Islanders opposed to the Churchill highway realignment known as Plan B are vowing to continue their fight to stop the project.
Environment Minister Janice Sherry, together with the federal government, gave the green light to the so-called Plan B project Monday afternoon. This was the last step in the approvals process, which means government can now move ahead with construction.
But a group of concerned citizens that has been very vocal in opposition to the project, is now saying it plans to get a court injunction to stop Plan B.
“The legal case, the court injunction, will be prepared as soon as possible,” said Tony Reddin, a spokesperson for the ‘Stop Plan B’ group.
“I just hope they put release clauses into (contracts) that don’t penalize (the province) too much when this gets reversed.”
Reddin said there are also people willing to physically block construction, should legal proceedings fail.
“There are a lot of people who are intending to do whatever they can to stop this by holding whatever sort of blockade it takes, and that’s not surprising given the bull-headedness of the officials involved,” Reddin said.
Reddin and many others have been raising concerns about the proposed highway realignment and potential harm to waterways, trees and wildlife in the area.
But Sherry said Monday she is satisfied the project can be carried out without major environmental damage to the area.
“After the length of time and the amount of work that has gone into this process, I feel very comfortable with my final decision,” Sherry told reporters Monday.
“When I went through the process with my staff page by page and line by line, the issue, of course, was the environmental impact and I feel confident today with all of the mitigations that have been put in place.”’
The project proposes to realign a section of the Trans Canada Highway in Churchill to make hills less steep and curves less sharp.
It had been awaiting approval from Sherry on the environmental impact assessment, performed in the spring by Stantec Consulting Ltd., which she approved Monday with a few amendments.
One of these requires the Department of Transportation to fund a dedicated employee to oversee all environmental aspects of the project on a full-time basis until it is completed.
Transportation also must develop and implement long-term protection plans for five parcels of land identified by the department as environmentally sensitive. These parcels contain much of the hemlock and old growth trees environment protection groups have been concerned about. Transportation officials will be asking for input from other government departments as well as non-governmental organizations on how best to preserve these areas.
Sherry said she also requested extra precautions be put in place to ensure sediment runoff into a nearby stream is not an issue in the future. That’s why she is requiring the project’s environmental protection plan to include erosion control measures designed to withstand a one-in-25-year rainfall event.
This was added to the plan later to address concerns raised by the public in many of the 300 pieces of correspondence submitted on Plan B.
“It was obvious from the public input we received that was one of the most important areas to them,” Sherry said.
If any problems are identified during the construction process, work will be halted immediately, she added.
“You have to move forward with a positive nature in a project of this size and we’re very optimistic that we’ve done the due diligence to make sure these issues are going to be well watched, well protected, well run,” Sherry said.
“I’m moving forward feeling very good about it.”
Opposition Leader Olive Crane says she is disappointed government plans to go ahead with this realignment.
“It’s a very sad day in Prince Edward Island with regards to democracy,” Crane said.
She has been calling for the province to scrap the project.
“They never did look at alternatives to this project, they’re spending money that we do not have and the list goes on and on,” she said.
“It’s a very sad day in Prince Edward Island with regards to democracy,” - Opposition Leader Olive Crane
“The big issue of spending dollars we do not have will haunt Robert Ghiz and his government until the election of 2015.”
The provincial and federal governments are sharing the costs of the $16-million construction, with P.E.I. adding another $4 million to buy 23 properties in the area.
No timelines have yet been set for when work on the highway realignment will begin.
PLAN B QUICK FACTS
Environment Minister Janice Sherry released a list of conditions that must be met by the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal (TIR) for Plan B to go ahead. Here are some of those conditions:
- TIR must construct the project as documented in the environmental assessment, including the minister’s amendments and conditions.
- TIR must authorize funding to the environment department for a full-time employee to oversee environmental aspects of the project
- Within 12 months, TIR must develop a long-term protection plan for sensitive parcels of land in this area which have been identified by the department
- TIR must comply with the revised environmental protection plan, which includes erosion control measures designed to withstand a one-in-25-year rain event
- If sediment from construction enters a watercourse, TIR must cease working immediately and implement diversion measures
- TIR must report all contaminant spills to the department and complete any necessary clean-up
- TIR must obtain proper permits for work conducted within 15 metres of a waterway