City Hall doesn’t want to hear from anyone who doesn’t share their point of view. The Grantham Rail Trail (GRT) project is a prime example. The St. Catharines Environmental Alliance (SEA) requested the opportunity to discuss with City Council the surface treatment for the proposed trial. SEA was agreeable with the need for improvements and, in fact, believed they were long overdue. We just felt there was the need to take a closer look at using a toxic substance (asphalt) when an environmentally friendly surface treatment (stonedust) with a proven track record could be used. It was an opportunity to do something progressive at a time when we need to do everything that we can to protect our environment. It was certainly worthy of discussion.
It supposedly ended the discussion. But as our group took a closer look at the staff and Council reports (most of which occurred before SEA was formed) what we found was alarming. The reports didn’t include any criteria for pathway surface treatment, they were void of any study or documented information on who uses the trial or times of use, and they didn’t include an environmental impact study. Similar projects by other municipalities are based on studies, surveys and comparisons and provide valid information for evidence-based decisions. In this case a $1.6 M project was based on assumption and preference and not on any actual facts.
So, we said “Wait a minute; we would like some answers”. And that opened the floodgates! Suddenly we were the bad guys for speaking up. Even though the vote to reconsider was never in doubt, instead of facts to support their decision for asphalt, some Councillors posted demeaning comments about our group and individuals, misconstrued our objectives, and demonstrated a lack of civility that should be given to everyone.
In the end, it was a moot point. The message was clear “tell us what we want to hear or don’t tell us anything at all”.
The entire controversy on the GRT, regardless of the outcome, has been about politics vs common sense.
There is no arguing that climate change is wreaking havoc on our planet – the result of man’s over-indulgence, greed and lack of common sense.
But for all that we’ve done to damage mother earth, there is a solution that is right in front of us.
It’s our wetlands, forested areas, and open greenspaces, like the GRT. They suck the carbon out of the air and lock it away. And the beauty of these “Natural Climate Solutions” is that they don’t cost us a thing. All they ask is that we leave them alone, or even better, create more of them and let them do their job.
When we need nature the most, too often, we end up destroying it. We must, in no uncertain terms, protect and restore our natural environment. We need to make tough and sometimes unpopular decisions. And we need to make adjustments in our activities and thinking because of changes in our climate. We need to compromise in order to preserve our natural order. We need to use environmentally friendly solutions whenever and wherever possible.
More often than not, politics and common-sense travel in different circles and, in the end, the GRT decision was political and not environmental. How else can you explain laying 120,000 ft2 of asphalt over 3.6 km of greenspace?
And finally, as a citizen/tax payer/constituent we only have three opportunities to express our opinion on public issues – through transparent and fair public consultation, by posting or publishing our position, or by casting our ballots on election day. When a municipal administration fails to consider alternative voices, it not only narrows and voids the democratic process but opens the door to unnecessary conflict. The GRT issue is the poster child for that neglect. Let’s hope it’s not a trend.