Congratulations to Anna Bourgeois, Winner of a 2022 Healthy Community Award

Congratulations to our friend and volunteer Anna Bourgeois, who has just won a 2022 Healthy Community Award. The Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority bestows this award upon individuals and groups whose volunteer work increases community connections, engagement and awareness of issues confronting the health of the Lake Simcoe watershed. 

What has Anna done to merit this honour? The list of her ongoing actions is staggering, and is a testament to her refusal to leave the task of “saving the planet” to “someone else.” 

Anna is the Director of Concerned Citizens of Ramara; she is both a board member and secretary with both AWARE Simcoe and the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition, and she is an extremely active volunteer with Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition’s Laugh for Lake Simcoe fundraising team. Other organizations with whom she consistently shares his impressive skill set: Miller Quarry Public Engagement Committee; Orillia Water Watchers; Just Recovery Simcoe; Stop the Bradford Bypass; the Green Party of Ontario, and the Green Party of Canada.

Devoted to residents’ right to know whether the local environment and resources might be at risk, Anna scours Ramara Township council meeting agendas for items associated with illegal or questionable soil dumping, zoning bylaw alterations, noise bylaw and gun range infractions, municipal water supply system fragmentation and local quarry interactions such as bylaw compliance, exemptions and amendments–particularly where they might infringe on the health of water and soil.

When folks meet to protect the purest water of the Waverly Highlands and the Elmvale Flow, or to protest the Bradford Bypass and Highway 413, Anna is there. 

Always eager to share knowledge and inspire engagement, Anna regularly posts to the Concerned Citizens of Ramara, Simcoe North Green Party and Team Ramara Facebook pages, as well as Twitter.

An acclaimed professional graphic designer, Anna has created—pro bono—graphics for several campaigns and organizations, including Laugh for Lake Simcoe, Stop Sprawl Orillia, AWARE Simcoe, Orillia Water Watchers, Ramara Legacy Alliance, Sustainable Orillia–which included the Orillia Food Map, which helps vulnerable community members access food—and others.

As a farmer, Anna collaborates on decisions related to the Ontario Farmland Trust Conservation Easement Agreement on her and her husband Mike’s farm.

For Anna, environmental stewardship isn’t a sideline; it is a way of life. John F. Kennedy said: “Every person can make a difference, and every person should try.” Anna is the embodiment of that statement, and an amazing role model for all of us who are concerned about the health of the Lake Simcoe watershed and the state of our planet’s ecosystems as a whole.

By Susan Sheard, RLSC Board Member

Bradford Bypass Timeline: A story in brief

Lake Simcoe seen from the site of the proposed Bradford Bypass / Holland Marsh Highway, looking north east towards Cooks Bay and Georgina. Photo Credit Jeff Laidlaw.

Summary: The Bradford Bypass is a proposed 16.2 km, 4 – 8 lane highway that would connect Highways 400 and 404 just below Lake Simcoe’s Cooks Bay. The proposed route is just north of Bradford, approximately 100 – 200 m from existing neighbourhoods and parks. It bisects the Holland Marsh Provincially Significant Wetland, proposing to use piers to hold up the bridge across this area. As of September 2022, there is no budget, no technical design drawings, and the studies are incomplete. But the province of Ontario changed its Environmental Assessment regulations and then exempted the Bradford Bypass from the Environmental Assessment process, substituting a streamlined process that identifies the route and allows construction to begin this fall regardless of the outcomes of environmental and traffic studies in progress. Minor changes to the route could occur depending on archaeological studies.

1993

Bradford Bypass highway Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) Proposal was written. Substantially rewritten in 1994 and became legal terms of reference for the current EA Study to this day. 

1997

EA finished. Did not consider cumulative effects, climate change, or detail impacts on natural heritage, migratory birds, fisheries, First Nations, or discuss air pollution. 

2002  

EA approved with conditions including requirements for upgraded studies on archaeological resources, stormwater management, groundwater protection plan, noise, and compliance monitoring. 

This EA anticipated severe stormwater and groundwater impacts and adverse effects on fish habitat.

2005

The project didn’t go ahead after the completion of the EA. Reasons include a change in provincial government that enacted major planning and environmental protection legislation: Greenbelt Act & Places to Grow Act. Together they laid the foundation for planning that was aimed at building more compact communities and transit over highways and sprawl. 

2008

Lake Simcoe Protection Act passed. Allows for major infrastructure if there is no alternative

2017

Ontario Liberals decided not to pursue the Bradford Bypass and then did an about-face and included it in the Growth Plan. Still, nothing happened.

2018

Project was revived by the new Progressive Conservative government of Ontario, after nearly 20 years of inactivity on the file, with conditions of the 2002 EA approval not met. Updates to the understanding of the site conditions were supposed to be made every 5 years, and were not. 

Proposed map of the Bradford Bypass, from the Ministry of Transportation.

July 8, 2020

The Government of Ontario proposes to exempt the Bradford Bypass from the conditions of the original EA. The Ministry of Transportation (MTO) and the project consultant team, AECOM, present information about the Bypass to municipalities throughout this time, not mentioning the proposed exemptions or changes to the EA Act. They do not produce side-by-side comparisons of the old and the new process for an EA, so municipalities are led to believe that the studies that will be undertaken will mean something. They don’t. Read the exemption here – Environmental Registry of Ontario posting

February 3, 2021

First attempt at a Federal Impact Assessment. Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition and Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition, being represented by Ecojustice, request a Federal Impact Assessment of the project.  The request raises the Project’s potential to cause adverse effects on areas of federal jurisdiction and public concerns related to those effects. It also raises concerns that the adequacy of the provincial environmental assessment process to address those issues, particularly in light of Ontario’s proposed exemption to the Environmental Assessment Act. This request is supported by a coalition of 21 environmental groups, including Ontario Nature, Wilderness Committee, Environmental Defence and many local groups. 

