On January 23, 2015, Donnelly Law submitted comments to the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (“MOECC”) suggesting how to improve the environmental assessment process for municipal infrastructure works, known as the Municipal Class Environmental Assessment (“MCEA”). The MCEA is a critical document that establishes a planning and approval process for a wide range of municipal infrastructure works e.g. road widenings, bridge replacements, water and sewage works, etc. In summary, Donnelly Law’s recommendations are:
- Require all Class EAs to consider climate change. From the evaluation of preferred alternatives to the later detailed design, climate change impacts, mitigation and adaptation should be required;
- Require municipalities to publish their rationale for the choice of Class EA process (known as the project schedule) that dictates, among other thing, how rigorous the EA, and if public consultation should occur at all;
- Require municipalities to post the entire Class EA Project File online prior to the comment period. Why should members of the public need to wait to receive a copy, pay the municipality for a copy, or have to spend hours at the library to view the EA documents, which have likely been provided to the municipality in electronic format?
- Remove the unfounded MCEA restriction on bump-up requests to the Minister. The MCEA states there is no ability for the public to request a bump-up on “minor” Class EAs i.e. Schedule A/A+. In our opinion, this is contrary to the Environmental Assessment Act. Why does this matter? Reading the MCEA may prevent an individual from requesting a more stringent EA e.g. where they believe a municipality has misclassified proposed infrastructure works;
- Give more weight to identified and proposed cultural heritage resources in the selection of preferred alternatives. In our experience, heritage resources e.g. First Nation burial sites, pioneer homes, etc. are not given enough weight in the selection of preferred alternatives. New road works should fit into a designated/proposed heritage area, not detract from it; and
- Protect recognized planning areas and natural heritage features e.g. Oak Ridges Moraine or Niagara Escarpment, by simultaneously requiring the completion of technical work specific to the planning area, as anticipated to be done with the Clean Water Act.
These comments were submitted to the MOECC through the Environmental Registry to put the MOECC on notice that the Class EA process requires more than the changes recommended by the Municipal Engineers Association, which do not address the changes the Class EA process requires.