Burlington says Klees reneged on mid-pen alternatives

Sept. 17, 2003 Carmela Fragomeni The Hamilton Spectator

City officials say Ontario's Transportation Minister Frank Klees is reneging on promises he made to answer Burlington's concerns over the proposed mid-peninsula highway.

Mayor Rob MacIsaac and his senior staff won't say what promises Klees dropped. But after a meeting with him in late August, they told residents through public meetings that the minister promised, among other things, to have the ministry seriously study alternatives to the highway -- such as looking into a combination of widening current highways (which is planned anyway), and improving rail and public transit.

Transportation ministry staff confirmed this was part of the agreement.

Klees had promised in August that he'd provide a written copy of the agreement. But when it arrived last Thursday, it wasn't what councillors expected.

Councillor John Taylor said "it doesn't come anywhere close to what staff and the mayor were expecting."

Klees, reached while on the election campaign, told The Spectator he made no promise to look at alternatives to the highway, only to look at alternative routes. He says the city misunderstood what was agreed on.

"We are committed to building the highway."

Klees's comments were made before the written agreement reached the city, making it clear this is a key discrepancy from what city officials say Klees promised them earlier.

The provincial election is believed to have played a role here. The so-called verbal promise came three days before the election call; the written version arrived with the campaign in full gear.

The Conservative Party's election platform, The Road Ahead, promises to build the mid-pen through Niagara, Hamilton and Halton, and other highway projects "as quickly as possible."

Premier Ernie Eves reiterated this again Monday. That promise kills any study of alternatives.

MacIsaac and staff were buoyed in late August by what they said Klees promised: to look at alternatives to the highway and to better protect the Niagara Escarpment from being paved through. They said it was a good start and that it showed Klees was willing to work with them on their concerns.

The written document from Klees' ministry on what was agreed on was a surprise and disappointment to them.

The city has asked to meet with Klees again, but he can't because the election campaign is in full swing. A minister's power is greatly limited during an election.

Although the city held public meetings to discuss the verbal agreement, MacIsaac won't release the written one. He is still hoping something can be worked out after the election and -- "I don't think it would be helpful to our negotiations ... it would inflame the situation unnecessarily."

And ministry staff won't release it.

MacIsaac also said "platforms can change after an election" in reference to what could happen if the Conservatives were re-elected.

Burlington did take the province to court in June to force a comprehensive study. But in good faith, it put the court action on hold after Klees promised to try to meet its concerns.

MacIsaac, however, said the city will not drop its court action until it is satisfied its interests are secured.

"There is too much at stake."

Burlington and Flamborough residents are against the highway going through the Niagara Escarpment. They fear the highway will create more urban sprawl, air pollution and congestion, destroy valued natural land features like the escarpment, and reduce quality and enjoyment of life.

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