May 3, 2021

Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Hon. Jonathan Wilkinson decides not to designate the Project for a Federal Impact Assessment. Minister’s response available here.

2020, July 21 

Government passes regulations to change the Environmental Assessment Act, to “modernize and streamline” the provincial EA process. 

July 24, 2021

Protest /Day of Action. Read media coverage from the East Gwillimbury Express.

October 7, 2021

EA Exemption regulation for the Bypass passed and comes into effect. This means the province will not produce a Transportation Environmental Study Report (TESR) for the preliminary design or a Design and Construction Report(s) (DCR) for the detailed design of the Bradford Bypass.

It also means they exempted this project from completing the conditions in the conditional approval from 2002. They will proceed without evaluating health impacts, climate change, and the impact on Lake Simcoe. Nothing in the studies they are doing will affect the route location, except for some minor adjustments in the route to avoid archaeological sites and a golf course. 

October 31, 2021

The Narwhal’s Emma McIntosh and Toronto Star investigative journalist Sheila Wang release a damning story, including details of plans to toll the highway, that the Bypass route today received the worst score for environmental impact compared to other bypass options in the area, in contrast to government claims, and that it would need to be expanded to 6 lanes by 2041. Read the Toronto Star: What the Ford Government Hasn’t Told you Its Next Controversial Highway Project. 

November 2021

Public opinion poll regarding the Bradford Bypass highway reveals reversal of earlier apparent public support for the Bypass from a poll conducted by Bradford West Gwillimbury. The 2021 OraclePoll, commissioned by Lake Simcoe Watch, says: Opposition to the highway is 48%; 29% it and 23% are unsure. This after the following truthful statement was presented to those polled: “The government of Ontario is planning to build a 16 km, four lane Holland Marsh Highway to link Highways 400 and 404. The proposed highway would increase phosphorous and road salt pollution to Lake Simcoe, endanger fish spawning habitat, eliminate 23 acres of provincially significant wetland, and eliminate 81 acres of wildlife habitat. Do you support construction of this highway?”

November 9, 2021      

East Gwillimbury-based Forbid Roads Over Green Spaces (FROGS) makes a second Impact Assessment designation request to the Federal Minister of Environment, now Hon. Steven Guilbeault, with two other community groups, Concerned Citizens of King Township and Stop the Bradford Bypass. The second request provided information about the way in which the exemption regulation changed the regulatory environment for the Project, and detailed increases in public concerns. It also provided additional information about the Project’s potential adverse effects within federal jurisdiction, including on fish habitat and greenhouse gas emissions.

Nov 13, 2021

Day of Action protest against the Bypass in front of Minister of Transportation and York Simcoe MPP Hon. Caroline Mulroney’s office. 

May – December 2021

Seven Lake Simcoe watershed municipalities pass resolutions asking for better oversight of Bradford Bypass highway, an Impact Assessment, or impacts to Lake Simcoe studied. Read details in the December 9, 2021 update letter to Minister Guilbeault. 

December 8, 2021

63 environmental groups representing tens of thousands of Ontarians write to the Minister to support the Second Request.

December 2021 

AECOM (consultant for MTO on this project)  identifies that over 80 square metres of fish habitat would have to be permanently removed as a result of “early works” near Yonge street and Bradford’s 8th Line that would impact an un-named tributary containing direct warmwater fish habitat to the east of Yonge street.  They suggest that MTO ask the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) if authorizations were required for the Bradford Bypass “early works” under the Fisheries Act.

January 2022

The Pointer releases a story about a site in the path of the Bradford Bypass called the Lower Landing: ‘Bradford Bypass threatens ancient Indigenous Site ‘more significant than 95 percent of all historic/ archaeological sites in Canada.’ 

February 10, 2022

Federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Hon. Steven Guilbeault, rejects the second request for a Federal Impact Assessment of the Bradford Bypass. Read the Narwhal’s story: Federal government rejects second call for review of Ontario’s Bradford Bypass highway project. Minister’s response available here. 

February 2022

Coalition of environmental groups write to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada to request that they do their job of protecting fish, and provide or deny, as appropriate, the permits needed for the work. Earlier, DFO staff said they needed to evaluate the impact of the entire project, but in the case of the Bradford Bypass, the provincial exemption regulation allows the project to be carved into smaller pieces, therefore allowing the project to proceed piecemeal, without an evaluation of the entire project. Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters also wrote to the MTO / AECOM team to suggest that DFO oversight of this was appropriate.

March 14, 2022 

Lawsuit launched against Minister of Environment and Climate Change Hon. Steven Guilbeault, questioning whether he followed the Impact Assessment Act in his decision to not reconsider the request for a Federal Impact Assessment. Appellants are Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition, Forbid Roads Over Green Spaces (FROGS), Ontario Nature, Wildlands League, Western Canada Wilderness Committee, Environmental Defence, and Earthtroots. “There are errors of fact in the Minister’s decision that cannot be allowed to go unchallenged” says Tim Gray of Environmental Defence. “For the sake of Canada’s environment and the communities dependent on it, we must make sure that destructive projects, such as bulldozing a super-highway through one of Ontario’s largest wetlands, receive a proper and thorough review.”  National Observer article: Environmental groups file lawsuit against federal minister over Bradford Bypass. 

