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A new environmental assessment process for transit projects

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A new environmental assessment process for transit projects

The Transit Projects Regulation - O. Reg. 231/08 - sets out a new assessment process for transit projects. Projects covered by the regulation include dedicated bus lanes, light/heavy rail lines, subways, new stations, storage facilities, and ancillary services/facilities such as sidewalks, bike lanes and landscaping associated with transit projects. These projects are now exempt from having to conduct an individual or class environmental assessment (EA).

The steps in the new process mirror certain requirements of the Environmental Assessment Act, including public and agency consultation, an assessment of potential environmental effects and mitigation measures.

Major features of the new assessment process for transit are:

  • Proponents do not have to rationalize the need for transit or look at alternatives (only alternative construction methods) since the need for transit and the benefits to communities, the environment and the economy are clear.
  • Only issues around matters of provincial importance, or Aboriginal or treaty rights will be considered by the Minister through the objection process.
  • There is a six-month time limit on the process. The time line includes 120 days for consultation on positive or negative environmental impacts and preparation of an Environmental Project Report; a 30-day public and agency comment period; and 35 days for the Environment Minister to respond to public requests for a review of the project.  

Transit authorities can choose to conduct an individual environmental assessment or one of three existing class EA processes (GO Transit and the Ministry of Transportation each have a class EA, and municipalities can use the Municipal Engineers Class EA).

This assessment process for transit does not change the normal process of up-front planning, including identifying existing environmental conditions and expected impacts, resolving land use constraints, property acquisitions, funding approval and construction.

Once a proponent initiates the assessment process, timelines will apply. However, if issues of provincial importance arise during the 120 day consultation and documentation period, the proponent can take a timeout to work out these concerns. 

Proponents can use the time-out provision only when issues or concerns are associated with a matter of provincial importance related to the natural environment or cultural heritage resource, or a constitutionally protected Aboriginal or treaty right.

Objection process

Anyone can apply to the Environment Minister for a review of the project. If the Minister is of the opinion that the project may have a negative impact on a matter of provincial importance or Aboriginal or treaty rights, then he/she could issue a notice requiring further study.

Objections must be submitted to the Minister during the 30-day public comment period.

The Minister has 35 days to request additional studies or other actions. If the proponent's response doesn't address the Minister's concerns, he/she can demand the proponent undertake an individual environmental assessment or a class EA. 

Determining matters of provincial importance

When deciding to take a time-out or in reviewing a project, the proponent and the Minister only need to consider impacts on matters of provincial importance, or to Aboriginal or treaty rights. The following are some examples of what may be considered a matter of provincial importance: 

  • provincial parks
  • habitats of endangered or threatened species
  • provincially-significant wetlands, woodlands, areas of natural or scientific interest, or protected surface or groundwater
  • archaeological resources, heritage or cultural buildings, structures or features of provincial importance.

An interim guide to the new transit assessment process is available to proponents and the public on the Environmental Registry at www.ebr.gov.on.ca (EBR #010-3784).  

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