The AEGD issue has flown silently under the radar in the mainstream media, but it threatens to have major impacts on our future growth and sustainability.
By Sean Burak
Published October 21, 2010
When Council decided to proceed with their vote on the Airport Employment Growth District (AEGD) - formerly called the "Aerotropolis" - I could not believe that they would be so cavalier in the handling of what may be the most important decision of their term.
To make this decision with minimal public involvement, and on the last possible voting day of their term, was irresponsible. The AEGD proposal passed with only two councillors voting against it: Brian McHattie (Ward 1) and Bob Bratina (Ward 2).
The effects of this decision will be felt across the entire city for years to come.
The AEGD issue has flown silently under the radar in the mainstream media. This is surely due to the fact that the stadium debate has been a very high profile issue leading up to this election, and the AEGD is significantly less exciting to talk about.
This plan must be discussed now, before it truly becomes too late.
The AEGD proposal involves expanding our urban boundary by 4,500 acres, encompassing a swath of land surrounding the airport. The land is not currently serviced by roads or sewers, so the financial cost to the city is already estimated to reach hundreds of millions of dollars.
The motivation for this expansion is to build a business park - in fact, the proposal passed under a guise of providing new jobs. This is a huge risk. The plan will introduce a vast number of problems for Hamilton, the most dire of which I will outline below.
I wanted to consolidate the valuable research various individuals and groups around the city have been doing on the AEGD. Lots of people have been working on this, but the work hasn't been well coordinated yet - unlike the AEGD supporters in the Chamber of Commerce and Home Builders Association, who clearly stated that they intend to influence Council to support their airport project.
I hope that with a centralized resource and clearinghouse for AEGD news and advocacy, we can do a more coordinated job of advocating for a more progressive economic development model than greenfields and sprawl.
AerotropolisCosts.ca does not represent, nor is it represented by any particular individual or group.
The facts and information on this website are the culmination of the efforts of many citizens who have made it their passion to understand the issues surrounding the AEGD plan.
Many citizens have attended many meetings, read many reports, talked to many people on both sides, and have poured significant portions of their lives into ensuring that this information is accurate and that it reaches as many people as possible.
The preliminary cost estimate for servicing the AEGD lands is $353 million. This does not include trunk sewer upgrades, which are estimated to cost an additional $125 million.
This alone should have stopped this project dead in its tracks. We are in a position in this city where we can barely afford to maintain our existing infrastructure, let alone build new infrastructure within our current urban boundary.
We cannot afford the stadium that we are eagerly hoping for. We certainly cannot afford to spend almost half a billion dollars on a gamble out at the airport.
The existing airport business park has been sitting mostly vacant for years, and there is no reason to believe the AEGD will fare better. Developing near an airport presents significant challenges to businesses, who will be limited in what they can build (building height restrictions) as well as what business they can conduct (radio frequency interference restrictions, noise restrictions, etc).
On top of that, the lands themselves will be expensive to build on. The city has estimated that storm water management will cost developers $100,000 per acre, since the land lies at the headwaters of four significant streams.
The airport itself has seen declining passenger use, and stagnant cargo use for the past seven years, so it is unlikely that businesses will be drawn due to proximity to the airport alone.
If none of the businesses ever come, we will have wasted hundreds of millions of our precious tax dollars on nothing more than a gamble.
4,500 acres is a lot of land. It is very hard to visualize. Within the acreage proposed for the AEGD, you could fit the entire Royal Botanical Gardens land, plus the Stelco lands, plus Dofasco, plus McMaster University - and you'd still have room to squeeze Mohawk College in for good measure.
When you step back and see the AEGD in relation to the rest of the city, it is immediately apparent just how huge it is:
We are lucky to be surrounded by beautiful greenspace and highly productive farmland. Recent provincial laws have gone a long way to protecting these lands from ever encroaching pavement and development.
If we go through with the AEGD urban boundary expansion and development, we will never be able to get these lands back. The expansion required by the AEGD directly violates both the provincially mandated Places to Grow act as well as Hamilton's own Vision 2020.
Despite the fact that council has already voted in support of the AEGD, the actual development of the lands is still years away. An immediate and important step that every concerned citizen can take right now, is to vote on October 25 and select your ward councillor and mayoral candidates based on their position on the AEGD.
Of the current council, all candidates who are running for re-election are on record as supportive of the AEGD, except Brian McHattie (running in ward 1) and Bob Bratina (running for mayor). (See also today's RTH article: Incumbents Support AEGD, Candidates Split)
The positions of non-incumbent candidates can be seen in their answers to the question recently posed by the RTH Elections website. AerotropolisCosts.ca has also provided a quick summary of all candidates' positions on the AEGD, based on the RTH Elections data.
Even if our citizenry elects new councillors who still support the AEGD, all of us who are opposed can and should continue to monitor the movement on this issue and make our position known to our councillors, our mayor, and our local media.
The AEGD is an enormous project that will only come at an enormous cost - and as such it carries enormous risks. We need to start asking tough questions, and we need to start now.
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