When Ontario approved the Red Hill Creek Expressway in 1985, it promised that there would be no harm to the Niagara Escarpment - one of the province's most precious landforms. When the City of Hamilton and the Government of Ontario revived the highway in 1995, they decided to cut costs by blasting through the Escarpment and using the rock to make the highway.
Despite the warnings of environmentalists and local residents, engineers began blasting the Escarpment in 2004. They made one of the largest cuts to the Escarpment in our history. They crushed the rock for gravel and began spreading it out over the new highway.
Then, three weeks ago, Hamilton's city staff announced that they had a problem: as it turns out, the Escarpment made for "sub-standard granular" and its use is no longer "an option on this Project." It is a mistake that could cost the city $2.5-million and caused irreparable damage to the Niagara Escarpment. It is a mistake that could easily have been avoided.
Back in 2003, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper applied to the Minister of the Environment for a reconsideration of the Red Hill Creek Expressway approval (pursuant to Section 11.4 of the Ontario Environmental Assessment Act). With the aid of Friends of Red Hill Valley, we compiled a list of significant changes to the project, including the blasting of the Escarpment. Many members of the local community were outraged, expressing their concerns through letter writing campaigns, submissions to the media, protests, educational tours, political organization, and a 105-day occupation of the forest. Citizens concerned about impacts on private property formed neighbourhood associations and retained counsel.
Following the provincial election in 2003, Waterkeeper wrote to the new Minister of the Environment and restated our request. A spokesperson for the Ministry told the Hamilton Spectator we would have a decision within weeks, but no decision ever came. The Ministry received at least 155 similar requests in 2003-2004 alone ... but no decision ever came.
Today, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper and Friends of Red Hill Valley submitted an important application for review to the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. We have asked that the Environmental Assessment Act be updated to impose a duty on the Minister of the Environment to respond to requests for reassessment within a reasonable period of time. We have also asked that new approvals come with renewal or expiry dates to so outdated projects can't be revived without scrutiny. It might be too late for that swath of the Niagara Escarpment, but it's not too late for other areas.
When asked to do right by the Red Hill Valley, the Minister of the Environment was silent. Now, we have an irreparable gash in the Niagara Escarpment, stockpiles of sub-standard construction material, and millions of lost dollars. The time has come to stop asking for environmental justice. Let's guarantee it.