Guelph activists win small victory from occupation
By Andrew Loucks and Devin K.
GUELPH - The courts have put an end to the occupation of what was to be the Hanlon Creek Business Park, but the City of Guelph has also been prevented from beginning construction for 30 days. Activists who occupied the undeveloped area southwest Guelph July 27 have left, but they are also relishing a small victory.
In a suprising decision August 13, Ontario Superior Court Justice Douglas Gray ordered people to leave the proposed construction site, and ordered the City to delay construction so that the Ontario Minister of Natural Resources might act to protect endangered Jefferson Salamander habitat. Lawyer Eric Gillespie, who represented people occupying the site, has called the decision “remarkable and virtually unprecedented” for stopping construction on environmental concerns.
The issues raised surrounding the development go beyond the technicalities of the Endangered Species Act or other legislation. The project has been controversial since its proposal in 1993, and in recent months a community group calling itself LIMITS (Land Is More Important Than Sprawl) has formed to contest the development.
LIMITS has organized public meetings, trips to the old growth forest and media projects. Concerns range from possible compromise of ground water, to encouraging quarry exploitation, to questioning an economy that must grow in perpetuity.
Public outcry and appeals to the Ontario Municipal Board and various arms of the City of Guelph have put the spotlight on the Hanlon Creek Business Park, and have won some protective regulations. But they have failed to affect the core of city's develop plans.
Initial stages of construction, including a four lane access road and culvert, began in July, leading some to take direct action and occupy the site. With the court ordering a 30 day delay, it is unclear how initial phases of the business park could be completed by September 15th , a deadline the City must meet if it is to protect cold water fish habitat in a Hanlon Creek tributary that crosses the site.
Those involved in the occupation won't be wasting any time. They plan to use the 30 day window won in court to try and pressure Minster of Natural Resources Donna Cansfield to order construction halted, and further organize “networks of resistance.”
Local government and chamber of commerce officials justify the park by citing its job creation potential, by warning of higher taxes on renters and home owners if business development is not accelerated, and by dismissing concerns about the development's environmental impact.