BY ANDREW SMITH
PERTH COUNTY - The concerns with the proposed Highway 7 and 8 project continue at Perth County council, with some councillors questioning the future of the study.
Council heard from Sharon Weitzel at their Oct. 3 meeting, representing the Agricultural Business Community of Perth East and Perth South. Weitzel expressed her frustration with the Ministry of Transportation and their plan to take up valuable agricultural land for the highway project.
“There is very little land to be had for any reason, and it just cannot be replaced,” Weitzel said.
The meeting marked the second time that the Agricultural Business Community has come to Perth County council with concerns over the project, with Weitzel believing the future of agri-business in the community depends on the protection of farm land.
“Our research has clearly identified a direct link between the profitable operation of agri-business and the transportation network we currently have,” Weitzel said.
The sixth public information centre was held in August, with Weitzel commenting that the issues brought forward by residents haven’t been considered in the documents presented by the MTO.
“We are all caught in a one-way planning process that favours the MTO,” she said. “It provides very little room for two-way communication.”
Weitzel presented a number of recommendations to Perth County council, including the rejection of any plan with a construction timeline of 30 years or more, and an overhaul of the Ontario Environmental Assessment Act, which Weitzel said was key to making a difference in the planning process.
“It’s our understanding that this particular act refers to what’s going on in the MTO, and their process is all locked up in that legislation,” Weitzel said. “It has to be changed if you want to see this process changed.”
Coun. Bob McMillian said a meeting between the MTO, Aecom and Perth East council recently confirmed that old portions of Highway 7 and 8 will be downloaded to the county, including a portion of four lane highway outside of Stratford. McMillian also restated his concern that access for emergency vehicles hasn’t adequately been addressed in the proposal.
“The county is losing some very productive land, and being downloaded numerous kilometres,” he said. “It’s unnecessary what they’re proposing and it’s redundant.”
Coun. Julie Behrns also had strong comments, questioning the ministry’s decision to plan for a highway that may not be built until 2043, when the community is clearly against the design.
“They would have been far better to spend the money that this entire project has cost over the number of years and give it to the municipalities involved to take care of roads and bridges,” Behrns said. “No one is going to look at a study that’s 30 years old.”
“This was a complete waste of money and everybody’s energy,” she added. “To not even have it slated anywhere in the province’s upgrades is, I think, despicable and not responsible.”
A decision was made to prepare a joint submission to the MTO for consideration at the Oct. 17 meeting of Perth County council.