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Federal government denies request for Bradford Bypass assessment, leaving environmental groups concerned

Green Party of Ontario leader Mike Schreiner among those concerned with environmental assessment process for highway
May 12, 2021
Simon Martin

Two highways, two different approaches.

While the federal government announced it was stepping in to conduct an environmental assessment (EA) for the proposed Highway 413 on May 3, it also announced it would not grant a similar request to conduct an EA on the Bradford Bypass.

That decision has environmental groups in York Region and Simcoe County concerned, along with Green Party of Ontario leader Mike Schreiner.

Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition and Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition, represented by Ecojustice, requested a federal assessment of the Bradford Bypass in February.

"The provincial process lacks credibility due to the gutting of environmental assessment laws and policies in recent years,” Ecojustice lawyer and East Gwillimbury native Laura Bowman said. Much of the concern from the environmental groups stems from the province’s plan to use an environmental assessment that was completed in 2002 to build the Bradford Bypass.

Ministry of Transportation manager of engineering Jason White told York Region council in March the province is undertaking an update study to advance the 16.2-kilometre project, which would connect Highway 400 to Highway 404. He said that study will include field investigations, impact assessment and mitigation as well as environmental commitments, including those identified in the 2002 Route Planning EA Approval.

Executive director of the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition Claire Malcolmson said the province needs to provide several studies that have yet to be completed. “There are virtually no studies supporting claims made by the province that they are going to take care of Lake Simcoe and the local environment. It’s a farce,” she said. “All the same, we encourage people to insist on studies and facts in their comments to the province.”

The Bradford Women’s+ Group hosted a community engagement session on May 6 in its campaign to stop the project. Local member Tricia Hulsof said she had been pretty na├»ve about the project until recently. “The prevailing attitude in Bradford is that this is a good thing,” she said. “We want to spread awareness and let people know that there are other options.”

Unlike Highway 413, the Bradford Bypass currently has broad political support from York Region, Simcoe County, East Gwillimbury and Bradford West Gwillimbury, where the highway would be located. The province also appears to be heavily behind the project. Transportation Minister and York-Simcoe MPP Caroline Mulroney was full of praise for the project at a Bradford committee meeting on May 5. “Commuters in York Region have been demanding a connecting link between Highways 400 and 404. It was abandoned by the previous government,” she said. “The east-west connection will reduce congestion and provide a strategic link for goods and people’s movement, supporting urban and economic growth in the York and Simcoe region.”

There was a time when the 413 was popular politically, Green Party of Ontario leader Mike Schreiner said. But as public opposition for that highway increased, municipalities and regions slowly started to change their tune. “I think the province would be much better off spending the money on improving transit,” he said.

Schreiner said it's “completely irresponsible” for the province to be using an environmental assessment completed in 2002 for the project.

Bowman said the original EA did not consider things like climate change or detail impacts on natural heritage, migratory birds, fisheries, First Nations cultural heritage or air pollution. She also said when the project was resurrected in 2020, the Ford government proposed to exempt the Bradford Bypass from completion of any EA updates, including the original conditions of approval.

The proposed highway will extend from Highway 400 between Lines 8 and 9 in Bradford West Gwillimbury, cross a small portion of King Township and will connect to Highway 404 between Queensville Sideroad and Holborn Road in East Gwillimbury, and cross 10.75 hectares of the Holland Marsh provincial significant wetlands.

The province just completed its first virtual public information centre on the project on May 6, and there will be a public information centre webinar on May 18.