DRIC endangers Species Act: Sierra Club Uproar over permit to build $1.4B parkway

The article below appeared in the Windsor Star on Aug. 31.


Permit approvals and start of construction on the $1.4-billion Windsor-Essex Parkway is proof the Ontario government has the power to trump its own Endangered Species Act, said the director of Ontario's Sierra Club.

"This demonstrates when the government of Ontario has a vested interest in a project, the Endangered Species Act isn't worth the paper it's printed on," said Dan McDermott.

A federal court ruling in May determined an application for judicial review by the Sierra Club against DRIC (Detroit River International Crossing project) for allegedly breaching the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act was without merit and was dismissed.

The court was satisfied with the mitigation and measures taken leading to permit approvals.

But the environmental group is continuing to review its legal options and speak out against the massive Windsor-Detroit border infrastructure project.

"We still argue that DRIC is a multibillion-dollar boondoggle proposed to serve a declining (traffic) demand," McDermott said.

Some have linked the group to the lobbying efforts of Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun who continues to fight to kill DRIC, which he sees as a threat to steal toll and duty free profits from his crossing, but the group has denied any ties. Parkway construction should be derailed because the purpose of the Endangered Species Act is to protect habitat destruction and threats for extinction, McDermott said.

There is enough evidence the border highway is threatening survival of the Butler's garter snake and also putting the eastern fox snake into risk, he said.

Special snake fencing that resembles black garbage bags has been spread throughout the parkway corridor to protect the snakes, but McDermott believes there is no history to prove the barriers will work.

"Why are we risking the extinction of two endangered species for the sake of a road whose purpose may be unnecessary?, said the Sierra Club in a written statement directed at Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources.

It would appear the ministry chose to ignore its obligation under law to protect species and granted construction permits, said McDermott on Tuesday.

An official with the natural resources ministry said plenty has been done to ensure the protection of snakes and other threatened species - both during construction and after the parkway is completed.

"Before we issued these permits MNR consulted with in-dependent scientific experts on each of the species at risk, along with the public and other stakeholders," said Jolanta Kowalski, media relations officer for the ministry.

Actions taken included surveying for snakes before construction and relocating them to suitable habitat, fencing the site to prevent snakes from entering and restoring habitat to help support the long-term survival of the relocated snakes.

The amount of habitat made suitable will be a minimum of twice the amount of the habitat destroyed, Kowalski said.

A local environmentalist did not want to delve into the debate about the Endangered Species Act, but remains concerned parkway officials have lacked transparency with plans to dig up wetlands during construction and not yet revealed required "compensation" plans to replace any wetlands they destroy.

"We're still waiting to see mitigation for the wetlands being paved over," said Derek Coronado. "We have not heard anything on that. The consultation process has been very lax."

It's critical to follow the act, since the permit for the parkway issued by the government is the first of its kind since tougher environmental regulations were put in place a few years ago and the outcome will set precedence, Coronado said.

"The is the first time for a permit given under the economic and social benefit (regulation) that allows them to proceed under the Endangered Species Act," he said. "We are looking to see cohesion and co-ordination on a plan going forward. We haven't seen that yet and still have concerns."

Parkway officials could not be reached Tuesday regarding those concerns.

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