March 23, 2022

DFO provides a “letter of advice” to the MTO Bypass team allowing for the removal of 80 square metres of fish habitat for the “early works” portion of the Bradford Bypass without a permit. It says effectively, (paraphrasing) ‘Go ahead. Use the following techniques to avoid harming or destroying fish habitat. It’s a self assessment system. Notify the DFO if you are in violation of the rules and if you are destroying fish habitat.’ (The request from the Bypass team clearly indicated that they were removing 80 sq meters of fish habitat.) This is a real head-scratcher. 

April 23, 2022

Yours To Protect Earth Day protest against the Bradford Bypass. 

May 2022

DFO responds to a formal petition, sent by a member of the Stop the Bradford Bypass team, which asked many specific questions. The response indicated that there were never any instances between 2001 and 2022 where a Fisheries Act authorization or Species At Risk Act (SARA) permit was formally denied, or where a letter of advice was refused. The response also confirms that MTO never applied to DFO for any authorizations for any of the water crossings associated with the 404 extension from Green Lane to Ravenshoe road and had been permitted to self-assess any impacts on fish and fish habitat under a memorandum of understanding.

August 16, 2022

Environmental Conditions Report released and public comments are due one month later. Some studies that one would expect to be in an environmental conditions report are missing. Some still have not been updated in the field. There is no discussion of climate change or induced demand. The report only references greenhouse gas emissions in the context of an upcoming air quality assessment. There is no assessment of chloride (salt) or phosphorus impacts, or impacts to Lake Simcoe. The province requires the project proponents to complete a stormwater management plan, but there appears to be no requirement to follow it. 

Traffic impacts: The MTO itself identifies the “Adequacy of facility to accommodate future travel demand” as an issue. The response is: “No commitments are identified by the proponent; however, traffic studies involving traffic modeling and analysis is being undertaken through Preliminary Design.” The modeling is not publicly available. Claims that the highway will improve local traffic are unsubstantiated because the highway will fill up with traffic quickly. This is “induced demand”. The ECR indicates that the project is being planned for 2 lanes each way but anticipates it expanding to 4 lanes each way (p. 315). 

Human health impacts: The ECR identifies twenty “sensitive receptors” already in the Air Quality study area: 5 retirement homes, 6 daycares, 9 schools. 

There are also nine planned “possible” sensitive receptors in Bradford West Gwillimbury within the  Air Quality study area, including a new Simcoe County District School Board school. Henderson municipal park with soccer fields is also in the study area. (P. 195) 

November 2, 2022

Hearing regarding the lawsuit / Judicial Review of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada not addressing the second request for a Federal Impact Assessment for this case. 

Anticipated next steps: 

Final Environmental Conditions Report (ECR) for Bradford Bypass Project will be released on the project website. No date given.

Fall 2022

The Preliminary Design refinements, alternatives, and the evaluation, will be presented at Public Information Centre #2 in the fall of 2022. 

Contact and consultation information for the Bypass project team. Sign up for updates. 

Late 2022 

Plan to start construction on bridge at Yonge St. (County Road 4) just north of Bradford. There are no detailed engineered drawings, no budget and the route details are not complete. While the timing is meant to coordinate construction  with the widening of Yonge St at this location, critics argue that building the ‘early works’ bridge at this stage in the process is premature and establishes the route, regardless of the outcomes of studies underway.

End of 2022, early 2023 

Draft Environmental Impact Assessment Report (EIAR)will be available for review.

Selection of Preferred Alternative for the Bradford Bypass Project (minor route changes.)

Early 2023

Final Environmental Impact Assessment Report 

Preliminary design complete

The Bradford Bypass’ consultant team’s schedule can be found here.

What Lake Simcoe Needs Now: Grow the Greenbelt Into Simcoe County

Part 6 of our series Who Will Save Lake Simcoe? Read the full report here.

58% of the Lake Simcoe watershed’s land is protected by the Greenbelt and its policies, and for this we are grateful. However, Lake Simcoe’s western shorelines in Simcoe County are not in the Greenbelt, nor is the rest of the County. This has contributed to leapfrog development over the Greenbelt and Oak Ridges Moraine and into Simcoe County, particularly in Barrie, Bradford West Gwillimbury, Innisfil, and New Tecumseth.

For example, sprawl removed 37,000 acres of natural and semi-natural space in Barrie between 1971 and 2011. [32] Between 2006 and 2012, Simcoe County zoned over 32,000 acres of farmland and natural space to sprawl. [33] Without protective policies like the Greenbelt to keep farmland in production and greenspace preserved, our natural spaces will be under constant threat to urbanization. Case in point, during Simcoe County’s Municipal Comprehensive Review consultation, the County received 79 developer requests to sprawl outside existing boundaries for a potential loss of almost 16,000 acres. [34]

Moreover, Simcoe County is highly reliant on groundwater for both private and municipal wells. This abundance of water is made possible by our recharge areas, wetlands and aquifers that pepper the region. Unfortunately, these places are also prime areas for new development, aggregate activity, and infrastructure such as highways. In 2006, the Intergovernmental Action Report for Simcoe County saw the threat that rampant urbanization was going to have on Simcoe’s water supply stating, “A number of the municipalities in the study area rely on inland water systems which have been demonstrated to be under strain (for example, the Lake Simcoe watershed has known issues as a result of Phosphorus loadings). Without intervening action, these watersheds’ available potable water and aquaculture are threatened.” [35]

Despite 15 years of requests to add Simcoe County to the Greenbelt, this has not happened. Meanwhile, we lose and destroy land that purifies and stores our drinking water and prevents flooding.

