As the South Georgian Bay region continues to cope with high traffic volumes, plans to close what some call a 'critical east-west traffic artery' in Clearview has neighbouring municipalities joining the opposition.
As part of a decade-old agreement between Walker Aggregates and Clearview Township, plans are underway to close and transfer ownership of County Road 91 – between County Road 31 and Clearview Concession 10 – to Walker.
As part of the agreement between the counties of Simcoe and Grey, Clearview Township, and Walker, the township is supposed to improve Sideroad 26/27 to municipal standards as an alternative east/west route.
“The proposed rerouting will create significant traffic congestion – increasing safety risks for motorists and other road users in our regional traffic network,” stated Clearview resident Wendy Franks.
Franks is a member of Quarry Aware, a group of local citizens that has come together in an effort to stop the closure of County Road 91 and the re-development of Sideroad 26/27.
According to a statement posted to the Clearview Township website, the proposed upgrades for the sideroad include widening it, which means clearing and grading an additional 2.37 hectares of land.
Quarry Aware calls Clearview’s plan “costly, unnecessary and environmentally destructive”. The group has been fighting the closure for the past 10 years as the township has sought various development approvals.
The group recently launched a new campaign called, Save 91, which includes published billboards, lawn signs, flyers and a website that is asking interested parties to sign a petition, write government representatives and letters to the editor in opposition of the closure.
“In under a month, a petition to council has gained over 560 signatures,” stated Franks.
The campaign calls on Clearview to reassess its position on the “closed-door deal that will shut down one of the region’s busiest roads.”
The agreement between the local quarry operator and the township was initially struck so that Walker Aggregates could have more streamlined access to its quarry pits, which straddle either side of County Road 91.
However, since the agreement was made, Walker Aggregates’ Duntroon Quarry has since been granted permission to build a tunnel under County Road 91, allowing it to operate its pits on both sides of the road in an unimpeded manner.
“It is difficult to understand why Walker would continue to seek the closure of the thoroughfare, as its operations are no longer dependent on connecting the two pits on either side of the road,” stated Quarry Aware.
The group added that without this just cause, “clear-cutting of at least 2.37 hectares of forest and wetlands to ‘upgrade’ a seasonal sideroad is reckless.”
Clearview’s plan will require an amendment to the Niagara Escarpment Plan (NEP), to which the township has applied for and been rejected on two occasions by the Niagara Escarpment Commission (NEC).
In its most recent attempt to amend the NEP, the NEC provided the following rationale for denying the amendment:
- The amendment could set a precedent for future applications to allow infrastructure projects absent the full consideration of alternatives;
- The amendment is not consistent with the position of the NEC on the related Development Permit application;
- All alternatives have not been considered to justify the proposed policy changes;
- An EA may be required for potential impacts to the Provincial Park;
- Agency comments indicate that there are significant unresolved issues with respect to the potential impact of the road works;
- It has not been demonstrated that the application is in the public interest;
- The applicant has not justified the amendment and it does not meet the Purpose and Objectives of the NEPDA or the NEP or other relevant Provincial policies
“The hearings on the amendments were rejected,” said TBM Mayor Alar Soever during a council meeting held in early August. “Now, they are referred to the Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT) to consider this ... upgrading of Sideroad 26/27.”
Soever added that TBM is watching the ongoing discussions in Clearview carefully as the outcome will have an immediate and concerning impact on the region’s traffic flows.
“That would shut down another east-west route and will move more traffic onto Highway 26,” Soever continued.
Highway 26 from Collingwood to Meaford has been plagued with traffic drama for the past several years, most recently involving a speed reduction from the Ministry of Transportation.
“In the long run what is proposed would be very difficult and costly to us. So, anything that we do now to try and stop it would be worthwhile,” added TBM deputy mayor, Rob Potter.
Franks recently connected with TBM council to ask them to consider applying for party status at the upcoming ERT, which is expected to take place over the course of 28 days in mid-November, early December.
However, Soever is already an active participant in the hearing, and so TBM council opted not to register for party status but did show support to Franks and Quarry Aware by offering to share the town’s previously collected traffic data.
According to Soever, the citizen group has hired an expert witness in traffic for the ERT hearing and the town’s traffic data may be useful in preparing for the case. Currently, the hearing has been relying on the latest traffic analysis of County Road 91, which was undertaken more than 15 years ago.
In March of this year, the Mayor of Clearview, Doug Measures entered the public conversation about the arrangement by issuing a Statement of Facts, which expressed four main points:
- Clearview Township owns and maintains the Sideroad 26/27, which requires immediate improvements to ensure safe passage and the arrest of ongoing damage to the environment
- The improvements have been subject to a Municipal Class A+ Environmental Assessment and a comprehensive Environmental Impact Study and have been endorsed by Simcoe County, Grey County and a panel of Ontario’s Joint Board, however, the proposed improvements are opposed by the NEC
- If the final decision is that Clearview’s applications to the NEC fail, the Township will be faced with a decision to close 26/27 Sideroad or leave the road in an unsatisfactory condition. Together with the pending closure of former County Road 91, there will be no acceptable east-west route available between Singhampton (County Road 124) and the Clearview/Blue Mountain boundary to Grey Road 19
- A section of former County Road 91 is directed to be closed as a result of the decision of the Joint Board. Clearview Township council has not voted to close former County Road 91
Following the release of the statement, Soever filed further correspondence in response to the statements.
Soever agreed that Sideroad 26/27 is in need of “minor improvements” but that the proposed improvements “go far beyond what is required to ensure safe passage and arrest the ongoing damage to the environment”.
As far as Measure's statement that the closure plans are supported by Grey County, Soever explained that since granting its approval in 2019, county council has passed an additional motion requesting Clearview to complete a Municipal Class C EA for Sideroad 26/27.
In addition, the motion that was passed by county council in late-May of 2020 states that the county in fact opposes the proposed amendment to the NEP.
“It is clear from the resolutions approved on June 13, 2019 and reiterated on May 28, 2020 that Grey County no longer supports the projects without a more fulsome review,” stated Soever in his letter to Measures.
Following the ERT hearing that is scheduled for mid-November, the NEC will review the findings and staff report and make a recommendation before the matter proceeds to the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry.
"The truth is ... if the township is prevented from fixing the 26/27 Sideroad, this will not reverse the approval of the Walker quarry expansion, and will handicap, not advance, the prospects of a solution to our very real regional transportation issues," reads the statement by Mayor Measures.