March 25, 2009

Erin could become an exit on a major new highway

As published in The Erin Advocate

Within 30 years, Erin could be ensnared in Southern Ontario's ever-widening web of major highways.

Erin is in the middle of a huge C-shaped district called the Greater Golden Horseshoe, curving from the Niagara River up through Kitchener and east to Peterborough. Erin is also in the Greenbelt area, and while the Town is not flagged as a growth centre in Ontario's Places to Grow plan, it is located between places that may need to be connected.

Starting with the QEW, the highway grid wraps around Lake Ontario. For routes like Hwys 403 and 407, the land corridors were reserved decades in advance. Now, Ontario's transportation planners are hard at work on the next strands of the web.

The Ministry of Transportation has conceptual plans for an outer band of limited-access highways. They would not necessarily be 400-series, at least not at first. For the district between Kitchener and Brampton, how will Ontario maintain an efficient east-west flow of goods once no more lanes can be added to Hwy 401? What is the best solution for all those trucks rumbling along Main Street in Erin village?

I attended an information session in Georgetown recently, hosted by a Ministry of Transportation study team for the "GTA West Corridor". They are looking ahead 20 to 30 years, as the area experiences a huge increase in population and economic activity.

By 2031, the population of Erin is only expected to grow by about 3,500 people. But Guelph will gain more than 30,000, and there will be at least 200,000 more in Waterloo Region and 320,000 more in Peel. If new highways are needed, the MTO wants to reserve the land soon.

A formal Environmental Assessment has been launched for the area from Hwy 401 up to the south part of Erin and Caledon, and from Guelph to Highway 400. It will "examine long-term transportation problems and opportunities and consider alternative solutions to provide better linkages between Urban Growth Centres".

They are identifying issues at this stage, and want your views – go to For a taste of the opposition, try, an alliance of groups working to "pry provincial transportation planners away from their road-building bias".

Of course, there is plenty of talk about rail transport and public transit, but inevitably the focus is on highways. The MTO approach is incremental: make the best use of current roads, look for non-road solutions, widen roads in existing corridors, and as a last resort, build new roads.

Apart from urban zones, the major obstacle to an East-West highway is the highly-protected Niagara Escarpment, which runs North-South. To minimize environmental impact, a major highway would likely use an existing corridor through the Escarpment.

Ministry staff would not speculate about a route, but you and I are free to do so. If a new highway is needed, here is my scenario, set in the late 2030's, based on the broad "conceptual" transportation corridor in the 2006 Places to Grow plan.

From Kitchener, the new highway could come to Guelph along Hwy. 7, bypass the city to the north, then cut east, crossing Wellington 124. It could bypass Rockwood and Acton, run parallel to Hwy 7, then join Trafalgar Road near Silver Creek to descend the Escarpment. To avoid Georgetown, it would have to cut east between Glen Williams and the Escarpment, then run parallel to Mayfield Road over to Hwy 10, where it would be in perfect alignment with the latest section of Hwy 410.

If this route was unacceptable, the MTO could look north, perhaps punch through the escarpment between Glen Williams and Terra Cotta, or push the route more into Erin and use Mississauga Road to descend the Escarpment.

If they prefer to go further north, outside the current study area, they could run the highway along Wellington 124, bypass Erin village to the north, carry on to Caledon village, cut south to descend the Escarpment on Hwy 10, and join Hwy 410 at Snelgrove. The Caledon route would also extend the web towards the Hwy 9 corridor, providing a link with Alliston, Newmarket and Hwy 404.

If the possibility of a major highway through Erin seems unthinkable, we should look around the Greater Golden Horseshoe, and think again.

March 18, 2009

It's time to sequester more carbon dioxide

As published in The Erin Advocate

Finally, the tree-planting season is here. Time to get your hands dirty, get re-connected to the land and get on with saving the planet, one planting at a time.

Living in balance with the world that sustains us is not pie-in-the-sky idealism, it is a shift in thinking that can have real benefits where we live right now.

Everyone knows we need to reduce output of carbon dioxide to fight global warming, but our addiction to horseless carriages and electrical gadgets is going to be hard to break.

