RESCUE LAKE SIMCOE COALITION
The Bradford Women’s+ Group has taken the helm of the ship crammed with concerned citizens from across Ontario who oppose the Bradford Bypass. With this new energy comes an affirmation that one of the biggest problems opponents face is misinformation and a lack of transparency.
One of the citizens' critical questions is whether studies to protect the environment are going to be done before highway construction begins. Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney and local MPP, and the Mayors of Bradford West Gwillimbury and East Gwillimbury, have made statements that claim environmental protections would not be compromised.
But they do not yet have any of the updated environmental impact studies, or even a design for the highway, and there is no clear commitment from the Province to complete them before construction. Proposed exemptions from the Province mean that the normal Environmental Assessment process would not be followed.
Information provided on government websites is inconsistent and no clear answers have been offered about which studies will or will not be completed before the province plans to start construction. The consultation requirements have not been made clear either, which worries residents since they have not been consulted about this project since the late 1990s.
The Province’s 2021 budget released last week proposed to commence construction in the fall of 2021. By default, this will finalize the route. Yet the Minister recently confirmed that the missing studies and the highway design are not going to be complete, until late 2022 at the earliest. It seems unreasonable that the Province could incorporate any meaningful public input since no public information sessions have been announced or scheduled.
The Environmental Assessment (EA) that was finished in 2002, predates the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan, Greenbelt Plan, or any climate targets and commitments.
The EA concluded there would be severe impacts to stormwater and groundwater and required upgrades to important studies on groundwater protection, archaeological resources, and stormwater management if the project were to be pursued.
Proceeding without the required studies could mean that underground water that feeds wells in the area could become contaminated with salt and other pollutants from cars and the road. Stormwater that becomes contaminated puts pollution into an already stressed Lake Simcoe, a source of drinking water and fish. No federal fish impact study has been done and no federal permits have been obtained.
Is the Province withholding information on the design of the highway and the health, environmental, and community impacts while rushing to start construction? Why hasn’t the province clearly committed to completing badly needed studies of traffic, noise, and water contamination that it previously decided were required before starting construction?
Ministry of Transportation statements and the province’s publicly available documentation show that the province intends to proceed with this highway project before studies of the impacts to Lake Simcoe are complete and before current local residents have had any say in the highway.
This is why the request to have the Federal government take over the environmental assessment process was made in the first place by Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition and Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition with legal support from Ecojustice.
“This highway will forever change our community” the Bradford Women’s+ Group says. “We support the request for a federal environmental assessment because we do not accept the approach of building now and dealing with the consequences to our families’ health, community, and environment later. This is not the legacy we want to leave for future generations in BWG.”
“Will the province pass a regulation to allow them to build bridges wherever they want with no studies?” asks Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition's Executive Director Claire Malcolmson. “That’s their pattern. The province needs to recognize that this project is going to impact the lake they say they will protect. To ensure public trust they must do the studies they claim they are doing and build accordingly.”
The Bradford Women’s+ Group shared information with those along the proposed route last weekend and heard concerns from their neighbours.
“It has been useful to engage with residents and hear their experiences with the bypass project. Some residents did not know that their homes are only a few hundred metres away from the highway route and others did not know about the project at all. Some said they hope to sell their homes before the construction begins, others asked us how they could learn more and share their concerns,” the Bradford Women’s+ Group shares.
"We’ve heard that the regional public transit systems do not meet the needs of commuters and that there are major concerns about the increase in housing developments. Most supporters of the project state that they care about the environment, but there is a strong narrative that a highway is the only possible solution.”
“As commuters, we know the frustration of traffic congestion and we agree that solutions are needed” Bradford Women’s+ Group team members say. “We question how our decision-makers decided that a four-lane highway through our community was the best and safest option. No other options have even been explored. Key health and environmental impact assessments are missing. The assessments that were completed are decades old, do not consider the current context, and raise many red flags. No real data has been provided on how the highway will affect commute times. There is also no information about how encouraging traffic to bypass our community will affect our local businesses.”
Stop the Bradford Bypass website
Original Federal Environmental Assessment review request letter
March 30 letter to Minister Mulroney
Lake Simcoe Under Pressure Report which outlines the threats the Bradford Bypass and other projects pose to Lake Simcoe: www.RescueLakeSimcoe.org