Region of Halton vs. CN: How Did We Get Here?

The three person review panel has released its environmental assessment report on the CN Intermodal

By: Laura Steiner

Canadian National Railway (CN Rail)’s involvement with Milton on an intermodal facility goes back to 2001 when they first proposed one.  In 2008 they announced they were walking from the project, and the lands would be used for a rail only facility. All was good.  The Region of Halton, and Town of Milton proceeded in designating those lands as ‘strategic employment’ (think an area similar to 25 highway and 401).  Work on the Boyne survey could begin.

It came as a bit of a shock in 2015 when the company returned to Milton, and this idea of an Intermodal facility.  What made it worse was CN’s further statement that because they were in a federally regulated industry, they would submit to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA), and the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA).  They presented their project to CEAA, in April, 2015 and work on an assessment began.  It’s gone back and forth with requests for new information several times.  A review panel was appointed, and held orientation hearings. The public has had opportunities to give feedback on it.  CN has opened an office in Milton for the public to visit with questions and feedback.

The project has gotten a negative reception from the public.  Two citizens’ groups have formed in Milton Says No, and Milton RAIL (Residents Affected by Intermodal Locations).  Council has made stopping the facility its official position.  Business has been more receptive, with the Chamber of Commerce giving its endorsement conditional upon the successful completion of the Environmental Assessment.  It’s difficult not to see the argument here- it would bring jobs, and more businesses to town.

This story was fairly quiet until CN co-hosted a breakfast with the Milton Chamber of Commerce at Granite Ridge February 21.  I’d expected to hear news of upcoming public hearings.  Instead there was a complete history of the project to date.  One presentation ended: “We’re here, and we’re listening.  Tell us what you want.”  It gave the morning a sense of desperation, with CN asking what they had to do to be liked.   They want it built by early 2020’s.  And there was also a sense they wouldn’t give up, pointing out plans for a road on their own property, plus an underpass for Lower Base Line.

The same day, the Region of Halton announced they planned to challenge CN in court over jurisdictional issues. One of the many issues centres on the Railway Act, a piece of legislation as old as Canada itself.  It gives permission to CN to build 100 acres to either side of the track without planning permissions from the municipality.  In other words, those permits everyone else needs to build a deck/ shed, or change their property in any way? The ones governed by 26 different pieces of provincial, local, and Regional legislation? CN thinks they can be scrapped.  The Region of Halton is saying “we’re not going to let you.”

Regional Chair Gary Carr also said he was sending a letter to the Premier regarding the issue.  The province has been silent on this topic.  In the last three years there hasn’t been a peep from area MPP’s, or any minister.   It may be a federally regulated industry, but they need to recognize this means something to the area.   Silence isn’t doing the trick anymore.