Trans-Canada reroute protested at Province House

About 350 people gathered in front of Province House to protest realignment plans for the Trans-Canada Highway in Bonshaw.

About 350 people gathered in front of Province House Thursday to protest realignment plans for the Trans-Canada Highway in Bonshaw. Premier Robert Ghiz was booed when he came out to speak to the crowd.

People gave speeches, chanted, held signs and brought in baby Hemlock trees, hoping to block Plan B.

Plan B is the provincial government’s $16-million plan to reroute the highway, which would run through private forest lots on the other side of the current highway, eliminating steep grades and numerous driveway accesses.

The province has said the decision to reroute the highway was the result of public input about the safety of the current route.

But many who oppose the plan say it was unfair that plans moved ahead without public consultation, and that other options to make the highway safer haven't been considered.

"I feel that there was false inclusion in the decision-making process," said protester Walter Wilkins. "It's basically a waste of my money, of taxpayers' money."

Opposition leader Olive Crane said her party wants to hear from Islanders.

"We're going to ask one of the legislative committees ... to go the next step — start public consulations on this project and give it back to the government. That's the work that the House is supposed to be doing," Crane told the crowd.

NDP leader James Rodd also spoke out against the Liberals' plan.

"If the government doesn't speak for those majestic trees, or the ecology, or the environment, then it's up to you," he said.

The rerouting involves 34 private properties, including 10 homes. The province has said affected residents will be compensated.

About $4 million has been set aside to purchase all of the affected properties, including the large, forested New Haven Campground, which used to be the amusement park, Encounter Creek.

Area residents are concerned about the environmental impact of the new road.

The Island Nature Trust also sent a letter to Transportation Minister Robert Vessey saying the group is strongly opposed to the rerouting of the Trans-Canada.

Jackie Waddell, the executive director of the group, said the project will cross a number of deep ravines and stream systems that support lots of fish and wildlife.

The minister responded to the group, saying the changes are needed to bring that section of the Trans-Canada up to current safety standards, Waddell said.

"From what we've heard to date, this is a project that's being bullied through, and we think it's just not necessary and it's going to ruin these systems," said Waddell.

Opponents are presenting a petition to the legislature with more than 3,000 signatures, with hopes the government will soon respond.

An environmental assessment is underway, and construction will likely begin once that’s completed.

"Very rarely does the result of an environmental impact assessment stop a project," Waddell said.

"While there may be threatened species, it's very unlikely we'll find anything endangered, or they're going to find anything endangered in the path. However, there are sites of provincial significance that should be considered."

Ghiz spoke at Thursday's protest, saying the reroute was an opportunity to improve a dangerous section of highway through the Atlantic Gateway Fund.

Ghiz did say he expected opposition.

"This is an opportunity for us to improve highway safety, to save lives, and we also have the opportunity to improve the highway," Ghiz said amidst several boos from the crowd.