Province moving Bradford Bypass ahead despite opposition from environmentalists, farmers

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Ontario Construction News staff writer

The provincial government plans to spend more than $21 billion on highway infrastructure over the next decade, including $800 million to $1.5 billion to build the proposed Bradford Bypass.

Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation (MTO) has retained AECOM Canada Ltd. to undertake a Preliminary Design and Class Environmental Assessment (EA) Study for the proposed highway project. The Environmental Assessment for the project is currently being updated, with approval expected by the end of December 2022. A route planning study was completed in 1997 and an EA and Recommended Plan were approved in 2002.

Protesters join Day of Action against new highway construction in Bradford and Caledon

“The preliminary design EA update study will include field investigations, impact assessment/mitigation, and adherence to environmental commitments,” Sonia Rankin from AECOM Consulting told Bradford West-Gwillimbury Council. The project “will adhere to all new and existing provincial and federal legislation, including but not limited to the Endangered Species Act (ESA, 2007), Greenbelt Plan, Heritage Act, Fisheries Act, Species at Risk Act (SARA, 2002), and Lake Simcoe Protection Act.”

The new four-to-six lane, 16-kilometre highway would create a link between Highways 404 and 400 and cut through the Holland Marsh — part of the protected Greenbelt that contains provincially significant wetlands and some of the best agricultural land in Canada.

“We are fully committed to the environmental assessment process which was always intended to protect the environment and so, while we are streamlining the [assessment] process, that doesn’t mean we are changing the outcome. I want to be clear, we aren’t relaxing any environmental protections, we are just looking for ways to update the [environmental assessment] process that will remain protective of the environment but ensure that we can get this vital piece of infrastructure finally built.”

According to the project website, building infrastructure is a critical part of Ontario’s long-term economic plan, and “even more important to our economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“The Bradford Bypass would create jobs during construction and once completed would help connect people to major employment centres and attract more businesses to the area, creating and sustaining good local jobs.”

Farmers and environmentalists say the highway would destroy wetlands and wildlife habitat, and increase phosphorus and salt pollution in Lake Simcoe.

In fact, a recent report from the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition states that the Bradford Bypass would negatively impact 22.1 hectares of high-quality woodlands; 17.2 hectares of Holland Marsh (designated environmentally sensitive area); 9.5 hectares of designated provincially significant wetlands; and 32.7 hectares of significant wildlife habitat.

Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney says environmental protection is a priority.

“We are fully committed to the environmental assessment process which was always intended to protect the environment and so, while we are streamlining the [assessment] process, that doesn’t mean we are changing the outcome,” Mulroney said in a news release.

“I want to be clear, we aren’t relaxing any environmental protections, we are just looking for ways to update the [environmental assessment] process that will remain protective of the environment but ensure that we can get this vital piece of infrastructure finally built.”

Supporters say the highway would cross into the Holland Marsh wetlands at the narrowest point and impact less than 11 hectares of the land while providing a route for York Region and Simcoe County commuters driving to the GTA.

Lake Simcoe Watch is one of 20 organizations that asked the federal government in February to conduct an environmental assessment of the highway project, given that the latest assessment was conducted in 1997 — 24 years ago. Their letter to Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, written by Bowman, stated that the 1997 assessment “did not consider cumulative effects, climate change, or detail the impacts on natural heritage, migratory birds, fisheries, First Nations or discuss air pollution.”

The federal government rejected the request.

“In making my determination, I considered that existing federal, provincial and municipal legislative and regulatory processes, along with the application of mitigation measures will address the potential adverse effects and public concerns associated with this project,” Wilkinson responded.

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