Opponents of MPH challenge new options at Rockton meeting

Flamborough Review - Fri 06 Dec 2002 - Byline: Dianne Cornish

Those intent on stopping the Mid Peninsula Highway (MPH) - the Ontario
Ministry of Transportation's (MTO's) proposed superhighway between Fort
Erie and north Burlington - have at least one option left. They can put
their concerns on paper and try to snuff the $1.2-billion project at the
Environmental Assessment (EA) stage, scheduled to begin in March.

That information was relayed twice during last Tuesday's first Public
Information Centre (PIC) in Flamborough hosted by the MTO. Two of the three
different corridor alternatives under consideration will significantly
impact prime farmland and environmentally sensitive areas (ESAs) in rural
Flamborough.

About 200 residents gathered at the Rockton Fairgrounds agricultural hall
to relate individual and collective concerns about the controversial
highway proposal. Among them was Jason Thorne, executive director of the
Coalition on the Niagara Escarpment (CONE), an environmental group calling
for an examination of all alternatives, including expansion of public
transit and rail transportation, as a means of relieving traffic congestion
along the QEW (Queen Elizabeth Way) and Highway #403.

Mr. Thorne challenged MTO officials to consider "non-highway alternatives"
in the upcoming EA process for the MPH. But MTO senior project engineer
Fred Leech told the CONE official the ministry is recommending through its
EA Terms of Reference that the route location EA include transportation
corridors only (i.e. freeway, transitway or both). Other transportation
initiatives will be addressed through separate EA processes.

The Ministry of the Environment (MOE) will decide whether MTO can proceed
with the route planning EA by approving, conditionally approving, or
rejecting the EA Terms of Reference.

"We aren't going to carry the whole Needs Assessment (Study) into the EA
process," Mr. Leech said when urged by Mr. Thorne to ensure that all
alternatives, "not just highway routes," be brought forward to the EA stage.

Clearly disappointed with the project engineer's response, Mr. Thorne
remarked, "If that is MTO's official position, then the ball is now in
MOE's court to reject that and throw out the EA," effectively halting the
project.

A Mount Hope woman who asked what can be done to stop the MPH got a similar
response from Mr. Leech near the conclusion of the three-hour public
presentation in Rockton. He advised her that the EA process will allow
sufficient opportunity for the public to "make their objections known" next
spring.

Two weeks ago, the Ontario government announced that, in response to public
input, it has broadened its study area for the MPH to include two different
corridor alternatives along with the preferred route unveiled in the spring
in its Needs Assessment Study.

The latter calls for a corridor connecting Fort Erie to Highway #407 in
north Burlington. The two other alternatives call for a corridor connecting
to Highway #401 west of the Niagara Escarpment near Milton, or widening
Highway #403 between Hamilton and Burlington from six to 12 lanes,
connecting to the QEW and Highway #407.

All options will be fully evaluated for environmental, economic and social
impacts during the upcoming EA process.

The addition of alternate routes didn't, however, appease local
environmentalists like Sue McMaster and Dave Eckersley, Troy area residents
who belong to Citizens Opposed to Paving the Escarpment (COPE).

Ms. McMaster accused the MTO of "selective listening." Flamborough and
Burlington area residents have continually asked for non-highway
alternatives to be studied, but to no avail, she charged. The ministry has
responded by proposing two highway alternatives, she said. Ms. McMaster
also warned that Class 1 and 2 farmland in Flamborough will be negatively
impacted by the preferred route and the Highway #401 connection proposal.

Mr. Eckersley was equally critical of the proposed corridor alternatives.
"All routes are of concern to us (COPE members), not just the Burlington
one," he stressed, alluding to the environmental impacts of the
superhighway regardless of where it is built.

Noting that MTO officials had previously discarded the two new options now
included in the study area, he asked, "How serious are you about these two
new alternatives?" The "public perception" is that the MTO added the
options "to quiet the outcry from Burlington" over the preferred route
which cuts across the escarpment in north Burlington, he said.

Traffic consultant Paul Hudspith insisted at the outset of the Rockton
meeting that the project team has listened and responded to public input
throughout the review process. "Our team has heard what has been said. We
did a lot of soul-searching," he said.

Reacting directly to Mr. Eckersley's suspicions, Mr. Leech asked
rhetorically in reference to the two recently-introduced corridor
alternatives: "Are they just there to stop the clamour?" Answering his own
question, he said, "They're quite serious."

Millgrove area resident Tony Onufer said he favours construction of an
alternate route over expansion of an existing roadway. Widening Highway
#403 is "a non-starter," he argued, alluding to the significant financial
and environmental impacts of the proposal. This option would mean filling
in part of Cootes Paradise, cutting about 30 metres into the face of the
Niagara Escarpment near Ancaster and widening all the bridges along Highway
#403 through Hamilton.

Mr. Onufer asked MTO officials to consider "tunneling below the escarpment"
rather than cutting into it after a route has been chosen.

OTHER CONCERNS AND COMMENTS CAME FROM:

-A Rockton area farmer who wants assurances of government compensation for
crops lost because of their proximity to a new highway.

-A Flamborough man who argued that emissions from car exhausts are
destroying the air we breath and changing our climate forever.

-A Dundas woman who said she doesn't want more asphalt in place of open
space, farmland and escarpment.

-A Greensville area man who told the crowd it takes four times the amount
of energy (fuel) to move goods on a road as it does by rail.

Perhaps the most consistent message--one which MTO officials have heard
more than once during the public review process--was vocalized Tuesday by
Burlington resident Monte Dennis whose distrust of the proposal was evident
when he took his turn at the microphone in the Rockton fair building. "This
highway is clearly not needed," he said, after admonishing local
councillors (members of Burlington and Hamilton city councils) for not
asking more questions about the need for the MPH.

He equated the government's recent Needs Assessment Study to a childhood
game of "I Spy" where participants are sometimes fooled into "looking for
something that's not there." He suggested the need for the new highway
isn't there. Moreover, rail alternatives to the MPH aren't there either, he
said.

The draft Terms of Reference for the EA of the new highway are expected to
be ready for public review and input by January, 2003, when more public
information meetings will be staged. They'll be submitted for the MOE's
consideration in March.



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