Road opposition shelved

Halton, Burlington withdraw court challenge to Mid-Peninsula Highway
- John Burman - The Hamilton Spectator July 29, 2004

Ontario's changing political and legal landscape has prompted Halton region and Burlington city council to withdraw a joint court challenge to the provinces' plans for the $1.2-billion Mid-Peninsula Highway.

The city and region challenged the intention of the former Conservative government to hold a limited environmental assessment on the controversial project, asking for a court-ordered judicial review last spring.

Within weeks of the provincial election last fall, the new Liberal government's Transportation Minister Harinder Takhar promised a full environmental assessment on the proposed road.

But Burlington and Halton took a cautious approach and waited until the 11th hour to withdraw the legal action set in place last June.

Officials made it clear yesterday the city and region will be "vigilant" making sure Takhar keeps his word.

Although obviously pleased, Mayor Rob MacIsaac said Burlington will monitor the hearing process and the city stands ready to defend the escarpment, a strong part of the city's identity and a designated World Biosphere Reserve.

The city and region's case has been bolstered by another recent court decision in Napanee, Ont., against "focused" or limited environment assessment hearings.

The courts ruled that focussing a hearing on just several issues trampled the rights of opponents of a landfill because alternatives were not studied.

That decision sent a number of projects -- including the Mid-Peninsula Highway running from the Niagara River to Burlington -- back to the drawing board.

MacIsaac could not say how much impact the Napanee decision had on the new provincial government's thinking on limited assessment hearings but he conceded it was "a strong arrow in (Burlington and Halton's legal) quiver."

Takhar's pledge for a full environmental assessment on the mid-pen project does not kill the highway.

It means, says MacIsaac, that any decisions made about the project will follow a proper environmental hearing.

The 130-kilometre road is to link the Greater Toronto Area to Niagara. One of the scenarios last proposed would cut through Flamborough, the Niagara Escarpment and rural North Burlington to link up with Highway 407. Burlington and Halton said in a statement the city and region believe little would be gained by continued legal action on the hearing question in light of the "vastly changed policy environment that now exists."

"The judicial review was an important means of protecting our communities," Halton chair Joyce Savoline said in a statement yesterday. "It has always been our preference, however, to work collaboratively."

Savoline said she is pleased the province has agreed to a full environmental assessment, "which ensures the open and transparent participation of the public."

MacIsaac said Burlington is "delighted to now be in a position to drop the judicial review."

"Though it was a necessary tool to stop the former government's ill-conceived Mid-Peninsula Highway, we are in a different place now.

Burlington Ward 3 Councillor John Taylor made it clear that the opponents of the road that would slice through his ward will not hesitate to initiate legal action should the provincial government not keep its promise to hold a full hearing.

"I am pleased the province is going in the correct direction," Taylor said yesterday, noting David Caplan, minister of public infrastructure renewal, reconfirmed Takhar's promise Tuesday. Taylor said the province is now calling the area formerly tagged for the mid-pen highway an "economic corridor..."

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