Ecojustice, acting on behalf of Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition and Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition, called for a new Federal Environmental Assessment for the Bradford Bypass, or what environmental groups have been calling the Holland Marsh Highway - but York Regional Council voted unanimously to send a letter to the federal government in support of constructing the 16km link between Highways 404 and 400.
Two individuals spoke in the deputation portion of the meeting, in opposition to the council view.
Steve Gilchrist of Pickering, a former Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing who was involved in protecting the Oak Ridges Moraine, and York Region resident Irene Ford both asked Council to support the request for a federal environmental assessment.
"This project was started so long ago that the policy, social, environmental and economic environment are completely different. To suggest that a 20-year-old approval for such a large infrastructure project on environmentally sensitive land is adequate when the context has changed dramatically is concerning," wrote Ford, arguing that the EA for the Bradford Bypass "is so dated that you have to start over."
There was support for the 4-lane link by members of Regional Council. East Gwillimbury Mayor Virginia Hackson said, "It's exciting to see this move forward at last."
"This has been studied and discussed since the late 1980s. We need the infrastructure for the growth that has already occurred," noted Georgina Regional Councillor Rob Grossi.
Regional Chair Wayne Emmerson also noted that the province has the expertise and jurisdiction to carry out the 15 studies to update the approved environmental assessment.
A report also supported both the project, and the process, and rejected the idea of federal intervention.
"Staff has not been able to identify any instance of the [federal] Minister exercising their discretion in this manner over a project that would otherwise only be regulated by a provincial environmental assessment process," the report noted.
"The Region anticipates the current provincial Environmental Assessment process for the Bradford Bypass will continue to address environmental, social, economic and health issues as well as necessary public consultation to balance the needs for all community stakeholders," the report noted, going on to describe a "robust level of environmental assessment and stakeholder consultation" that is part of the process.
The report affirmed that the Bypass project supports York Region's Official Plan and Transportation Master Plan.
"The Bradford Bypass, also known as the Highway 400-404 Link, supports the Region’s Official Plan and Transportation Master Plan (2016) and is an important component of servicing planned growth in the Region. The Region has long supported the Bradford Bypass Project and has been consulted by the Ontario Ministry of Transportation since the original Individual Environmental Assessment (EA) approved in 2002," it stated.
It was reported that the Link’s route goes through 0.35 percent of the Holland Marsh area. Coun. Grossi noted that local roads can’t handle more traffic, and the Link will save commuters 34 minutes on average, according to the Ontario Ministry of Transportation.
EcoJustice has claimed that the time savings for commuters will be seconds, not minutes.
York Regional Council voted to send a letter, in support of the provincial Environmental Assessment now underway.