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In an unusual turn of events, Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation has had two Fisheries Act convictions this fall: one for road construction and design, the other for road maintenance.

In September we blogged about the Ontario Ministry of Transportation pleading guilty to Fisheries Act charges for sediment repeatedly released from a Highway 11 construction project near Burks Falls, Ontario. The total penalty was $250,000, with $225,000 going to Environment Canada’s Environmental Damages Fund. It is very rare for a highway designer to accept responsibility for its design flaws in this way, and it is unusual for construction erosion penalties to be so large.

The MTO was also recently convicted of another set of Fisheries Act charges, this time for a road washout that sent 8000 tonnes of sediment into the Seguin River system. This washout caused significant negative impacts to fish and fish habitat, and happened because MTO failed to properly maintain a culvert. Once the culvert was obstructed, melt waters, snow and ice built up against a road embankment. Eventually, the embankment failed, spilling a high volume of sediment and other materials into the river. The total penalty was $95,000, with $75,000 directed to the Environmental Damages Fund. The Fund, in turn, allows the federal government to award money to local groups for environmental and wildlife conservation projects.

These two cases have resulted in notable penalties against Ontario’s largest  infrastructure builder. But will they change anything? The MTO could significantly reduce the environmental impacts of its transportation infrastructure, but will $340,000 in penalties make it take precautions that could cost millions? Especially since recent federal changes to the Fisheries Act may have taken away much of its teeth? We do note that the Ministry of Transportation has not publicly acknowledged either of its convictions.

Does anyone know if MTO is actually planning, or making, any changes as a result of these two cases? If so, please do write and let us know.

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