Lack of provincial confirmation disappoints at meeting...

Wed 12 Sep 2003 - Flamborough Review -
Irene Gentle

The Road Ahead hit a stumbling block last week in regards to the proposed mid-peninsula corridor.

That, at least, is the feeling of the Coalition on the Niagara Escarpment (CONE) following a Burlington city council meeting last week.

The meeting was to look at proposed amendments to the Ministry of Transportation's Terms of Reference on the road, which is meant to ease traffic flow between Toronto and Niagara through one of four proposed routes.

Movement on the TofR came after the City of Burlington threatened to sue the province over its procedure on the road. That led to meetings between that city, Hamilton, Niagara and the Ministry of Transportation Ontario (MTO) recently.

Council was meant to vote on those amendments last week. But no clarifications or confirmations came in from the MTO on time, said CONE executive director Jason Thorne.

They arrived, instead, on Tuesday of this week.

"That was kind of disappointing," said Thorne.

With little concrete to vote on, council simply acknowledged that progress has been made and asked that an advisory committee be struck containing members of Hamilton, Burlington and Niagara councils, as well as concerned citizens groups, a member from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, Niagara Escarpment Commission and more to oversee the Environmental Assessment (EA) process.

Burlington, Halton, CONE and the grassroots Citizens Opposed to Paving the Escarpment (COPE), are calling for a full EA on the proposed road. That would look at alternatives, such as rail and transit, as well as the need for the corridor.

"We want nothing less than a full and complete EA," said Thorne.

The MTO has argued that a new road is an economic must for the area. But critics, such as CONE and COPE, feel all options have not been explored fully, that the road will likely be tolled and so not extensively used and that the gain will not outweigh the possible damage to escarpment lands.

According to CONE, the then unconfirmed MTO amendments would make cuts to the escarpment "a last resort."

But CONE wants those to be banned completely and notes there is nothing saying that expanding current cuts to the escarpment would be approached with such caution.

"We don't take much comfort in that," he acknowledged. "There are still a lot of weaknesses."

The amendments also don't address the need for the highway, something critics feel is vital.

Hamilton was at a recent meeting on the project, along with officials from the MTO, Niagara, Burlington and Halton. But Thorne feels the city has not been as proactive or aggressive as others at the table.

"Burlington should be congratulated," he said. "They've been able to move a little what seemed like an immovable object. They've pushed really hard."

He also credited the public for focusing attention on the issue but worried the province isn't really paying attention.

"In the Road Ahead (policy document of the Tories), they've promised to build the road if they're elected," he said.

That makes him wonder if this whole process has been "window dressing."

"It's unfortunate that the provincial government has been forced by public pressure to follow its own EA policy," he added.

As for the future, Thorne wants to see MTO put its pledges in writing. "I want them to sign off on it," he said.

Troy's Sue McMaster, vice-chair of COPE, also has nothing but praise for Burlington and Halton's efforts but feels the MTO has left much to be desired in the way it has proceeded to date.

"I think it's sad how far Burlington and Halton had to go to make the province follow its own EA policy," she said. "There's a lot of clarity missing."

She feels many have lost faith in the MTO and she is disappointed that Tory campaign literature still mentions the road.

"If you're really serious (about an EA), how can they not withdraw that?" she wondered. "How can you have both?"

McMaster is also disappointed in Hamilton's attitude toward the road, noting, "Hamilton's stand on this highway is that they really want a road to the airport."

She feels the city didn't encourage discussion on the project, but she did praise both Flamborough councillors for their efforts.

"We're not disappointed with our two councillors," said McMaster. "(Dave) Braden and (Margaret) McCarthy have both been right there."

She is also pleased with the news coverage of the Red Hill Creek Expressway in Hamilton, noting it shows that citizens are concerned about the environment and the impact roads have on it.

"We drink this water. We breathe this air," she said.

And she is pleased that Burlington has been able to make the headway it has so far.

"We want to be part of significant change, but it has to be significant," she said. "You'd like to hope that this is indicative of a real change in direction."

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