guidelines is to help the Ontario government plan its
transportation networks, and examine its land use policies to
prevent or minimize urban sprawl, gridlock and pollution. These
guidelines are planned for publication in February. However,
the MTO is surging ahead to put the plan for the mid-peninsula
highway in place without any consideration of what is contained
in these Smart Growth Guidelines.
Fortunately, the citizens of Halton and the surrounding area
are sophisticated enough to understand the MTO's flagrant abuse
of the spirit, if not the letter, of the law pertaining to due
process. They also realize that there is recourse through the
courts and they have the will and resources to encourage the
Ontario government to follow the laws by which it is constrained.
Those living in Burlington know that a major highway so close
to its core will have implications that have been succinctly
described as "more smog, more noise, more people, more congestion."
Worse than that is the fact that this plan would actually exacerbate
the traffic gridlock on the Queen Elizabeth Highway -- but that's
an analysis to be presented later.
To encourage the MTO to follow the spirit of due process, the
COPE committee (Citizens Opposed to Paving the Escarpment )
was formed in the Burlington-Flamborough area in late May and
is quickly forming associations with other groups such as the
Sierra Club and the Coalition on the Niagara Escarpment (CONE).
COPE is dedicated to preserving the Niagara Escarpment and opposes
the arbitrary selection of the current corridors. We demand
a legitimate process that is responsive to the concerns of those
who value the escarpment and treasure Burlington's natural heritage.
To assist us in our fight to preserve the Escarpment in the
face of arrogant governmental flaunting of due process, we need
people to send e-mail messages to the MTO. E-mail address is:
and the Web site is www.midpeninsulahighway.on.ca/
Also, we need people to show up in force at Councillor John
Taylor's meeting at the Burlington Holiday Inn, 3063 South Service
Road, tonight at 7 p.m. Taylor will provide an update on the
progress in the Peer Assessment in which Burlington, Halton
region and the city of Hamilton have engaged their own consultants
to examine the MTO's Needs Assessment.
Brendan Kelly of Burlington is chair of COPE (Citizens Opposed
to Paving the Escarpment).
2002 - 2012 COPE