Innisfil councillors decided to stay in their lane and not speak out against the Bradford Bypass.
In the driver’s seat at the council table was Mayor Lynn Dollin, who thought it wouldn’t be wise for Innisfil to start “launching recommendations” at other municipalities, especially on this issue at this time.
“We’re setting a dangerous precedent,” she said. “This bypass has been in the (Official Plan) for Bradford for 20-some-odd years. So, if we had a problem with it, that’s when we should have brought it up, or if we wanted extra protections put in for Lake Simcoe, we should have done it then.”
The motion on the bypass was brought forward for debate at Wednesday's council meeting by Coun. Alex Waters.
He said it was important to craft a motion that reflected the innovation championed by the municipality. This wasn’t an anti-Bradford Bypass motion, Waters added. Rather, it was about finding a smart solution so that if the bypass was going to be built, it was imperative it be done right.
“It’s a motion that looks at the health of Lake Simcoe,” Waters said. “I thought it was prudent to be able to provide some sort of positive solutions in terms of how do we rectify two of the critical issues that face (it), phosphorus and salt.”
Phosphorus levels have been excessive in the lake for years, with a reduction to 44 tons annually first proposed at the outset of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan nearly 15 years ago. But that number has never been met and is even higher today than it was then.
In the past year, other Lake Simcoe-adjacent municipalities have passed resolutions calling on upper-tier governments to see that tonnage goal be met by 2031.
An increase in salt in the lake is becoming just as problematic, councillors were told during the meeting. Waters feels that salt mitigation policies for the highway won’t be good enough and rather his motion called for a no-salt strategy that would see heated surfaces (electrically conducive concrete) utilized in the environmentally vulnerable stretches of the bypass.
Waters’ motion also wanted the provincial government to “provide a transparent process that clearly demonstrates the time benefits of the (bypass) against lower cost remedial measures using existing roads” and commit to construction of the Innisfil GO station by 2025.
It was a lot for councillors to consider.
“I generally agree with a lot of the things (Waters) brings forward, but in this instance, I have a few issues with how the motion reads,” Coun. Kevin Eisses said. “We are asking for the time benefits ... against lower costs and remedial measures. This road isn’t in our jurisdiction – it’s in the Town of Bradford West Gwillimbury – and it feels like we’re suggesting they … don’t know what the traffic is in their own main street.”
He says he's talked to fellow farmers about the need for improved east-west vehicle access in moving crops. In his experience, the most efficient way currently is to travel south to Highway 401 and head through the traffic at the top of Toronto to get to points in eastern Ontario and beyond.
The bypass won’t enter Innisfil's municipal boundaries.
For Coun. Linda Zanella, that was reason enough to vote against.
“I know it’s Lake Simcoe and it’s all our problem, but Bradford should be the ones putting forward this motion,” she said. “Can we talk to Bradford to see if they would be interested in doing some of this stuff … because it is their jurisdiction? I don’t think I would like it if Barrie passed a motion about something about Innisfil Beach Road.”
Deputy Mayor Kenneth Fowler said he couldn’t support the motion, because it tried to do too much.
“He’s casting a very large net for a lot of different issues,” Fowler said. “If he were to bring this back with a more focused approach on one or two specific issues, I think I’d be better able to support this.”
The connecting link between highways 400 and 404 has been in the works for more than four decades, originating from a proposal to extend Highway 89 across Lake Simcoe to meet up with Highway 12. While that was officially scrapped in the mid-1980s — following outcries from several environmental groups — by the end of the decade the need for a bypass of Bradford was in the works, and a new environmental assessment was completed in 1997 before being approved in 2002.
The bypass was killed by Dalton McGuinty's provincial Liberal government in 2005, only to be revived by his successor, Kathleen Wynne, in 2017.
Work has ramped up significantly since the election of Doug Ford's Progressive Conservatives in 2018, with an update to the 1997 environmental assessment expected to be completed by the end of the year.
Council heard multiple delegations on the motion from the public during the meeting, each of which called on council to support Waters’ motion. The difference between those presenters and the councillor is that they don’t want to see the highway built at all.
Claire Malcomson spent her time showing councillors the flaws her organization, the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition, has found in the government’s process in planning for the bypass, highlighting the unknowns like total cost and the effect on other area roads.
Area resident Diane Hogarth suggested the bypass could adversely affect the economy in Innisfil as its existence would jeopardize the lake, one of the main tourist attractions in the municipality.
These delegations accounted for most of the first hour of the meeting and Dollin seemed frustrated so much of council’s time was spent on the matter.
“At (the Association of Municipalities of Ontario), we get probably 100 resolutions a week and they go nowhere,” she said. “So we spend all this time and effort and energy on a motion that we have no control over. I’ve been getting emails from people saying, ‘I’m in favour of the bypass,’ ‘I’m not in favour of the bypass,’ vote this way, vote that way. This is not our decision, folks. It’s been made.”
The motion was defeated by a 7-2 vote, with only Waters and Coun. Jennifer Richardson in support.