The City of Guelph says a proposed pedestrian bridge over the Speed River may be delayed up to a year because of a new request by the Ministry of the Environment.
First approved by city council in 2015, the Emma-Earl Bridge is a pedestrian and bicycle bridge proposed to span 90 metres over the Speed River 200 metres downstream of Speedvale Avenue.
On Oct. 29 a letter was sent to the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks by Martin Collier, a transportation planner by trade who represents the Residents for a Safe Speedvale Avenue.
Collier made a Bump Up request to the ministry, asking it to consider eight points in which he said the city was deficient in its handling of the environmental assessment (EA) for the project.
On Thursday the ministry responded to Collier and told the City of Guelph it had determined there where some deficiencies in the project’s environmental assessment, especially concerning lack of consultation with the public and First Nations, as well as ensuring it is in accordance with the Endangered Species Act.
“We had concerns and those were outlined in a five-page letter to the ministry,” said Collier. “They responded on two of the eight.”
In order to meet the environmental assessment requirements, the ministry said the city must carry out the required consultation and update the project file.
In return, the city is committed to providing the additional information to satisfy the ministry’s request, said Terry Gayman, general manager of engineering and transportation services, in a press release on Thursday.
To comply, the city will conduct Indigenous community consultation related to treaty rights, provide details about the public consultation program including how feedback was considered, as well as providing details about how species at risk assessments were conducted with respect to bats and describing projected habitat impacts.
“We recognize the importance of this environmental assessment work to ensure we’re meeting commitments to our community and protecting our environment as we improve connections to downtown for people walking and biking in Guelph,” said Gayman.
Reached by email, Gayman said the additional requirements from the ministry will delay the project by about a year and likely add additional costs, depending on the length of the construction delay.
The city is also continuing with an Official Plan Amendment (OPA) to allow for the project to move ahead.
"The site-specific OPA, if approved by Council, will allow the City to build a bridge, as essential transportation infrastructure, within the Natural Heritage System once the EA is approved," said Gayman in the email. "Should the EA not be approved for any reason in the future, the bridge would simply not be built, but it’s important to have the OPA in place so that the City can move ahead in a timely manner once the EA is approved."
Collier opposes the building of a bridge over what he calls the last pristine urban section of the Speed River, primarily for environmental and safety reasons. He would like to see the Emma-Earl Bridge proposal scrapped entirely and instead have the city incorporate a ‘safe zone’ for cyclists and pedestrians to the upcoming reconstruction of Speedvale Avenue.
“They are saying the only option is to build the bridge or do nothing,” said Collier about the city’s plans. “We are saying you can do nothing, but you can also go back to Speedvale and put in one extra block of bike lanes when they are reconstructing it for 20 million dollars.”
Collier said he expects scrapping the Emma-Earl Bridge proposal and incorporating the safe zone to the Speedvale reconstruction will also save a great deal of money, versus constructing a new bridge from scratch.
If the Emma-Earl Bridge is built, Collier said people who want to cross the Speed River by walking or by bicycle will have to travel 200 metres each way instead of simply crossing at Speedvale Avenue. He said that may be an easier task for cyclists than, say, a senior citizen who is on foot.
“Walking you are taking people quite a bit further,” said Collier. “You’re taking them much further out of their way.”
Collier said he expects the Ministry of Municipal Affairs to take up some of the transportation planning issues he brought up in his original letter.
Gayman said a Feb. 8 public meeting will still be held as part of the Official Plan Amendment process.