The proposed Waterdown bypass highway can proceed without a full environmental assessment despite acknowledged impacts to wetlands, woodlots and endangered species. Some assessment was required by the province, in contrast to the new national rules that have cut environmental reviews of projects under federal jurisdiction by more than 99 percent.
After more than a year of review, the environment minister rejected the request of two Hamilton citizens to more fully examine the $45 million road skirting the north–western part of Waterdown before incorporating parts of Parkside Drive and Highway 5. However, some additional conditions have been imposed on Hamilton and Halton who are splitting the road cost 75–25.
The project would begin at Highway 6 and Concession Road 4 West and loop down to Parkside between Main and Robson before heading south past the Upcountry Estates lands whose development is one of the major reasons for the road. The Minister’s response to the appeal of Hamilton residents Ken Stone and David Cohen has taken more than 14 months and requires the local governments to complete “species–specific impact assessments for eight species at risk that the Ministry of Natural Resources indicated have historically been observed in the study and surrounding area.”
The 2007 consultant study prepared for Hamilton–Halton found no species at risk, a conclusion that was challenged by Stone and Cohen. They also noted the road will pass through a woodlot and a provincially significant wetland, which the Minister acknowledges but says the damage will be minimized and the wetland protection rules don’t apply.
“The Provincial Policy Statement indicates that development and site alteration shall not be permitted in significant wetlands in southern Ontario,” says the Minister’s letter. “However, the definition of development in the Provincial Policy Statement specifically excludes activities that create or maintain infrastructure that is authorized via an environmental assessment process.”
Stone and Cohen’s charges that the road would encourage more suburban sprawl and undermine historic downtown Waterdown were dismissed as outside the scope of the assessment, while their concerns about negative impacts on cycling were met with assurances of new bike lanes on Parkside.
Waterdown councillor Judi Partridge is pleased with the decision and expects the road will be built “in the next couple of years” although she says there is “still a lot of work to do with property acquisition, rezoning, etc.”
Ontario legislation requires environmental assessments of all government projects costing more than $3 million. It is intended to identify potential unacceptable effects on the social, economic and natural environments before a project begins and either find a way to avoid or compensate for them, or require its abandonment.
Federal legislation in place since 1985 has mandated assessments for any project that used federal land or monies, or that required a federal permit, and in recent years has resulted in 5000–6000 assessments every year. The Conservatives re–wrote the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act in their spring 2012 omnibus budget bill along with 60 other pieces of legislation including the Fisheries Act.
In the first year of the new Act, only 40 projects have even been considered for a federal assessment and only 28 have actually begun. One project no longer covered is Enbridge’s controversial proposal to ship diluted bitumen in its aging Line 9 pipeline that passes through rural Hamilton.
The scope of federal assessments has also been drastically limited to effects on fish and fish habitat, aquatic species at risk, migratory birds, federal lands and aboriginal peoples. The previous CEAA considered effects to all aspects of the environment: land, water, air, organic and inorganic matter; all living organisms; and interacting natural systems. V