The following is a copy of a letter submitted to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry in response to a posting on the Environmental Registry for comments on ER number 012-8874 - the issuance of overall benefit permits for the destruction of species at risk habitat in the proposed corridor of the Maley Drive Extension in the City of Greater Sudbury.
I've written extensively about the Maley Drive Extension proposal in the past. My latest blogposts on the matter are: "Ontario's Environmental Assessment Process is Failing Species at Risk in Sudbury," April 26, 2016, and "Sudbury's Male Drive: A Case Study in the Erosion of Species at Risk Protection in Ontario," April 8, 2016. Both provide some background of where the Maley Drive matter is currently at with regards to all three levels of government which have expressed an interest in building this new road - right through the habitat of two threatened species, whipporwill and Blanding's turtle, in absence of an Environmental Assessment which assessed impacts and alternatives.
You read that correctly: No Environmental Assessment has ever been undertaken which looked at alternatives to the route selected for this new road.
Here's my letter:
Thank you for the opportunity to provide comments on the matter of the issuance of overall benefit permits related to the proposed Maley Drive Extension in the City of Greater Sudbury.
The Environmental Assessment prepared to support the proposed Maley Drive extension was undertaken by the City of Greater Sudbury in the mid-1990s, and finalized in 1995 (the “Maley Drive Extension Class Environmental Assessment” prepared by Marshall Macklin Monaghan for the Region of Sudbury, dated October, 1995). The 1995 Class Environmental Assessment was the last time at which input on the Maley Drive proposal was specifically sought of the public at large.
In 2008, an Addendum to the 1995 Class Environmental Assessment was completed, after the terms of reference for the project were altered somewhat (the “Maley Drive Extension / Lasalle Boulevard Widening Municipal Class EA Addendum” prepared by Earth Tech (Canada) Inc. for the City of Greater Sudbury, dated May 15, 2008). The Addendum was prepared with limited public consultation. It was also prepared in an environment which did not question the underlying socio-economic assumptions of the 1995 Class EA.
Neither the 1995 Class EA or the 2008 Addendum identified the presence of habitat of species at risk.
This is astonishing, given that the one of the purposes of a Class EA is to provide an opportunity for the public to provide input to a project based on a baseline understanding of physical and socio-economic features. The project is then informed by these public comments, and alternatives are assessed against a number of criteria. In this case, the alternative choice to address the identified transportation issue became the proposed Maley Drive Extension – the creation of a new road to run between Lasalle Blvd. in the west and Barrydowne Road in the east. As it turns out, this new road was planned to run directly through the habitat of two species at risk – whipporwill and Blanding’s turtle.
It has been only after the announcement of provincial and federal funding for the Maley Drive Extension project that the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry is considering the issuance of overall benefit permits to allow the destruction of species at risk habitat within the proposed Maley Drive Extension corridor. This assessment ought to have occurred a long time ago – during the Class Environmental Assessment process. However, for whatever reason, that did not happen.
Rather than the province compelling the City of Greater Sudbury to return to and review the 1995 Class EA to consider alternatives for the transportation issue identified at that time (and indeed to determine whether the underlying socio-economic assumptions about growth made more than two decades ago are still relevant today), the province instead opted to consider the City’s request for the use of overall benefit permits. I understand that we can’t turn back the hands of time – but I did want to identify here that it appears that the provincial processes which might have led to sustainable outcomes for species at risk through the preservation of natural habitat have never been explored in the context of the Maley Drive Extension project.
With that in mind, I would like to remind the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry that one of the requirements for receipt of an overall benefit permit is that, “reasonable alternatives have been considered, including alternatives that would not adversely affect the species, and the best alternative has been chosen.” (see: source: “Species at risk overall benefit permits,” the Province of Ontario: https://www.ontario.ca/page/species-risk-overall-benefit-permits).
With regards to “reasonable alternatives” for projects, Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry documentation goes on to indicate (with my emphasis added in bold):
“Requirement: consider reasonable alternatives
You will need to show the Ministry of Natural Resources that you have considered reasonable alternatives to your activity.
Alternative approaches to your activity include:
· changing the location of the activity
· using alternative methods, equipment or technical designs
· changing the timing of the activity to avoid times when the species is there or is most sensitive to disturbance
· changing the geographic scale, duration and/or frequency of the potential adverse effects
· adding or changing approaches and timing of site restoration or rehabilitation after the activity is done
When considering reasonable alternatives to your activity, you must:
· consider at least one alternative that would completely avoid any adverse effects on species at risk
· identify alternatives that you considered but did not think were reasonable because of biological, technical, social or economic limitations
· explain why the approach you have chosen is the best alternative” (source: “Species at risk overall benefit permits,” the Province of Ontario: https://www.ontario.ca/page/species-risk-overall-benefit-permits)
It is here worth repeating: at no time have any reasonable alternatives to the physical location of the proposed Maley Drive Extension through the habitat of species at risk ever been considered by any level of government. The vehicle for providing that level of assessment – the Class Environmental Assessment – failed to identify the presence of species at risk habitat, and even the Addendum prepared over a decade later failed to identify the presence of the habitat. At no time has the City of Greater Sudbury, the Province of Ontario, or even the Government of Canada ever considered alternatives to the proposed route. However, all three levels of government have committed funding to this project.
Without appropriate consideration given to alternatives, it is premature to conclude that the best interests of the species in question is served through the issuance of an overall benefit permit and the re-creation of species habitat in other locations. Habitat re-creation would not be necessary had the (former Region of Sudbury’s and the City of Greater Sudbury’s) class environmental assessments identified the species at risk habitat in the first place.
I respectfully request the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry to decline the issuance of overall benefit permits at this time, and reserve for itself the opportunity to issue permits at some point in the future – at a time when alternatives to the traffic issue identified in 1995 (if still relevant based on current socio-economic assumptions) been assessed through a public process. In short, the City of Greater Sudbury should be directed to undertake a new Class Environmental Assessment based on current data, which looks at appropriate resolutions to any specific traffic issue identified.
It may be that the City, with a complete data set and through a public process, arrives back at a point where the preferred solution requires the construction of a roadway through the habitat of species at risk. In that case, at least the Minister can have some assurance that alternatives to this outcome have at least been considered and discarded. That’s clearly not the case with regards to the request for overall benefit permits that the Minister is tasked with evaluating today.
Thank you again for the opportunity to provide these comments.
(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)