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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Ontario Trail News - Waterloo trail faces development issues

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James Jackson photo
James Jackson photo
Protestors carrying placards reading “Respect this forest” blocked paving crews from accessing the Hillside Park trail system on Columbia Street East Monday morning. Susan Raymond and her son, John, stood in front of a skid-steer loaded with asphalt near the park entrance.
Protest halts work on Hillside trails
By James Jackson
Chronicle Staff
About two-dozen residents were successful in delaying the paving of the Hillside Park trail Monday after a six-hour standoff with police, the construction crew and city staff.
Their actions may be for naught, however, as the city expects to have pavers back on the site Thursday morning to complete the job. Monday’s delay will add an estimated $10,000 to the $266,000 job.
“We’re obviously pleased we got them to back off. We don’t consider it a victory but it gives us some wiggle room,” said Paul Raymond, one of the organizers of the protest. He lives on nearby Ferndale Place, a short walk from the trail.
Raymond said he has contacted the Ministry of Natural Resources and said they may want to conduct a site visit.
He has also contacted an environmental lawyer about the possibility of filing an injunction to stop the work altogether on the trail.
The city says paving the trail will prevent washouts from eroding the gravel trail and provide access to the nearby sanitary sewer.
The trail will also connect to other active transportation routes throughout the city.
Sections of the Forwell Trail, directly across the road from where protesters stood Monday, are already paved.
The decision to postpone the work came after protesters blocked the path of paving crews trying to gain access to the trail off Columbia Street East near Lexington Road. The paving crew from Brantco Construction packed up shortly before 2 p.m. Monday when they couldn’t proceed with the work.
Aside from the environmental and safety concerns of paving the trail, many argued the city didn’t properly notify them of the paving project. Raymond emailed the city on Friday to inform staff there would be a protest Monday if worked proceeded as planned.
The city says it held public input sessions but admits it failed to notify homes on Ferndale Place.
The city also held two meetings in recent weeks with concerned residents but the two sides could not reach an agreement on how to proceed. The city says it is willing to continue negotiating with the group.
“I’m not sure how a meeting would look. I’m willing to meet with them, but so far they don’t agree with what I say,” said Phil Hewitson, manager of active transportation with the city, after the paving crew left Monday afternoon.
With colder temperatures just around the corner, the weather is also an issue if the city wants to get the paving done in time for next spring, Hewitson added.
The city called the police and brought in two extra private security guards Monday. The police spoke with protesters on several occasions and asked them to move, but were unsuccessful. Since the path is a public right-of-way the protesters could not be removed from the site.
“We didn’t want anyone to get hurt so the police were called … and to more or less keep the peace,” said Hewitson. The city is looking into ways to ensure the work can legally proceed Thursday.
Ward councillor Mark Whaley, who was not at Monday’s protest, told the Chronicle the majority of the feedback he’s received from the public on the project is positive.
“I am not against public protest at all, I worry about people crossing the line into civil disobedience however,” he wrote in an email.
The proposed trail improvements, approved in September, include the paving of two sections of trail — the Laurel Trail from Forwell Trail south to University Avenue and the Forwell Trail from the Laurel Trail north to Lexington Road.
The city’s plan is to link the trails with the WaterLoop trail network, the renamed Interior Trail Loop, and connect it with other city trails. The Grand River Conservation Area has also approved the project.
The tender was awarded in September for $266,600 for the 1.1-kilometre section of trail improvements. The three-metre wide trail will also have a one-metre vegetation buffer on each side.
In a blog post on their website, local active transportation advocacy group Tri-Cities Transport Action Group (Tri-TAG) said the planned improvements will reduce erosion on the gravel trail — thus reducing the ecological impact on the nearby stream.
“Hillside Trail doesn’t belong to an exclusive group — it belongs to us all,” wrote Tri-TAG member Mike Boos. Paving it would make it more accessible to the community.