Citing potential environment risks, feds take over assessment of Ontario's proposed Highway 413

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The federal government in an unusual move has stepped in to take over the environmental assessment process guiding the Ontario government‘s proposed Highway 413 project.

“After careful consideration of the available science, evidence and other relevant information gathered by the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (IAAC), as well as the Agency’s recommendation to designate the GTA West project, I have decided to designate this project under the federal impact assessment process,” federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said in a statement Monday afternoon.

“My decision is based on finding that this project may cause adverse direct or incidental effects on federally listed species at risk, and the uncertainty that officials have brought to my attention around whether those effects can be mitigated through project design or existing mechanisms.”

Wilkinson said Premier Doug Ford’s government will need to submit documentation outlining the proposed project, which will then be reviewed by federal officials.

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“Should the Agency decide that areas of federal concern cannot be addressed and that a federal impact assessment is warranted, we will endeavour to work with Ontario to carry out a coordinated and predictable assessment that Canadians can have confidence in,” he wrote.

Global News contacted Ontario government representatives for comment on the announcement, but a response wasn’t received by the time of publication.

However, Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney issued a statement Thursday afternoon questioning the decision.

“At this point, it is unclear what the scope of a federal impact assessment would be or whether a full impact assessment would be warranted,” she wrote, adding a previous IAAC reviewed the provincial process and “declined to take further action” on the project.

“The GTA West project is already subject to a robust provincial , which is among the most stringent assessment processes on record. This project is intended to address congestion and forecasted population growth for the people of Ontario.”

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Mike Schreiner, the leader of the Green Party of Ontario and the MPP for Guelph, issued a statement just before the decision was announced Monday afternoon welcoming the move for a federal environmental assessment.

However, he called for the proposed Highway 413 as well as the Bradford Bypass, a proposed east-west connection between Highways 400 and 404 near the Holland Marsh, to both be cancelled.

“Both these highways would pave over environmentally significant and sensitive areas and farmland, and put local ecosystems at risk. All while increasing sprawl and ramping up emissions,” Schreiner wrote.

“These highways will add to the climate crisis and rip up farmland at a time when the health and food security of this province are absolutely vital.”

A joint statement issued by Environmental Defence and Ecojustice called the federal decision “necessary,” accusing the Ontario government of “undermin the environmental reviews of this highway and race to its construction.”

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“The federal environmental assessment will ensure a robust process for identifying and mitigating, where possible, any environmental impacts from Highway 413, and will ensure that climate change is adequately considered,” Laura Bowman, a lawyer with Ecojustice, said in the statement.

“We are confident that this added scrutiny will ultimately reveal that this highway is not in the public interest.”

There has been ongoing planning for the proposed Highway 413 (in the GTA West highway corridor study area), which cuts through part of the Paris Galt Moraine. The proposed highway is a project all provincial opposition parties have pledged to scrap if elected during the 2022 election.

Schreiner introduced a private member’s bill in 2019 to protect the moraine, which is a source of drinking water for communities such as Guelph. The bill has been in the committee stage of the legislative process since March of that year.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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