In the meantime, what if we had ingenious devices to capture and sequester (store) carbon dioxide, filter pollution out of the air, pump out pure oxygen, improve water quality, reduce heating and air conditioning costs, boost the productivity of farms and provide habitat for animals?

Fortunately, they have been invented, with a design very pleasing to the eye. We just need to put lots of them in the ground and not chop too many down.

One of the most passionate tree advocates in this neck of the woods is Rob Johnson, Program Manager for Wellington County's Green Legacy Program. He is out in the schools almost every day at this time of the year with a program that enables about 2,500 Kindergarten to Grade 3 students to learn about ecology and grow Red Oak trees from seed.

"The curriculum is getting greener all the time," he said. "The best way to moderate climate change is with trees." Another 2,500 students in Grades 4-6 travel to the nurseries to transplant trees and go on an educational hike, while Grade 7-8 students go on tree planting field trips.

Johnson likes to quote Albert Einstein, who said, "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." One of Southern Ontario's problems is that many areas were stripped of good forest to supply lumber and create farmland. Forest now covers about 17 per cent of Wellington, but Environment Canada says 30 per cent is needed to maintain healthy water quality and quantity. That could take 50 million trees.

Green Legacy collects local seeds, then grows and plants more than 150,000 trees in Wellington every year. Seedlings are distributed free to environmental groups, service clubs, schools, local municipalities and landowners (who partner with a non-profit group). All the trees are booked for 2009, but starting in October, you can order for 2010.

For this year, you can still take advantage of the Credit Valley Conservation (CVC) Tree Planting Program. It is for properties of at least two acres (though you do not have to plant the whole area). The trees and the planting are highly subsidized – up to 75 per cent.

There is a reforestation program for old fields that are not being used for crops or pasture, where they will machine-plant 1,500 or more bare root evergreen seedlings. About 125,000 seedlings were planted last year, starting new forest on 125 acres.
The naturalization program is for environmental improvement to smaller properties (not for landscaping). They transplanted about 10,000 potted seedlings last year.

"Over time, the roots of trees will develop the soil, make it more porous so it will absorb water like a sponge and release it over time, so there will be less erosion," said CVC Forester Zoltan Kovacs. You can call him at 905-702-5201 for information, or go to

CVC will have a technician check your property and give you a detailed cost estimate. You have to agree to leave the trees growing for at least 15 years, though you can cut some Christmas trees.

If you are keen, sign up for the CVC's free tree planting workshop, March 28, 9 a.m. to noon at the Caledon Village Library on Highway 10. Contact Holly Nadalin at 905-670-1615, ext. 449 by this Friday, March 20.

March 11, 2009

Basketball a challenge for middle-aged bones

As published in The Erin Advocate

The pains were familiar and to be expected. Your tendons feel too short, your hips need a shot of axle grease and your lungs seem too small to keep up with your heart.

I would not want to discourage anyone from coming out to Sunday afternoon community basketball at the Erin high school gym. Most people who might consider playing are either in better shape than me, or smart enough to take it easy on their first time out.

No need to buy a membership or commit to a team, just drop in with your running shoes, contribute $3 to the pot, warm up for a few minutes and take turns in the pickup game. It was just what I needed last week, feeling cooped-up and tired of winter.

"We have good sportsmanship, with a wide range of ages and skills," said Patrick Suessmuth of Erin Hoops. "Everybody blends in and everybody has fun."

I have known Pat since the mid-1990s, when I got involved with Erin Hoops as a coach, shortly after the group was started by Brian Bissell, Carolyn White, Brian Smith and Peter Olsen. I was also a referee and club registrar for a couple of years, and though I gained an appreciation of the game, I never got very good at it.

Now, after not playing at all for at least five years, my skills are minimal. Still, players much better than I were willing to pass me the ball, and I did manage four baskets in two hours. Of course, Pat was more than glad to provide advice. "Phil, you need more arc on your shots – about six feet more."

Community basketball has been going about ten years now, open to men and women. The age range on Sunday was from young teen to senior.

