CN says it’s not flinching and is moving ahead with its plan for a 400-acre distribution centre in Milton — even if town officials remain skeptical to the idea.
“This is more than just about a terminal in Milton. This is exciting for the Halton Region, but also the GTHA (Greater Toronto Hamilton Area) but also for Canada,” said Sean Finn, CN’s executive vice-president of corporate services, shortly after the Star broke the news about the company’s plans for a $250-million intermodal rail and truck in Milton.
“Because this is where the intermodal traffic is coming on CN to the GTHA. This traffic is growing substantially. You need to have infrastructure to face this growth.”
The rail giant’s vision to further connect the GTA with global markets by providing manufacturers and retailers with more efficient access to the booming local market must now survive a battle between business and the rapidly growing town of Milton, where CN owns 1,000 acres of land to be used for the new facility. The plan was officially announced Tuesday.
Top officials in Milton — the mayor and the chief administrative officer — told the Star this week the plan will be devastating for their town, bringing with it collapsing property values, environmental and safety concerns and a total disruption of Milton’s vision for strategic jobs on the CN lands.
The town fears the centre will bring up to 1,500 trucks and four additional trains a day to Milton, which is one of Canada’s fastest growing municipalities.
Finn said the potential benefits of bringing goods from around the globe to southern Ontario markets outweighs the concerns of Milton’s officials. And those concerns will be addressed, he added.
“We will proceed with a federal environmental assessment under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, first of all,” Finn said. “Secondly, we will be opening an information centre locally to answer everybody’s questions — we’re not hiding from the community. We’re looking for a full and fulsome engagement with the community.”
CN announced its plan in a press release Tuesday afternoon, noting that 1,000 jobs will be created, directly or indirectly.
Gord Krantz, Milton’s mayor and the town’s top bureaucrat, CAO William Mann, are skeptical of the company’s claims.
“In 2008 CN told us they supported our plan for Sustainable Halton and that the intermodal was dead at that time,” Mann said Tuesday. “It’s quite telling, the arrogance they’re putting forward, statistics and facts that aren’t supported by any studies or reports.”
Finn told the Star that the intermodal facility itself will employ about 100 people. He also confirmed one of Krantz and Mann’s main concerns — that CN can circumvent municipal planning amendments. As a former Crown corporation, CN is governed by the province of Ontario.
“It is the case that as a federal endeavour (regulated by Ottawa) we’re not subject to the (local) planning amendments, but we have always taken the position that we’ve met with the region and we continue to meet with the region,” Finn said.
Addressing environmental concerns, Finn said there will be a large buffer around the 400-acre facility that will sit inside CN’s 1,000-acre parcel of land. He also said that trucking routes are being planned to ensure traffic does not go into the urbanized areas of Milton.
“These trucks want to access the 403, the 401 and the 407, they want to access the highways as quickly as possible (travelling east from Tremaine Rd. and Brittania Rd.),” Finn said.
“Hopefully they will commit to the process that everyone else would have to go through with here, locally,” Krantz said after reading CN’s publicly released statement.
“It’s quite a rigorous test to prove that the project is beneficial to the community and to everybody. Or are they just going to try and bulldoze this through and short circuit the process? Then their statement is all for naught.”