Public support for the Greenbelt translated into a provincial promise to protect it, which the province has upheld so far. But it’s tenuous. There have been motions from the York Region Councils of Markham [36] and Vaughan [37] to either downgrade protections of Greenbelt land next to existing communities or to develop in the Greenbelt.

The province has put the 830-acre North Gwillimbury Forest into the hands of the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority, in the Greenbelt within the lake-side municipality of Georgina. [38] This is a welcome move, but it did not add any land to Southern Ontario’s protected areas. The forest was protected through a legal battle fought by resident and activist Jack Gibbons, who created the North Gwillimbury Forest Alliance, and fundraised more than $500,000 to fight the Town of Georgina, the Region of York and the LSRCA until it was ultimately protected. The credit goes to Jack, generous donors, and the citizens who insisted that a Provincially Significant Wetland should be protected.

Finally, the province had some great ideas for Greenbelt expansion, which would have protected the Paris-Galt Moraine, a vulnerable aquifer in the Waterloo area, among other things. Unfortunately, the only idea they acted on was to extend the Greenbelt into already protected urban river valleys. Critics said in a media statement: “Proposed Provincial Greenbelt “expansion” does nothing for farmland and natural areas that need protection while new highways threaten the existing Greenbelt.” [39] It could be described as more of a re-branding of protected greenspace than meaningful policy change.

Footnotes:

[32] Barrie Advance. Thursday, April 7, 2016. Barrie has grown 540%, study finds. https://www.niagarathisweek.com/news-story/6453587-barrie-has-grown-560-in-40-years-study-finds/

[33] Neptis. Implementing the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe. October 2013. https://neptis.org/publications/implementing-growth-plan-greater-golden-horseshoe

[34] County of Simcoe staff report to Committee of the Whole. August 10, 2021. Report: CCW – 2021-265

[35] Intergovernmental Action Report for Simcoe County. (2006) Existing Capacities Assessment: Communities Report. https://www.simcoe.ca/dpt/pln/initiatives

[36] York Region staff memo: Considerations of motions, October 13, 2021. https://yorkpublishing.escribemeetings.com/filestream.ashx?DocumentId=27156

[37] Zarzour, Kim. Toronto Star. October 15,l 2021. ‘Slippery slope’: Farmers, environmentalists decry move to open Greenbelt lands in Markham, Vaughan. (For clarity, neither municipality is in the Lake Simcoe watershed) https://www.thestar.com/local-newmarket/news/council/2021/10/15/slippery-slope-farmers-environmentalists-decry-move-to-open-greenbelt-lands-in-markham-vaughan.html

[38] Kelly, Deborah. Barrie Today. June 16, 2021. Province creates new 830-acre nature reserve in Georgina. https://www.barrietoday.com/local-news/province-creates-new-830-acre-nature-reserve-in-georgina-3879316

[39] Ontario Greenbelt Alliance Steering Committee press release. March 24, 2022. Proposed Provincial Greenbelt “expansion” does nothing for farmland and natural areas that need protection while new highways threaten the existing Greenbelt. https://www.greenbeltalliance.ca/resources/media-statement-in-response-to-proposed-provincial-greenbelt-expansion-announcement?fbclid=IwAR1e-IG8lH2LoxYe6BPxAsMoxD8cORrWLQBN4tKIbuUbDq8kawbC_HpZjQo

What Lake Simcoe Needs Now: Keep the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan Strong

Part 5 of our series Who Will Save Lake Simcoe? Read the full report here.

Thanks to the Lake Simcoe Protection Act (2008) and Plan (2009) the Lake Simcoe watershed is subject to some of Ontario’s strongest environmental policies, meant to protect its water for all its inhabitants, human and non, and the sensitive cold-water fishery, an economic driver in the area. All of the province’s 2018 – 2022 communications about Lake Simcoe have been rather rosy. [28] This is not unique to this government, but it is greenwashing, and it worries us.

Lake Simcoe Protection Plan review

The Lake Simcoe Protection Act requires the Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks to review the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan every ten years to determine if its targets are being met, and whether its policies need to change.

Although it should have started in 2019, the province launched the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan review in late December 2020 and had finished consultation by mid-2021. [29] Despite the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan review being complete, the province has been silent on the results of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan review for more than a year while it “sits on the Minister’s desk” for a decision.

Why not release its findings? We worry it is because the province plans to weaken protection in favour of development. In effect, by being silent on the coordination of sewage treatment plant allocations that would flow from the watershed’s population explosion outlined in A Place to Grow, 2020, that is what the province is already doing.

The Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition has been sounding the alarm about the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan’s 40% “High Quality Natural Cover” target, which is a target without any implementation policies.

In addition to years of letters, research, mapping, reporting, policy analysis and briefs, [30] the we suggested that the province could use the Municipal Comprehensive Review’s provincial Natural Heritage System mapping process to bring us closer to this target. [31] They said, no thanks, and cc’d the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing on their reply to the Coalition.

Footnotes:

[28] Ontario, 2022. Connecting the GGH: A Transportation Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe. https://www.ontario.ca/page/connecting-ggh-transportation-plan-greater-golden-horseshoe

[29] Ontario. Protecting Lake Simcoe. https://www.ontario.ca/page/protecting-lake-simcoe#section-5

[30] Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition. Reports & resources page. https://rescuelakesimcoe.org/resources/

[31] Malcolmson, Claire. December 10, 2021. Letter to Minister Piccini, Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks. https://rescuelakesimcoe.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/letter-to-Province-re-P-reduction-and-NHS-w-SC-Submission-attached.pdf

Threats to Lake Simcoe: The approval of the risky and irreversible Upper York Sewage Solution would prioritize development ahead of lake health.

