EA winding down on Rapids Parkway-trail controversy

Sarnia resident Steve Ferencsik stands on the Howard Watson Nature, which Sarnia intends to move aside for a planned extension of the Rapids Parkway beneath the Highway 402 overpass. Troy Shantz

Troy Shantz

It’s last call for residents to weigh in on an environmental assessment of Sarnia’s plan to extend the Rapids Parkway over what’s now the Howard Watson Nature Trail.

The feedback is part of a process to choose a final design for the road and trail, which will share space beneath the Highway 402 overpass north of Exmouth Street.

Residents have until Friday, June 5 to complete the survey and comment at https://www.speakupsarnia.ca/ with a final report to council this summer, said Alister Brown, the city’s manager of development and transportation.

In the works since the 1990s, the project will see the Rapids Parkway extend from Sandpiper Drive south to Exmouth.

The latest blueprints show a paved, multi-use trail passing beneath the overpass and running beside a new two-lane road, separated by a green boulevard. The trail would skirt a new roundabout connecting Quinn Drive to Rapids Parkway, then cross Exmouth Street to reconnect again with the original trail.

Opposition to dislocating the popular nature trail has been fierce, with some residents earlier threatening to lie in front of the bulldozers.

Resident Steve Ferencsik held his own demonstration last weekend by repeatedly running lengths on the half-kilometre section of trail being impacted, which is tree-lined and shady.

He said he wanted to raise awareness of what’s being lost and encourage more residents to speak up by completing the city’s survey.

“What they’re proposing right now is just a road with a sidewalk. It is going to significantly impact the trail,” Ferencsik said. “The road has to happen. I get it. What I’m questioning is the level of proper consultation.”

But other critics have come around.

“When people take a look at what is proposed I think they will be much happier,” said former city councillor Anne Marie Gillis, a once vocal opponent.

“There have been a lot of improvements made. I’m liking what I’m seeing.”

Study team members will monitor and respond to email submissions, and answer questions from the public. The latest plan was based on citizen feedback and environmental factors, Brown said.

“I think we got to that point through the previous (2018) consultation. That’s what we hope to get out of this — to review the information that’s available and raise (citizen) concerns about it,” he said.

“Then we do our best to address those and incorporate them into the design.”

Brown said citizen opposition remains, but early safety concerns such as the trail being too close to the road have been addressed.

“That’s what engineering design is — you’re looking out for the safety of the end-user in anything you design.”