The Far-reaching impacts of Provincial Highway Building

When I was a boy growing up in Erindale, a hamlet that is now part of Mississauga, I would often see animals and plants rarely seen today. Bluebirds, Eastern Meadowlarks, Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting; these birds would often be seen around our backyard feeder. Salamanders could be found under almost every rock in our garden and smelt and brook trout were easy to spot in the Credit River running behind our house.

As the area has “grown” and urbanized, habitat has been destroyed at an ever increasing rate. Some would say losing these plants, birds and animals is the price of progress. But does it have to be this way?

Environmental Defence recently commissioned scientists from the University of Guelph to analyze biological impacts from the construction of Highway 413. Their report identifies 29 endangered species of birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish, insects and trees that would be negatively affected if this highway is built. That includes the Blanding’s Turtle, the Eastern Meadowlark, the Eastern Ribbonsnake, the Jefferson salamander, the Rapids Clubtail dragonfly and the Rusty-patched Bumble Bee, to name a few.

Highway 413 would cross an estimated 132 streams and rivers, many of which have water cool enough to support important aquatic communities such as brook trout and red side dace. These streams would be negatively impacted by additional storm-water run-off, both from the highway and from surrounding development that the highway would encourage.

In addition, building highways requires lots of aggregate and other raw materials which create their own environmental nightmares. New research released by Gravel Watch Ontario, Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition and Environmental Defence, indicates that approximately 3 million tonnes or about 130,000 truckloads of new aggregate would be required to build the proposed 413 and the Bradford By Pass. Much of that gravel would be sourced from pits and quarries on lands in the Greenbelt.

To meet these demands a new quarry is being proposed in Caledon just north of Cataract village. The environmental impacts of the proposed Votorantim Cimentos quarry will be profound should it proceed. The resulting hole in the ground would be about 100 ft. deep, well below the water table, and cover 700 acres. In addition to the devasting ecological impact. area residents are justifiably worried about their wells. Studies of other quarries similar to this one suggest the risk to local hydrology and water quality is very high.

There other approaches to community building that would be less destructive to our natural world. For instance, this past Monday, the Ontario NDP tabled a motion in the provincial legislature for the government to subsidize tolls for commercial truckers on highway 407, a solution they say would help ease traffic congestion on the 401, effectively eliminate the need for the Province to invest in building the 413 and save tax-payers billions of dollars in the process.

Exploring these non-traditional solutions that support both economic growth and preservation of important habitat is critical in achieving long-term environmental sustainability in the region. The Ontario Government should seriously consider these alternatives rather than dismissing them for reasons that seem to be based more on ideology than scientific fact.

Salamander on rock
Salamander on rock

[Editor’s Note: Bob Noble, a respected Brampton naturalist pointed out to me that the Rusty-patched Bumble Bee hasn’t been seen in Ontario since 2009 at the Pinery on Lake Huron. Also, according to Bob, there are no recent reported sightings of Blanding Turtles in Brampton and surrounding area. As he points out, building Highway 413 is therefore unlikely to negatively affect populations of either of these species.

While I agree with Bob’s assessment, the main points in this article remain true. Our historical approach to growth which favours expediency and short-term cost efficiencies over environmental sustainability, leads to habitat loss, decline in species population, and ultimately to species extinction. Building the 413 is just one more “cut” in the death by one thousand scenario. The point of this article is that we need to take a different approach which places a higher priority on environmental protections that maintains habitat and sustains biodiversity.]

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