Part 4 of our series Who Will Save Lake Simcoe? Read the full report here.

With the Upper York Sewage Solution (UYSS), York Region Council is poised—dangerously—to encourage the development of a new sewage treatment plant (STP) in Northern York Region. The UYSS will add Phosphorus (P), a fertilizer and pollutant that will harm fisheries, to Lake Simcoe.

York Region recommends that the STP’s Phosphorus pollution be offset by projects that remove Phosphorus from the water, specifically agricultural and stormwater infrastructure improvements. However, there is little evidence that offsets from agricultural projects can be relied on as long-term P offsets. The reduction in family farms and the related increase in corporate-owned farms (mainly land speculators) also means there are fewer farmers who are land stewards and fewer farmers willing to undertake remediation on their farms at the scale required to offset the UYSS.

The problem started in the 1990’s, when development was approved in Northern York Region without water and wastewater servicing. The original plan to send it south to Lake Ontario at Durham region’s Duffins Creek wastewater plant was thwarted in 2010 when the provincial government of the day supported an examination of a Lake Simcoe “solution.” This was odd, given that the same government introduced the Lake Simcoe Protection Act in 2008, with a prohibition on new sewage treatment plants as a way to control the extent and impact of new development in the watershed.

It is possible that both Lake Simcoe and the Lake Ontario Duffins outlets are being considered to accommodate all the growth planned. It is impossible to know exactly what is happening since the province had the affected regions sign Non-Disclosure Agreements (never a good sign) regarding their conversations about the UYSS.

It has been speculated that the province passed legislation to prohibit the approval of the UYSS to shield themselves from legal liability stemming from development hold-ups due to the lack of servicing.

Affected municipalities and developers are understandably tired of this game. We are concerned that the province will approve this at some point.

The one positive piece that came from this is that in response to public and municipal pressure, [25] the province agreed to pay the balance of the cost of a Phosphorus Recycling Facility on the Holland River, which could remove 2.5 tonnes of P per year from that river as it flows into Lake Simcoe. [26] This would be the single largest P reduction project completed at Lake Simcoe!

This Phosphorus Recycling Facility was first proposed as a P offset for the UYSS. The federal government promised $16 million toward the facility’s construction in 2020. [27] York Region wants the UYSS, and they want the Phosphorus Recycling Facility to be one of its offsets. Other Lake Simcoe municipalities want P reduction to come at this scale, regardless of the outcome of the UYSS. Indeed, their municipal motions requested that:

… York Region, the Government of Canada and the Province of Ontario work collaboratively to move the Holland Marsh Polder Phosphorous Recycling Facility forward notwithstanding the “paused” status of the broader Upper York Sewage Solutions Project, including proceeding to an Environmental Assessment for the Facility commencing in 2021…[28]

The provincial funding announcement did not include any reference to this facility’s connection to the UYSS. We hope that they will decide against the UYSS; but if they do approve it, the province and York Region must develop more enduring and measurable offsets like the Phosphorus Recycling Facility.

Footnotes:

[25] Broadley, Laura. YorkRegion.com. Sept 15, 2021. Phosphorus recycling facility for Lake Simcoe ‘overdue’: Bradford councillor. https://www.thestar.com/local-bradford/news/2021/09/15/phosphorus-recycling-facility-for-lake-simcoe-overdue-bradford-councillor.html

[26] Philpot, Natasha. Bradford Today. April 20, 2022. Province commits to $24M in funding for Holland Marsh Phosphorus Recycling Facility project https://www.bradfordtoday.ca/local-news/province-commits-to-24m-in-funding-for-holland-marsh-phosphorus-recycling-facility-project-5281398

[27] Georgina Post. November 13, 2020. Feds provide $16 million to build facility that reduces Phosphorus levels in Lake Simcoe. https://georginapost.com/2020/11/13/feds-provide-16-million-to-build-facility-that-reduces-Phosphorous-levels-in-lake-simcoe/

[28] Brock Council meeting Minutes September 27, 2021. https://pub-townshipofbrock.escribemeetings.com/Meeting.aspx?Id=bef78e7b-6eb1-45f6-9ccd-f37352f67f82&Agenda=PostMinutes&lang=English&Item=29&Tab=attachments

Threats to Lake Simcoe: The Bradford Bypass will harm fish, wildlife, and a significant cultural site.

Part 3 of our series Who Will Save Lake Simcoe? Read the full report here.

The most significant development on the ‘highways in the Lake Simcoe watershed’ file is that on top of the Bradford Bypass, the province is planning another 54 km of highways on the southeast shore of Lake Simcoe. [14]

If building the Bradford Bypass worries you, it’s time to get completely freaked out. The map on the next page shows the locations of all of the province’s planned highways through the Greenbelt.

Map 1. Ontario’s planned highways through the Greenbelt

Exemption from the Environmental Assessment process

It’s been a busy year on the Bradford Bypass file, with disappointing results for Lake Simcoe. In the fall of 2021, the province passed an exemption from the Environmental Assessment Act for the Bradford Bypass, allowing the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) to carve off a piece of the project and start building before all of the Environmental Assessment studies and (very scoped) consultation is complete. [15] Due to the exemption, the highway has received all environmental approvals, despite studies not being completed. Even the studies that will be done no longer require government approval, so it isn’t clear how they will affect construction decisions.

