Dear Minister Dombrowsky,
Further to my letter of November 5, 2003, I am writing to offer you further information and assistance regarding the Red Hill Creek Expressway issue.
In our letter, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper suggested that the people of this province need the independent oversight of your ministry to ensure that the best interests of the Red Hill Valley and the watershed community are respected. We did not ask you to cancel the Red Hill Creek Expressway, but rather to review the 18-year old provincial approvals for the project and ensure that all activities are carried out only after fair and legitimate decisions are made.
In light of this request, I thought it would be helpful to provide you with additional material supporting our statement that there have been changes in circumstance and that new information has arisen.
CHANGES IN CIRCUMSTANCE
The original project approvals were granted to the Region of Hamilton by the Province of Ontario in 1985. The current project proponent is the City of Hamilton ? a different corporate entity. This proponent has never applied to the Ministry of Environment for approval to proceed, pursuant to S. 5(1) of the Ontario Environmental Assessment Act: ?Every proponent who wishes to proceed with an undertaking shall apply to the Minister for approval to do so.?
As you are aware, the City of Hamilton has lost its credibility as a protector of the Red Hill Valley in light of the charges, convictions, and orders for its actions in the past five years. I hope that you are also aware that the City of Hamilton was just convicted of another environmental offence and that sentencing is slated for this Friday, November 14. This charge relates to an illegal dump operated by the City of Hamilton in the late 1990s.
Our position on these convictions is clear: the City has not demonstrated itself to be a trustworthy steward and we ask that the Ministry of Environment provide diligent oversight to protect the public interest, pursuant to S.11.4 of the OEAA.
There are two other significant categories of ?new information? which we would also urge you to consider when making decisions about the fate of the Red Hill Valley. The first is the designation of the Red Hill Valley and Hamilton Harbour as an ?Area of Concern? under the US-Canada Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. The second is the series of alternatives to the Red Hill Creek Expressway, prepared by independent parties such as David Crombie, the Province of Ontario, and engineers from the University of McMaster.
Hamilton Harbour is an internationally recognized Area of Concern
In 1987, Hamilton Harbour was identified as an ?Area of Concern? under Annex 2 of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. A Remedial Action Plan for the harbour was developed, in which the negative environmental impacts of certain urban development programs were noted. In particular, filling of wetlands, urban sprawl, and clearing of woodlands have led to a decrease in the natural heritage in the watershed. As well, ?resisting pressure to expand ? transportation networks? was cited as a key emerging issue.
Unfortunately, the compatibility of the goals of the Red Hill Creek Expressway with the goals of the Canada-Ontario Agreement Respecting Great Lakes Water Quality (1994) have never been fairly assessed. Under the Agreement, both the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario made numerous commitments to include public in informed decision-making processes in AOCs, protect and rehabilitate coastal wetlands in the lower Great Lakes, and to create a strategy to assure the long-term sustainability of habitat necessary to support Great Lakes fish communities as well as healthy aquatic Ecosystems overall. It is not at all clear how the construction of the Red Hill Creek Expressway will contribute to these commitments.
The International Joint Commission, which oversees progress in Areas of Concern, also suggests that biodiversity along Lake Ontario?s entire shoreline is at ?high risk? due to development. Such a statement would suggest that every effort should be made to protect precious areas such as the Red Hill Valley.
A 1998 RAP report on the Red Hill Creek Watershed further confirms the value of the Red Hill Valley and the importance of making rationale, informed decisions about its future. While information contained in the report was intended to inform the region about potential impacts of the expressway, the report?s findings had no impact on the decision to construct an expressway through the valley.
In particular, the report identified severe, negative impacts of past urbanization projects on the valley:
Over the past two centuries or so, agricultural and then urban development has negatively impacted both natural and cultural resources of the Watershed. Natural areas and features have been lost or degraded. Reminders of past human activities have been destroyed.
Human activities have damaged or eliminated natural habitat on land and in water. Remaining natural habitats are scarce, consisting of isolated fragments, particularly on the Mountain. Many of these habitats are losing their ability to support fish and wildlife populations.
