Thursday, August 14, 2003

View from the Valley


by Randy Kay
August 14-20, 2003
Hamilton City Bylaw 01–219 makes it illegal for people to use green space they have been using for several decades at Greenhill Avenue. The bylaw warning against “trespassing” came into effect 7am Tuesday, August 5, 2003, the day after several hundred people rallied for the adjacent Red Hill Valley. A week later, people are still camping on the site, neighbours continue to walk their dogs, children play, adults stroll or jog down the footpath to Red Hill Valley, all in contravention of the bylaw.

The Greenhill Community Garden, located at the site of proposed on–ramps for the $220–million Red Hill Creek Expressway, is being tended despite signs posted by the city of Hamilton threatening people with trespassing charges. Twelve–year–old Patricia Nowak of Harrisford Drive was there last Thursday evening (August 7) helping keep the Greenhill Community Garden bird–feeder filled with seed.

“A lot of animals and trees are going to die because of the road. I hope they change their minds about building this and just leave it,” she says as she stretches to pour seed into the feeder perched atop the custom–painted Greenhill Community Garden sign. Brown–eyed Susans, Purple Coneflowers and False Sunflowers nod in the breeze beneath the sign. The flowers, transplanted to the site August 4, are being watered by volunteers with the aid of neighbours’ hoses.

Across the field, people open their back gates and walk into the 01–219 trespass zone. Margaret Hastings stands in the off–limits area in her pyjamas and talks with her Brookstream Court neighbours Angie Blaschuk and Donna Staruck. Hastings has lived in the area for 28 years. She’s had a long–term relationship with the Expressway project.

“It raises its ugly head, then it lies down again, raises and lies down” she relates. She thinks the trespass threat is “ridiculous.” “People have been walking here a long time, and hopefully will continue to do so.” Blaschuk has lived on Brookstream for 20 years. “Who is to say I can’t go through here to go to the mall to do my shopping as I’ve always done? I can’t see how I’m trespassing on park land.”

“I’m coming out here with the dog and I’m walking up there until someone tells me I can’t. I’m not stopping because someone says ‘no’ after I’ve been doing it all these years,” Staruck declares. These residents only received a letter from the city on July 4 notifying them of impending construction including noise walls that will go up at the back of their properties.

The three women join other area residents and activists from across the city at nightly outdoor meetings at the site. People discuss tasks and strategy in their ongoing efforts to save the valley. Oakville–based Dufferin Construction has refused to come back to the area until protesters are removed. They have also refused to take part in discussions with protesters. Mayor Wade refuses to discuss anything but implementation of the road, and is seeking a court order to end the pickets at Greenhill and Albright roads. Donna Staruck’s husband Joe says the lack of process has been frustrating.

“I just get pissed off at the way government forces their way onto people without going through the whole process properly. Nobody [from the city] has said anything to me yet, and I’ve lived here for 20 years. This nonsense about killing the last green we have is sheer stupidity.”

At City Council last Tuesday, Ward 15 councillor Margaret McCarthy asked for a referendum on the Red Hill Expressway issue to allow citizens a voice. She was supported by councillors Andrea Horwath (Ward 2) and Dave Braden (Ward 14). The remainder of councillors present voted the motion down.

Back at the Greenhill Community Garden they helped to build, nine–year–old Jessika and her friends are sharing concerns about noise and air pollution as well as the impact the road will have on wildlife. Children in the area are especially vulnerable to the negative health impacts of the expressway, with asthma being all too common for the east–end kids. Losing the access to nature they currently enjoy would also be a blow to their quality of life.

So far, The Showstoppers, a coalition of people opposed to the destruction of the valley, have prevented Dufferin from taking vehicles onto the site. Showstoppers have initiated attempts at dialogue with the city and the contractor, and refuse to let any destruction take place until outstanding issues are addressed. Issues include the likely presence of migratory birds in the area which could trigger a federal Migratory Birds Convention Act limiting activity that would disturb their nesting and mating, the lack of permits to undertake work in the valley including a Niagara Escarpment Commission (NEC) permit, and outstanding First Nations issues.

The Showstoppers and Friends of Red Hill Valley have been issued a permit from the Haudenosaunee (People of the Longhouse), who have inherent Aboriginal rights to camp, hunt, and fish in the Red Hill Valley.

Along with the right to use the valley, the Haudenosaunee have the responsibility of protecting the valley for future generations. They have not issued any permits to the city.

Arrests have been threatened but so far avoided. A private security firm keeps a wary eye on the 24–7 protest.

And so it is, beneath the shadow of threatened lawsuits, criminal charges, heavy machinery and bylaw 01–219 that the first wave of citizen rebellion against the Red Hill Creek Expressway has taken root at Greenhill Avenue.

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