In the words of the former Environment Commissioner of Ontario, Gord Miller, “This is a violation of international standards. It’s widely recognized that when you’re doing an assessment of an initiative, you don’t start until you’ve at least measured all of the impacts to the best of your ability so you can make a rational decision. They are clearly violating that.” [16]

Fish habitat destruction and “early works” construction

The MTO’s construction timeline for the “early works” overpass just north of Bradford at Yonge St. was April/May 2022, but has now been pushed until the latter part of 2022. One of the explanations for this could be that they may require Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) permits to alter and potentially destroy fish habitat. Our team of community members at Stop The Bradford Bypass, and our pro-bono lawyer from Ecojustice, alerted the DFO of the risks of fish habitat destruction from the project.

We effectively encouraged the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters to communicate the same to the MTO’s project team. We are happy that this is slowing the process down and are cautiously optimistic that this will improve things for the fish.

Costs and traffic impacts

Although the government has not confirmed the price of the highway, estimates show that Ontarians will be paying anywhere from $800 million to $2.2 billion for this 16 km, 400 series highway.

The commuter time-saving claims have been wildly overstated. The traffic studies that have been released showed that congestion on Highways 400 and 404 will be worse with the Bypass than without, and that those who live in East Gwillimbury or further east won’t see any time savings at all with the Bypass compared to using current roads. [17] MTO studies also demonstrate that the new highway will be congested by 2041, and therefore more lanes might need to be added.

When traffic alternatives were considered, the GO train did not go to Bradford, nor did it offer all-day, two-way service, which is planned for this line. [18]

A lot has changed since 1997; we believe that alternatives to this highway must be thoroughly examined using the current transit and population context.

Wildlife habitat and road salt impacts on Lake Simcoe

Environmentally, we have loads of concerns.

Primarily, it is a TERRIBLE place to put a highway while in a climate and biodiversity crisis. It is slated to cross the Holland Marsh Provincially Significant Wetland, farmland, and Greenbelt, in the “protected” Lake Simcoe watershed. It will cross 13 watercourses and affect bird, fish, and spawning habitats.

Lake Simcoe is on a trajectory to exceed the guideline level for chronic salinity in 37 years. This would change the entire ecosystem within the lake, and affect both its freshwater inhabitants and the seven municipalities that take drinking water from the lake. Highways create chloride hotspots in our rivers. It is virtually impossible to remediate chloride pollution. [19] [20]

The Bradford Bypass is proposed to cross the Holland River’s east and west branches that flow north into Lake Simcoe. The LSRCA measures salt concentrations at the Holland Landing (approximately where the highway would be built), where chloride concentrations exceeded the acute guideline 44 times in the winter of 2011/2012. This project would literally add salt to an open wound. [21]

Chart 1. Holland Landing Station – Daily Chloride Concentrations (July 2011-April 2012) [22]

The majority of the summer and autumn chloride concerntrations can be seen to exceed the chronic guidelines, while winter concentrations can be seen to be greatly elevated, exceeding the acute guidelines on 44 occasions at the Holland Landing station (downstream of Aurora and Newmarket.)

Public opinion turns against Bradford Bypass

In the year since we last reported on the Bypass in Lake Simcoe Under Pressure in 2021, eight Lake Simcoe watershed municipalities passed resolutions regarding the Bradford Bypass, expressing concern for Lake Simcoe and a desire for a more thorough Environmental Assessment process.

We got significant media attention due to our team’s tireless reporting on the results of our Freedom of Information requests and our many municipal delegations to Council.

By the end of that year, public opinion had shifted away from supporting the Bypass: 48% of 900 poll respondents in three Lake Simcoe ridings opposed the Bradford Bypass; 29% supported the Bypass, and 23% were unsure. [23]

Attempts to get a Federal Impact Assessment

Despite all sorts of evidence-based concerns that this would harm fish habitat, pollute Lake Simcoe, perpetuate car dependency, increase GHG emissions, and not address regional traffic congestion, the Federal government has refused to intervene.

Members of Stop the Bradford Bypass requested Federal intervention once in 2020 and were denied. The decision was made even though key ministries (Environment, Health, Fisheries) outlined that they did not have enough time or information to make an assessment on the project. It made us wonder whose professional opinion the government relied upon to deny federal review.

After a year of hard work and a huge shift in public and municipal support, three other local groups tried a second time for a Federal Impact Assessment, only to be turned down again. In February 2022, the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada announced it would not revisit its decision to deny a federal impact assessment designation for the Bradford Bypass. Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition joined six other ENGOs in litigation against the Federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Hon. Steven Guilbeault. The lawsuit challenges the Minister’s failure to designate the Bradford Bypass highway project for a federal impact assessment, alleging that the Minister’s decision was not based on the criteria in the Impact Assessment Act.

In a press release, the groups explain: “The purpose of the litigation is to hold the federal government accountable for the proper review of the impacts of the proposed highway, which is needed to understand the full impact of the proposed project on vital habitats, wildlife, and watersheds in the area. The case for building a highway is thin at best and we must better understand the impacts of the project on natural heritage, migratory birds, fisheries, greenhouse gas emissions, air quality, and First Nations cultural heritage.” [24]

We wonder, who will take care of Lake Simcoe?

Footnotes:

14] Ontario, 2022. Connecting the GGH: A Transportation Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe https://www.ontario.ca/page/connecting-ggh-transportation-plan-greater-golden-horseshoe

[15] ERO posting: Proposal to exempt various Ministry of Transportation projects from the requirements of the Environmental Assessment Act. https://ero.ontario.ca/notice/019-1883

[16] Quoted in a Just Recovery Simcoe webinar. January 27th, 2022.

