This past week, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, Environment Hamilton and Friends of the Red Hill Valley submitted comments to the Ministry of the Environment on a proposed policy for reviewing environmental assessment approvals in Ontario. The comment is part of a 15-year battle to make the province's approval process for major projects fair and transparent for all communities.
Proposed in the 1950s, approved in the 1980s, and changed in the 1990s, the Red Hill Creek Expressway has been a source of controversy in Hamilton for a generation. Despite widespread opposition by community members - including environmentalists, educators, engineers, musicians and native groups - the City of Hamilton refused to amend the highway design to better protect the Niagara Escarpment.
The Ministry of the Environment failed to respond to repeated submissions for a project review, even though the Environmental Assessment Act promises that projects may be reconsidered when new information comes to light. Concerns about water quality, protection of rare species, the impacts on a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, air and noise impacts, and quality of life were raised by those concerned about the highway.
The Red Hill Creek Expressway saga taught us that Ontario's environmental assessment process needs strengthening. Using a tool from the Environmental Bill of Rights, Waterkeeper and Friends of the Red Hill Valley encouraged the Ministry of the Environment to take action. The Ministry agreed to review the way in which requests for project review are handled. The proposed policy was released earlier this summer.
Waterkeeper, Environment Hamilton and Friends of the Red Hill Valley generally support the draft changes, with the addition of some improvements.
The new policy helps to close a loophole in the environmental assessment process, says Waterkeeper & President Mark Mattson. No new policy can restore the diversity and wonder of the Red Hill Valley. But we are confident that this new policy will restore some fairness to the environmental assessment process. That's the Red Hill Valley's gift to Ontarians."
The main area for improvement is the way in which authority for the review is transferred from the Minister to a ministry Director. A basic tenant of fair decision-making says that an individual has a right to be heard, so the groups have asked that the submitter's original request be reviewed by the Minister, in addition to the Director's summary.
Living at the Barricades Mark and Krystyn reflect on the construction of the Red Hill Valley Expressway, a road that way bitter opposed by community groups since its inception in 1987. Living at the Barricades revisits two of the leaders of that movement: Lynda Lukasik, founder of Environment Hamilton, and Don McLean, head of Friends of Red Hill Valley and Citizens at City Hall (CATCH).
Listen to the show...
- Listen to this week's show online (right-click to download).
- Subscribe to the Living At the Barricades Podcast via iTunes
View our updated photos of the Red Hill Valley Expressway on our Flickr page.