The clock is ticking on the decision to allow preliminary construction on the disputed Bradford Bypass highway.
The proposed 16.2-kilometre highway joining Bradford West Gwillimbury to East Gwillimbury near the Queensville Sideroad has been given the green light by way of a new Environmental Assessment (EA) exemption by the province.
However, concerned residents hosted a webinar demanding the federal government review the proposed provincial highway by means of an impact assessment under the direction of Minister Steven Guilbeault of the Environment and Climate Change ministry by the Feb. 9 deadline.
“What does an (EA) exemption mean?” former Environmental Commissioner of Ontario turned activist Gordon Miller asked the approximately 200 people attending the webinar.
Miller answered his own question by stating, “It means we’re not asking the fundamental questions. This is an abandonment of the environmental assessment process that has existed in Ontario for almost 50 years.”
Yet in August 2019, the Ministry of Transportation approved the initial design and begun the process of updating a 1997 study that would fall in accordance with current ministry standards.
In 2012, Simcoe County approved the initial design and EA for the interchange at County Road 4 (Yonge Street) and Bradford West Gwillimbury’s 8th Line in its Environmental Study report.
But Miller called the current exemption of a provincial EA a “violation of international standards.” Questioning the timing of performing an assessment on the interchange before the environmental impacts for the highway are measured is in his mind, putting the cart before the horse.
Midway through the webinar, Margaret Prophet of the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition asked attendees to phone or email Minister Guilbeault to request the feds review the initial stages of the project before it’s too late and the overpass construction begins.
“Here’s the down and dirty; the Ford government wants to start construction during the next few months if nothing changes,” Prophet warned. “This is the last chance for us before an election – assuming nothing changes – to get the federal government to do what they said they’d do in the Paris Climate Agreement.”
By reducing Canada’s carbon output and querying construction near fish and wildlife habitation, the federal government could request an impact assessment to ensure the project meets those targets.
During the webinar, Ecojustice lawyer Laura Bowman said severe chloride and increased phosphorus are “likely to cause fishing and the quality of the Holland Marsh’s (inhabitants)” to suffer severe effects, as well as the possibility of detrimental health issues for those living near the bypass.
However, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change spokesperson Kaitlin Power said the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada has already considered the possible effects of the bypass’ location.
“The Impact Assessment Agency of Canada considered potential impacts to species at risk as part of its analysis for the Bradford Bypass Project’s designation request and had advised the former federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change (Minister Johnathan Wilkinson, who is now Minister of Natural Resources) that the location of the project does not overlap with the critical habitat areas of any of the identified species,” Power said.
But Power did add that the agency is reviewing the area in response to a recent request.
“The agency is currently reviewing information about species at risk provided in recent correspondence in which the minister is asked to reconsider designating the project under the Impact Assessment Act,” she said.
Other members of the internet meeting suggested the approximately $2-billion project’s funding could be better spent elsewhere.
Moderator Gary Machan of the Community Health Climate Action Initiative wants the public to consider putting the money into pandemic recovery instead of asphalt.
“Bottom line, there will be no just recovery as long as we put the profits of developers over the health and wellbeing of our communities," said Machan.
"Families are struggling, local businesses are struggling, our elders are prematurely dying in overcrowded long-term care facilities and our hospitals are overrun because of nurses resigning," he said.
"Spending $2.2 billion of taxpayer money on a highway that will damage Lake Simcoe and our climate while people are in desperate need of support and care is unconscionable.”