[17] AECOM. BradfordBypass.ca project site. Public Information Centre #1: 5. CONSIDERATIONS FOR THE BRADFORD BYPASS PROJECT: Traffic. https://www.bradfordbypass.ca/2021/04/09/5-considerations-for-the-bradford-bypass-project/

[18] Metrolinks.com. Barrie GO expansion. https://www.metrolinx.com/en/greaterregion/projects/barrie-go-expansion.aspx

[19] Learn more about salt in Lake Simcoe at https://www.lsrca.on.ca/Pages/Sodium-Chloride.aspx

[20] Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, Province of Ontario’s Lake Simcoe Science Event January 28th, 2021. Slide presented by Joelle Young, MOECP.

[21] Malcolmson, Claire. Toronto Star, Opinion. February 14, 2022. https://www.thestar.com/opinion/contributors/2022/02/11/salt-contamination-of-lake-simcoe-a-frightening-warning-about-highway-expansion.html

[22] LSRCA’s Lake Simcoe Science: Sodium Chloride (Winter Salt) page. https://www.lsrca.on.ca/Pages/Sodium-Chloride.aspx

[23] Oraclepoll, commissioned by Lake Simcoe Watch. Nov. 2021. Pg. 5. https://rescuelakesimcoe.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/LSW-survey-Bypass-Report-Nov-2021-2.pdf

[24] Press release: Groups launch lawsuit against federal environment minister over decision not to do an Impact Assessment on the Bradford Bypass: Dangerous precedent for federal decision-making at core of concerns. March 16, 2022. https://rescuelakesimcoe.org/press-releases/

Threats to Lake Simcoe: Orbit MZO development approved without knowing impacts to Lake Simcoe.

Part 2 of our series Who Will Save Lake Simcoe? Read the full report here.

It’s full steam ahead in Innisfil, where a Transit Oriented Community is planned to be built around a GO train line and a proposed new GO station.

We are not opposed to Transit Oriented Communities. But developing this way does not improve existing low-density towns, nor does it help existing residents get out of their cars.

If Innisfil had opted for “missing middle” housing and intensification on its arterial and main roads, higher density in existing towns would contribute to achieving transit-supportive densities. This in turn would support financially feasible public transit systems.

One of the significant problems with the use of Minister’s Zoning Orders (MZOs) is that they do not follow the normal public input and consultation required in Ontario’s planning process. MZOs remove the public’s ability to appeal. Therefore, it is not surprising that there is no new publicly available information on this project. Innisfil’s public page about the Orbit [10] shows no consultation or movement on the file since the Ministry of Municiapl Affairs and Housing’s issuance of the MZO. Between October 14 and November 4, 2020, the Orbit plan came to Council and was approved, before the end of their public consultation period. Breakneck speed may be ok for a train, but not for the planning of 150,000 residents in a town of 37,000.

Rendering of proposed Go station.

Where is the promised GO station?

Innisfil Councilor Orsatti asked in the October 14th Council meeting: Does the developer have to build the GO station by a certain time? If not, what is the point of an MZO?

Answer from Chief Planner Tim Cane: We have always been talking with our partners about 2022 for the GO.

That is not much of a commitment. It is hardly surprising that it is 2022 and there is no GO station, since the MZO did not have a date associated with building the station. This public service has been left to the discretion of the developers. The location of the entire project, including the GO station, benefits the developers more than any other stakeholder. The GO station should have been in Alcona, one concession line north, where the majority of Innisfil’s population lives. This would have served the existing population and helped them get on transit.

The question of impacts on Lake Simcoe remains unanswered. Although staff assured the public that they had approvals for expansions to their sewage treatment plant that would enable them to service this massive plan, a Simcoe County Council meeting on April 12th, 2022, [11] revealed that Innisfil’s wastewater servicing could be limited. Said Chief Planner Stephen Westendorp, “Can we service the growth that’s coming [to the county]? I don’t think there’s a clear answer to that.” He anticipates wastewater servicing constraints in 20 to 30 years and named Innisfil specifically.

All the Lake Simcoe watershed municipalities growing now should consider that this could be their last phase of major revenue coming in from development charges and consider how they will maintain their infrastructure without future development charges. This is the Orbit’s advantage; although it converts farm fields into residential development, it will not be as expensive to service as new sprawling subdivisions.

The apparent lack of coordination for wastewater servicing in the Lake Simcoe watershed is entirely on the province. By all appearances, the coordination of wastewater servicing is an afterthought. This approach to planning could wipe out the hard-fought gains made in Phosphorus reduction in Lake Simcoe.

Williams Treaties First Nations (WTFN) agree that this approach to “planning” is not ok.

WTFN filed a court action in September 2021 over the Orbit, naming Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Steve Clark.

As reported by Miriam King in Barrie Today:

“The court filing says “no analysis was done by the town, the Cortel Group or the minister on the potential impacts of the project on Lake Simcoe’s water quality, aquatic life and habitat.” The group says there’s no proof the project will not impact the lake or WTFN treaty rights.

“The importance of Lake Simcoe to the WTFN cannot be overstated,” states the court filing, while also explaining that First Nations rely on Lake Simcoe for their water and food resources, as well as for ceremonial purposes.” [12]

Stay tuned to find out how Innisfil manages this mess. Read more on the RLSC blog: Orbit or Obit for Innisfil? [13]

Footnotes:

[10] http://www.getinvolvedinnisfil.ca/go

[11] Simcoe County Council meeting April 12th, 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OZScWHUo3Gg

[12] King, Miriam. Barrie Today, September 30, 2021. First Nations group challenging MZO granted for massive Orbit proposal in Innisfil. https://www.barrietoday.com/local-news/first-nations-group-challenging-mzo-granted-for-massive-orbit-proposal-in-innisfil-4472407

[13] Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition. 2021. Orbit or Obit for Innisfil? Blog. https://rescuelakesimcoe.org/2021/12/03/orbit-or-obit-for-innisfil/

Threats to Lake Simcoe: Development planned for the Lake Simcoe area is unsustainable.

