A decision, announced late Friday by the Ontario government, exempts the Ministry of Transportation’s (MTO) Bradford Bypass highway project from the requirements of the Environmental Assessment Act (EAA) as recommended by the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks.
“It’s no surprise,” says Margaret Prophet, executive director for the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition.
Prophet has vocally opposed the bypass since the project was reinstated and insists the Ontario government has “cut corners” to ensure this highway is built.
“They’ve been cutting environmental protections since they got into office,” she says of Doug Ford's Conservative government.
But Andrew Kennedy, a spokesperson for the Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, stresses an environmental assessment was completed for the project in 2002.
"The Ministry of Transportation has already undergone an individual environmental assessment for this project, which is the most stringent on record," Kennedy eplained.
"As such, the potential impacts of the project and how to mitigate them are well understood. The purpose of this new regulation is to remove requirements that duplicate work that has already been completed in the initial environmental assessment," said Kennedy.
"Additional environmental studies and consultation are still required for the project to proceed and will continue as early work begins," added Kennedy.
Despite that, the Coalition is adamant the project will be "destructive and costly" and predict zero improvement on the current rate of traffic congestion.
An updated Environmental Assessment (EA) has been a concern among many items, and not just for environmental groups, but many in the community.
“As residents we are disappointed and frustrated,” said Bradford resident Tricia Hulshof of the province's EA exemption.
“If the province starts early works by building the bridge in Bradford before the impact studies are complete, there will be no turning back, even if they learn of negative impacts on our health, environment, and community," she lamented.
Hulshof is a member of the Bradford Women’s+ Group which held several online community discussions regarding the Bradford Bypass, some of which were moderated by Prophet.
Key questions centered around an “incomplete, inadequate and outdated environmental assessment process for the bypass,” Hulshof noted.
“For months we have been saying that ‘build now and ask questions later’ is an irresponsible and unacceptable approach, and now the province has given themselves permission to do just that,” says Hulshof.
Hulshof adds that all levels of government have asked residents to "trust the process" and have assured people they "care" about our health and environment.
“This exemption flies in the face of those claims… This is deceitful and has certainly eroded any hope we had left that the province, or our MPP, will do the right thing and do their homework before spending upwards of a billion dollars on this project,” Hulshof concludes.
Other locals who live near the new build have also expressed mixed reviews over the controversial highway.
“I like the idea of it happening, but just like anybody else, you get concerned if it’s too close to your house,” said Bradford father Dan Mantione, who just moved into a new house on Chelsea Crescent just off the 8th Line in Bradford.
He and his wife have a four-year-old daughter and a newborn under the age of one. The family took possession of their new home less than two months ago and wonder if they will be able to see the highway from their backyard.
MPP Carolyn Mulroney, whose office has been the site of several community-driven protests opposing the Bradford Bypass highway, continues to assure residents that this build is "urgently needed" as it will connect communities better while easing traffic congestion and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
“For decades, communities in York Region and Simcoe County have demanded a connecting link between Highways 400 and 404. That’s why our government is moving ahead quickly to get shovels in the ground on the Bradford Bypass,” says Mulroney regarding the latest announcement from her government on Friday.
“Strong environmental oversight will always be maintained as our transportation projects move forward, and current and future work on the Bradford Bypass will continue to be subject to all conditions under Ontario’s environmental assessment process," said Mulroney.
"Any assertion made that suggests otherwise is categorically false. We consulted extensively on the new regulation as part of our ongoing consultation process and will continue to follow best practices as we move forward on this project.”
Mulroney says the project has reached a critical milestone that marks Phase I of procurement with the release of an expression of interest (EOI) and will include a Simcoe County Road 4 underpass which will run over the future Bradford Bypass. The scope of work will also include the widening of County Road 4 from two to four lanes and the addition of a multi-use path on the east side of the road.
“With complementary works along Yonge Street in Simcoe County underway, this new regulation allows us to get this preliminary work done sooner and with fewer disruptions to the community, while maintaining stringent environmental protections,” she adds.
“We have not wavered from our commitment to support the rapidly growing communities of York-Simcoe and will continue to move forward quickly to deliver this important project," vowed Mulroney. "We must help alleviate congestion before it gets worse for commuters and the environment.”