What is the old saying?
Ignorance breeds contempt?
Raceline Radio attended last night’s public meeting in Fort Erie to hear opinions, for and against the proposed NASCAR/IRL calibre speedway in the Niagara Falls/Fort Erie/Buffalo corridor along the Queen Elizabeth Highway, between Bowan and Gilmore roads.
McMaster University has also attached its name to the project with plans for a research and development centre at the site. Jeff Gordon plans to establish a racing school at the speedway. Jeff sent along a letter of support.
There are also plans for a water park, retail outlets, restaurants, camp ground and many other features.
Initial seating will be 65 thousand, expandable to 100 thousand to watch racing on a one mile oval and a 2.5 mile road course.
The working name for the track is “Canadian Motor Speedway”, which is not a bad permanent name for the place at all.
But there is quite a lot of process to go through before we tell the sign maker what the joint’s called.
As it stand, Fort Erie Mayor Doug Martin told me there is more support for the Speedway than there is opposition.
While the economic boost to a depressed area with very high unemployment is obvious to race fans and most members of Fort Erie City Council including Mayor Doug, non-fans and residents dead set against construction of a big league speed plant in their back yard have legitimate concerns, and many voiced them emphatically.
“The people that come to these events don’t come for a long time … they come here for a good time,” said one concerned Ridgeway resident. Ridgeway is a community very close to Fort Erie.
The land is currently designated agricultural, hazard and extractive industrial which would require a by-law amendment from both the town and Niagara Region before development could occur there.
Council made no decision whether to support the project right now, but rather used the public meeting to gauge the appetite and opinion among residents for such a proposal.
Local politicians supported a staff report for informational purposes, and will debate the matter later this year.
Other residents in opposition said if the speedway is built, they expect the quiet part of town they live in will become a hotbed of activity and unwanted noise.
A farmer who raises thoroughbred race horses for the nearby Fort Erie “alternative horse power” facility said his property is already visited by uninvited guests who are interested in getting a closer look at his horses.
Others with thumbs down are concerned about the environmental impact the speedway would have. If the project is approved, Miller Creek would have to be re-aligned to address storm water and sewage servicing issues, not to mention disrupting and destroying the fish habitat.
On the pro-track side, fans declared the speedway would hasten nothing but positive growth and income, something Fort Erie cannot afford to turn down.
Niagara dirt track legend Ted Renshaw, a 2007 Fort Erie Sports Wall of Fame inductee, said Fort Erie would be a place people will travel to from all over when events are held at the speedway.
Arlene White, Executive Director of the Bi-national Tourism Alliance, said a motor speedway in Fort Erie would be a major tourist draw for the entire region. “This project would be the envy of communities across North America,” she said.
Jim Puhl, former owner of Humberstone Speedway in Port Colborne said most of the project’s opposition will likely come from those concerned about noise in surrounding neighbourhoods. He said it would be something people will have to become tolerant of. “It’s not like it continues all day … it’s only for a few hours,” he said.
Residents living around Merrittville Speedway outside St.Catharines, a track that has been running since the early 50′s, know all about living in harmony with a speedway. Cars now run mufflers, race nights start and end early.
A handful of passes for the neighbours also helps calm things down should the night run late, which is rare.
These residents have learned a speedway can be a good neighbour.
After the Fort Erie meeting, Emirates Consulting Executive Director Azhar Mohammad said people’s concerns are legitimate. At the same time, they need to be assured “the best of the best” has been assembled for the planning and construction of the facility, which if everything goes according to plan, is expected to be complete by 2011.
“All our reports have been highly sophisticated and detailed to mitigate those concerns,” Azhar said.
He acknowledged that traffic, air quality and noise are three primary issues when it comes to concerned residents. However, those have been addressed in the planning and will continue to be until the plan is approved, said continued.
“We have worked over the last two years with 85 different Ontario-based engineers that have done nothing but study the modalities of these kinds of speedways.” , he concluded.
It was clear to me that most residents opposed to the speedway are feeding their emotions with exaggerated and distorted facts about race fan behaviour and how major league race weekends go down.
Some would have us believe most race fans are drunken, marauding hordes of hun, bent on trespassing and destroying private property, breaking into and burning down homes, while leaving behind vast piles of garage and destruction.
I would imagine there are a few racing fans who might fall under that description, but not the fans I know. Most are very respectful of private property.
Noise, of course is the biggest concern, and yes, there will be a buzz or low roar from the track that will travel considerable distance during the few hours the racing is going on, but certainly nothing to cause permanent hearing damage as one lady try to tell Fort Erie Council to the snickers of race fans in the gallery.
Traffic jams and pollution from idling cars might be a major hassle, but unlike places like Michigan and Richmond that are well back from a major highway, and bottle-neck columns of cars and motor homes on smaller, narrower roads to get in and out of the tracks, The Fort Erie track is directly adjacent to the QEW. With upgrades to the Bowan and Gilmore road interchanges, cars and fans will be able to get in and out of this place a lot quicker than most.
As council weights the pro’s and con’s of building Canadian Motor Speedway, and personal and environmental concerns are compared to the obvious economic benefits to The City of Fort Erie and the Niagara Region, the sport in this country badly needs a track of this size and capacity.
I trust Mayor Doug and Fort Erie City Council will make the right decision.
Until next time…