The urbanization of 77 percent of the Watershed has made much of it impervious, preventing moisture from seeping into the ground. A large part of the historical stream courses have been buried by this urbanization. In addition, channelization, bridges, municipal infrastructure and other human actions have altered the natural course of the remaining streams. The result in the highly urban Red Hill Creek Watershed is that large amounts of water move very quickly through all the creeks after a heavy rainfall or snowmelt.
This is resulting in damage to roads, bridges, culverts and natural habitat. Creek banks collapse and land is washed away in some areas. Repairs to damage caused by erosion can be expensive.
It highlighted the importance of the Red Hill Valley to the Hamilton area and the Lake Ontario watershed:
The Red Hill Valley is the largest open space area in the Watershed extending from the Queen Elizabeth Way to the Niagara Escarpment. At 640 ha it is also the largest undeveloped area in Hamilton. The Valley contains important features including waterfalls, public parks, other public and private recreational facilities, sites of historic interest and a system of walking and bicycling trails. The natural features of the Valley have resulted in its designation by the Region as an Environmentally Significant Area. The wetlands at the north end of the Valley are considered Provincially significant.
Finally, the 1998 RAP report suggested that significant study of the relationship between the community and the valley was still needed in order to make informed decisions about the area's future:
There has been limited research conducted in the Watershed to determine how community members feel about its features and resources. Attitudes and concerns about natural areas, open space and recreation, environmental or social matters and economic issues would be valuable to decision makers and other users. Important decisions about land use and recreation are being made on a regular basis in the absence of this type of information.
Louise Knox, former Hamilton Harbour RAP coordinator and now Ontario Director of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, echoed these concerns in a comment on the draft scope of the federal environmental assessment of the Red Hill Creek Expressway (1999). She suggested that spending on the expressway could result in a diversion of funds away from the necessary stormwater improvements required to meet RAP objectives and to comply with Provincial Water Quality Objectives:
Loss or deferral of planned spending on wastewater infrastructure will either reverse the progress made in Hamilton Harbour or extend its recovery period over a time frame that will go beyond the year 2020. If the community is in fact making a choice between an expressway and improved wastewater treatment infrastructure, then it should be aware that by choosing the expressway, any losses that cannot be mitigated in the valley will be compounded by environmental losses in the Harbour as well.
Alternatives do exist
In 1993, David Crombie conducted an independent transportation study that concluded that no expressway was needed and all foreseeable traffic needs could be met by adding two lanes to an existing escarpment crossing (Mt. Albion) and linking this to an existing four-lane road (Woodward Avenue). The following year, an independent provincial transportation enquiry (Transfocus 2021) determined that Highway 20 could be widened to six lanes between Mud Street and the QEW for $33 million (about one-sixth the cost of the proposed valley expressway). The study noted that the right-of-ways for this widening were already in public hands and that no property would need to be acquired for the widening. These proposals were overlooked by hamilton's government.
McMaster Civil Engineering Professors, whom helped to construct our Vision 20/20, came forward to warn of air, noise and environmental pollution that building a highway in a valley in such a location as Red Hill would create.
As recently as November 3, 2003, civil engineering faculty from McMaster University unveiled an alternative to the Red Hill Creek Expressway which would cost roughly $130-million less than the proposed highway through the valley. Fewer than 100 trees would need to be removed. This proposal, too, was overlooked by the City of Hamilton.
These alternatives are important because they suggest that there is a variety of ways to meet the City of hamilton's potential traffic problems. Further, they all suggest that traffic issues can be addressed without jeopardizing hamilton's largest greenspace or sacrificing cultural and environmental assets in the process.
With extensive experience at Ontario Energy Board and Environmental Assessment Board hearings, I can honestly state that the Province of Ontario can be proud of the efficient and fair procedures it has at its disposal to undertake decisions of this magnitude. A re-assessment of the Red Hill Creek Expressway, with a provincially appointed Board, and clear terms of reference to guide scoping of issues and timeframe for decision making would go a long way towards resolving this divisive issue for all parties. I note that equally complex issues are routinely resolved by the OEB in less than six months, with full procedural rights and guarantees for all parties.
Thank you for your attention to this matter and I hope to be of assistance to you in the future.
Waterkeeper & President