Protesters dig in on Hanlon Creek occupation

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

  • An activist sits outside the entrance of the Hanlon Creek Business Park. Since Monday, a group has been occupying the proposed d

    An activist sits outside the entrance of the Hanlon Creek Business Park. Since Monday, a group has been occupying the proposed d

Written by Greg Beneteau

We’re here for the long haul.

That’s the message opponents of a proposed business park in the south end gave on the third day of their standoff with city hall.

In the afternoon, a handful of activists maintained watch over the entrance to the Hanlon Creek Business Park, about a kilometre east of the corner of Downey Road and the Hanlon Expressway. From the road, a few placards and a hastily-erected shack built under a nearby tree were the only visible signs something was amiss.

The group’s media liaison, Sam Ansleis, requested that media not enter the park, claiming the remaining protesters were on a nature walk and didn’t want to be disturbed.

Despite the heavy rains that fell on Guelph last night, Ansleis said the approximately 40 occupants were unperturbed and had plenty of shelter and donated supplies to stay comfortable.

“A lot of people have given us dry clothes, food and other items,” Ansleis said. “We’ve actually received a lot of support from people in the neighbourhood.”

In an indication the group intended to keep up their occupation for the time being, Ansleis said there was “open house” planned for Saturday with activities and tours planned for the public.

A report in the Digital Journal also reported yesterday that protesters were prepared to stay on the land until the middle of September.

Around 30 people descended upon the park Monday morning to protest the start of development in the area, which has been in various stages of planning since 1993.

The city contracted Drexler Construction to begin work on a service road that would run along McWilliam Road to one of the tributaries of Hanlon Creek. Drexler was also hired to construct a culvert along the tributary, according the Guelph Mercury.

Once completed, the 675-acre piece of land enclosed by the Hanlon Expressway, Laird Road, Downey Road and Forestell Road would be converted into a mixed-use business park with more than 360 acres of business and industrial lots, according to the city.

In a letter posted on the blog Ward2Guelph, a group claiming responsibility for the occupation said the project posed a threat the environment and would contaminate the region’s drinking water. (City staff have since responded to the allegations).

“For the above reasons, we have taken it upon ourselves to prevent the destruction of this vital land,” the letter read.

As part of their list of demands, the authors insisted the city “listen to public outcry and respect the intrinsic importance of this land by immediately ending this development and terminating their contract with Drexler.”

They also demanded that the city compensate Drexler’s skilled labourers for lost wages and “apologize to the people of Guelph for disregarding opposition to this project.”

Ansleis confirmed the message had been written by a “core collective” that organized the occupation. She reiterated the group’s complaints, including a claim the proposed development was unlawful because it was situated too close to Provincially Significant Wetlands.

She said the occupation was a “last resort,” the culmination of years of attempts by various groups to voice their objections to the project.

“The city should’ve seen this coming since there’s been such opposition for the past 15 years,” she said.

The office of Mayor Karen Farbridge could not be reached for comment, nor could Ward 6 Councilor Karl Wettstein, whose constituency includes the Hanlon Creek Business Park.

The other councillor for War 5, Christine Billings, had recently returned from a trip and said she was attempting to catch up on the latest developments.

She directed questions to Guelph’s Chief Administrative Officer, Hans Loewig, who could not be reached for comment.

A posting today on the mayor’s official blog reiterated the city’s assertion that the planned development complied with “several conditions imposed by the approval agencies” and would protect old growth forest and wetlands in the area.

She noted that the project was expected to create between 10,000 and 12,000 new jobs while accommodating the provincial Places to Grow Legislation that curtails sprawl outside city boundaries

“The Hanlon Creek Business Park project strikes a balance between meeting our community’s economic needs, the need to protect our natural heritage and ground water, and delivers on the SmartGuelph principles adopted in 2003,” she wrote.

Mayor Farbridge told The Mercury on Monday the city “will not condone illegal activity on site,” nor would it consider postponing the construction.

Ansleis said the protesters had a brief conversation with the city on Tuesday but haven’t heard anything since.

“What we’ve had are city staff coming by to tell us we’re trespassing,” she said. “We asked if they were interested in having a dialogue. They said no.”

In turn, she said the protesters “are not interested in compromising” with the city, though she later recanted the statement and said negotiations were "a possibility."

Unlike the first few days of the occupation, there was no police presence visible near the business park.

Police spokesperson Const. Kevin McCord told The Mercury on Tuesday the city would need to give police permission as owner of the property before any action could be taken to remove the occupiers.

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