Newmarket Mayor John Taylor and other regional councillors are questioning the province’s direction for the Bradford Bypass but did not put forward any resolutions against the ongoing process.
Provincial officials provided an update to council Jan. 13 on the highway proposal to connect Highways 400 and 404. The highway has garnered opposition over environmental concerns, with several groups asking for more scrutiny.
The province has said it is considering environmental impact as part of the ongoing design process, though it does not intend to do a full updated environmental assessment to replace one dating back more than two decades.
But Mayor Taylor said the provincial intent is called into question by a letter the town received from the Ministry of Transportation stating that the project, located south of Lake Simcoe, would not directly impact the lake.
“That’s a bit concerning because we’re relying on the government and the MTO and others to have environmental stewardship,” Taylor said. “That line makes me feel like there’s a different sense of the level of environmental stewardship required.”
The highway is tentatively set to be built over environmentally sensitive areas, leaving citizens concerned about the impact on the Lake Simcoe watershed. They have successfully got many municipalities to make resolutions asking the province to undertake additional environmental scrutiny, including Newmarket and Georgina.
Georgina Mayor Margaret Quirk confirmed she received a similar message. She said the municipality supports the Bradford Bypass but she wants the province to have mitigation plans ready.
“Even though it doesn’t go over top of Lake Simcoe, it’s going over tributaries and rivers that flow into Lake Simcoe,” Quirk said. “Making that sort of statement really diminishes, in many people’s eyes, the province’s look at the impacts this road will create.”
Ministry of Transportation senior environmental planner Larry Sarris said that Quirk is right and the ministry can commit to assessing the impacts on Lake Simcoe.
Provincial officials assured that they would adhere to the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan and consider feedback from the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority. They referred to regulation 697/21, which allows the province to complete a streamlined assessment process to progress the bypass “in an environmentally conscious way.”
“The project team will carry forward previous environmental commitments made,” Sonia Rankin of the provincial consultant AECOM said. She added there will be accompanying environmental reports in the planning process.
The province is working on the design but is seeking to go ahead with early works construction on County Road 4 in the County of Simcoe that could be the first piece of the bypass. They expect to finish the preliminary design for the whole highway in 2023.
The council received 11 letters opposing the Bradford Bypass. C.W.D. Foster of Forbid Roads over Green Spaces requested that council ask for more scrutiny of the project via a federal impact assessment.
“You have an obligation to your constituents to act as stewards not only of your region’s finances but also its ecosystem,” Foster said.
But council did not make any resolutions beyond receiving the presentation at this point. Quirk said she does not agree with going for a federal assessment, given the federal government declined that last year.
Taylor reiterated his council’s support for the province to do a new environmental assessment, and if not, have a federal assessment begin.