Pat and his team of helpers always have a lot on the go, mainly at The Main Place in the old Erin Public School at 185 Main Street. Erin Hoops gets a great deal on the space thanks to Gary Langen, who owns the building. Kids can drop in for recreational activities any day after school. Check out the programs, or learn about becoming a volunteer, at

There is the March Break Basketball Camp, March 16-20, and a wide choice of affordable Summer Camps including basketball, arts & crafts, dance, badminton, baseball, tennis and floor hockey.

There are monthly Classic Movie Nights. There are monthly Bingo Nights – no need for a gaming license, since people play for Freecycle prizes. Freecycle is a worldwide movement to keep good stuff out of landfills by offering it for free to other people.

Pat got the Erin chapter started and it now has 319 members. There are another 11,500 members in the Rockwood, Acton, Georgetown, Caledon, Milton, Guelph and Brampton groups. Go to, or Google: Erin Freecycle.

As for me and my middle-aged bones, the pains have subsided, so it must be time to push myself a bit more. I will play some basketball, but soon, the ice will be gone. I will get out the bicycle and the tennis racquet. And I can hardly wait to take Lilly for a nice, long hike without worrying about the wind chill factor.

March 04, 2009

New park could be a boost for downtown

As published in The Erin Advocate

The Town Centre Park proposed for 109 Main Street will be an excellent addition to the atmosphere of downtown Erin, but it will need a strong commitment from the Town if it is going to happen this year.

A committee of councillors and community representatives has put a lot of work into the project. A design was published in The Advocate last month, and an optimistic goal of completion by July 1 was set.

How much weight will this project carry in the Town budget deliberations that are now in progress? The park could be a real jewel – an attractive and practical gathering place. I hope it ranks high on the list of new projects that Council is considering.

On one hand, Erin is running a small deficit and there are many needs in the community, from road paving to new dressing rooms at the Erin arena. The capital budget was $3.8 million in 2008, with 90 per cent of it allocated to Roads, Water and Fire Services.

On the other hand, we did get a provincial influx of $622,000 last year for new infrastructure, and it is about time we spent it. Apart from sports fields, we do not have much parkland, so a modest expenditure to create this new park could certainly be justified.

There has already been a lot of input from non-elected people, which is a sign of a healthy community, but there could still be a public meeting or at least a formal request for taxpayer feedback on the design. The estimated cost of this project should be made public.

Committee member Paul Rivers, who got involved through the Business Improvement Area, said the park will provide seniors and others a comfortable place to sit outdoors. "There are community events that are not being done because they need a venue," he said.

As Optimist Wilson Belford pointed out, the empty lot that was once the site of the village offices has become an "eyesore" for the area. The Optimists have pledged to construct the gazebo, which will be the focal point of the park.

The Town last year purchased $7,300 worth of steel for the structure, which the committee expects will be used as a stage for various musical and theatrical events. It will be surrounded by grass in the summer and a natural ice rink in the winter.

The Erin Garden Club has purchased $1,000 worth of stone for the rock garden that will provide an attractive entrance to the site, and plans to maintain the garden. A large spruce Christmas "Tree of Light" has also been donated.

More donations of building/landscape materials and cash are being requested, to help reduce the public cost. If you or your business are so inclined, call the Town office at 519-855-4407.

In the current plan, the gazebo has a central position, leaving almost equal "audience" areas on opposite sides of the performing stage. Since most performers will face mainly in one direction, it would be better to move the pavilion further from the road. This would allow a larger, primary audience area, perhaps with more stone seating.

Initially, the gazebo surface was to be 18 inches high, but now it is planned at ground level, to avoid the need for a ramp for the disabled. If you have 20 people sitting and watching a show, ground level is fine. But if you have 200 people, many of them standing or walking around, a raised stage would be much better, even if it is more trouble to build.

A winding, well-lit cobblestone-type path will extend to the parking lot at the back. That path could be part of a larger trail route, from the park, past Daniel Street and down to the West Credit River, where a foot bridge is being considered. It would link downtown to the Woolen Mills Conservation Area and nearby homes.