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Wendell FOX

Bridge to island airport still considered

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Island bridge not dead, port authority says

Construction could begin on July 1, letter to mayor and ministers maintains


Tuesday, April 27, 2004 - Page A11

The Toronto Port Authority has put Mayor David Miller and city council on notice that the proposed 122-metre bridge to the island airport isn't dead, and construction could start on July 1.

"Although the city has delayed the bridge until now, this cannot continue," Henry Pankratz, the authority's chairman, wrote in a confidential letter recently sent to Mr. Miller, who campaigned heavily during the mayoral election on a promise to kill the controversial bridge.

Three federal ministers, Tony Valeri, John Godfrey and Joe Volpe, also received the private missive.

The letter indicated that the federal agency's deal is still in play with Robert Deluce, a Toronto businessman who plans to set up a commercial airline at the money-losing airport on the condition the bridge is built.

Last November, despite threats of substantial lawsuits, council reversed a decision made last June to support the bridge and it asked the federal government and the authority to withdraw their support. Prime Minister Paul Martin said he would respect council's new position, something he has never put in writing.

Since December, the port authority and city officials have been attempting to negotiate a financial settlement to permanently shelve the $22-million project while construction was "paused," but those talks have stalled.

In the meantime, the port authority received two key federal permits it required to start construction over the Western Gap, the narrow waterway that separates the city from the island. However, construction can't legally begin until Canada Day because one of the permits bans any building over the water during the spring months because it is fish spawning season.

"July 1 is a very, very real date. And there are no longer any reasons why we couldn't go out and commence construction," Lisa Raitt, the authority's chief executive officer, said yesterday. "It's really in the hands of the parties to come together and work this out."

The port authority, which owns and operates the island airport, plans to hold a board meeting on June 1 to finalize its plan to restart the bridge project.

Substantial changes at the airport are subject to an agreement made in 1983 that includes the city, the federal government and the former Toronto Harbour Commissioners (now the Toronto Port Authority). The pact, effective until 2033, forbids construction of a bridge to the airport unless all parties agree.

Mr. Miller is outraged that the port authority still plans to proceed with the bridge and is planning to ask Mr. Martin to quickly rein in the federal agency. "I'm amazed that the federal government allows its agency to be as out of control as it is," he told reporters, adding that it, along with its "influential lobbyists," were "trying to do an end run. But I don't think they will succeed because I know Paul Martin is a man of his word."

He said negotiations with the port authority had stopped because it refuses to provide key documentation that proved it required compensation (between $6-million to $7-million) to kill the project.

"I can only lead to the conclusion, as I thought beforehand, that they really don't have damages," Mr. Miller said.

Ms. Raitt counters that the documents haven't been provided because the city refuses to sign a confidentiality agreement that would ensure it wouldn't publicly disclose their contents.

A meeting between the port authority and the city was scheduled to be held yesterday, but it was cancelled last week by city officials, according to Ms. Raitt.

She has repeatedly said the 65-year-old airport will never be financially viable without the bridge. The island airport, which lost about $1-million last year, has seen its traffic drop from a peak in the 1980s of 400,000 passengers a year to about 80,000 a year now.

In the meantime, a $505-million lawsuit threatened by Mr. Deluce against the city last January still hasn't been legally served.

Mr. Deluce's 17-page statement of claim alleged that Mr. Miller "abused his powers" by threatening councillors, having Toronto Fire Services and Toronto Hydro "interfere with the construction of the fixed link," and even by lobbying the federal government to "withhold certain permits" that the port authority needed to proceed with the bridge.


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