Robert Bateman calls proposed highway "Horror Story"


Robert Bateman calls proposed highway "Horror Story"

DUNDAS -- Artist and environmentalist Robert Bateman calls the Ontario Government's proposed $1.2-billion highway that would cut through the Niagara Escarpment a "horror story."

The Escarpment is "an absolute jewel of rough country, just given as a gift to the people of Ontario," Bateman said Saturday.

Bateman was at Spencer Gorge Wilderness Area north of Hamilton to add his voice to the growing grassroots protest over the Provincial plan to build the new multi-lane Mid-Peninsula Highway from Fort Erie to Burlington.

The Escarpment "is a gift handed to the people of Ontario, and now of course, it's a World Heritage Site, so it's a gift handed to the people of the world," Bateman, 72, told a crowd of citizens at a press conference hosted by COPE -- Citizens Opposed to Paving the Escarpment -- at Tew's Falls, which cascades over the edge of the Escarpment near Dundas.

"We've got to grow up, and get out of this adolescent stage and get better plans for transportation," Bateman said in an earlier interview, "we're wiping out our natural and human heritage."

Since June, more than 1000 residents of the affected area have banded together to form COPE. They are concerned about the environmental and human impacts of what they call an unnecessary highway: A permanently scarred Escarpment, increased smog from more traffic, global warming, loss of wildlife habitat and agricultural land, the destruction of the fabric of small town rural life, and urban sprawl.

COPE has been a vocal presence at Ontario Ministry of Transportation public meetings across Southern Ontario. Thursday's meeting in Burlington even drew local MPP Cam Jackson, Minister of Tourism and Recreation.

"This highway is a short-sighted effort to deal with transportation issues," said Cope Chairman Brendan Kelly. "Alternatives such as improved public transit and rail would do the job without damaging the environment and ripping the Escarpment in two. The fact that Mr. Bateman is deeply concerned shows that this issue is important to all of us, not only those who live in the proposed highway corridor."

Bateman, who lived on the Escarpment in Burlington for 26 years before moving to British Columbia, added, "I was hoping Ontario had gotten beyond its 19th century mentality regarding development."

Asked about his tenure as a Niagara Escarpment Commissioner, Bateman said, "I was a charter member, appointed by Bill Davis. We were asked to make a plan for the Escarpment that was compatible with natural and human heritage." The current Tory government has made "…an effort from on high to emasculate and destroy…" quality staff work of the Commission. The attitude of the current Ontario Government about the environment is "just terrible."

The Province claims the highway is needed to alleviate traffic congestion on the QEW between Fort Erie and Burlington. The highway is slated to connect with the 407 in Burlington.

Bateman, an internationally recognized wildlife artist, credits the Escarpment with inspiring his earliest works. "The escarpment was a central core … of my life."
He blames Government budget cuts for these poor planning decisions. "Walkerton tells you what happens when you cut staff and budgets."

Note: 680 News has audio and has been broadcasting the story 9/29. Hamilton Spectator has many stories on file for background.


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