Environment laws are stalling development in Ontario, study says

A major construction project on the 401 highway in Windsor and Essex County, Ontario. Flickr photo/Di Bédard

Imagine there’s a severe flood in a small Ontario town.

Imagine the flood washes out a key bridge, which serves as a fire and ambulance route.

The town leaders want to replace the bridge but in a different location, so that it’s safe from future weather events. They also want to elevate it, and reinforce the river banks below.

Under Ontario’s current environmental assessment laws, it will be two to four years before the town can even begin construction, said Frank Zechner, a civil engineer in Alberta’s oil and gas sector turned environmental lawyer.

It should take only five to eight months, he said in an interview with National Observer.

Zechner has written a new report that highlights the shortcomings of Ontario’s current Municipal Class Environmental Assessment (MCEA) process, which designates the planning and design of municipal infrastructure projects according to the requirements of the province’s Environmental Assessment Act to ensure that all environmental impacts of a development project are considered, and any effects appropriately mitigated before construction.

Entitled “Case Studies that Support Reforming Ontario’s Municipal Class Environmental Assessment Process,” the report is the sixth in a series commissioned by the Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario (RCCAO) — an advocacy group for engineers and construction workers in the province — since 2009.

Zechner investigated 12 infrastructure projects across the province that faced significant delays and additional costs arising from “red tape and duplication.” Nine were road-related projects, two were bridges and one was a sewage water infrastructure project. In 10 cases, the MCEA process took between two and five years. Four of the projects required more than $2 million for consultants and reports; six required more than $500,000. These amounts, Zechner argues in the report, are too high.


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