Part 1 of our series Who Will Save Lake Simcoe? Read the full report here.

Housing and development growth is at the top of the list because everything else flows from this.

In the year since our initial report, we are not aware of any public assessment regarding the sustainability of the planned development, and its sewage and stormwater requirements, in the Lake Simcoe watershed. This growth is anticipated to negatively affect both water quality and housing affordability.

How does growth affect Lake Simcoe?

One of Lake Simcoe’s biggest environmental issues is Phosphorus pollution. We are currently doubling the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan’s target maximum load of 44 tonnes per year.

Phosphorus is in fertilizer, poop, and dirt! Where does it come from? See green graphic.

The impacts of development are not limited to sewage. Any water that drains across the watershed’s land picks up Phosphorus and other pollutants. Untreated, it becomes part of the stormwater pollution that accounts for a stunning 31% of the estimated Phosphorus loads to Lake Simcoe, the highest contributing source.

The stripping of land and development processes themselves contribute to Lake Simcoe’s pollution. Readers should note that advanced sewage treatment will not address all of the impacts of development.

The Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority (LSRCA) says the watershed is now home to 465,000 people, and, “based on the Province of Ontario’s Places to Grow Plan and municipal official plans, it’s projected that the urban area within our watershed will increase by approximately 50% by the year 2041 and the population will nearly double.” [1]

Extrapolating from government estimates for development planned from 2008 to 2031, [2] the development projected for the Lake Simcoe watershed will increase Phosphorus loads by at least 15 tonnes per year.

It is an exercise in futility to fight the population growth across the province, but we should be careful about where it will go, what form it will take, and how much land will be disturbed in the process. As explained above, sprawling development will eat up more farmland and contribute more Phosphorus to the lake. So we must consider the denser alternatives to new subdivisions of single-family homes in farm fields.

The way the Municipal Comprehensive Reviews (part of the Official Plan review process) are rolling out, it appears that the initial allocation of land for new development will occur before climate change and water/wastewater capacity analyses are complete, thereby repeating the mistakes that put us in a situation of having development approvals without sewage treatment plant approvals. More on this in the Upper York Sewage Solution section.

But it gets worse. The province has called for an even higher population for the watershed while weakening the Environmental Assessment process for building new highways and sewage treatment plants. Conservation Authorities’ and municipalities’ ability to spend time getting excellent, environmentally-friendly development proposals has been curtailed. The province has also limited the time allowed for proposal review. [3] Municipalities that exceed the shorter review period will face new financial penalties, and the independence of Conservation Authorities’ decisions on some land use matters has been

undermined with new laws allowing ministers to override Conservation Authority requirements. That is a non-exhaustive list of how Ontario laws have changed since 2018 to limit environmental protections and facilitate development.

Sprawl is also bad for residents’ and municipalities’ finances. An exacerbating factor for both environmental and housing affordability concerns is the province’s entrenchment in “market-based” analysis to determine the correct mix of housing in the future. This approach uses old market preferences favouring single-family home development over more compact and affordable housing options. In today’s housing market, this is a missed opportunity to build what mid- and lower-income Ontarians can afford. Research from York Region shows that it is increasingly difficult to buy a home for the average York Region resident. [4] Smaller, more affordable, and family-friendly units are urgently needed.

Chart 1. York Region Affordable Housing Threshold and Average Cost of New Homes (2019) [4]

Sprawling neighbourhoods rely on sprawling infrastructure for water, wastewater, and hydro. Ottawa analyzed the impacts of sprawl vs. infill development scenarios. Their consultant, Hemson, “found it now costs the City of Ottawa $465 per person each year to serve new low-density homes built on undeveloped land, over and above what it receives from property taxes and water bills….On the other hand, high-density infill development, such as apartment buildings, pays for itself and leaves the city with an extra $606 per capita each year.” [5] This leaves sprawling municipalities with fewer dollars to spend on services that make people’s lives better as they try to cover the long-term maintenance costs of sprawling infrastructure that are not covered by development charges.

Although there is absolutely a way forward that would create complete communities, increase affordability, and reduce environmental impacts of new development, the government is passing on the options that would build “the missing middle,” typified by 3 – 6 story, small buildings of condos, apartments and/or townhouses. This is the way we used to build our communities before we succumbed to the sprawl experiment. In Bill 109, the More Homes for Everyone Act [6] which received Royal Assent on April 14th, 2022, the province did not take important steps recommended by experts, academics, and housing advocates to allow more gentle density to existing neighbourhoods. [7]

Strangely, the province is pushing sprawl and massive density at the same time. The province is forcing massively dense tower projects such as those at Yonge St. and Hwy 407 in Richmond Hill, using Enhanced Minister’s Zoning Orders to permit what would be the highest density development in the western hemisphere. [8]

When it comes to the long-term protection of farmland, water quality, and housing affordability, there is a lot to criticize in the province’s frequent changes to the Planning Act. Development lobby groups love it. [9] So far, it’s hard to tell who else does.

Footnotes:

[1] Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority, 2021. Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority, Approved Budget, 2021. p. 5.

[2] Re development to 2031: “Under the Plan all new developments are required to have enhanced stormwater management controls in place, subject to limited exceptions. Accounting for these controls, analysis indicates the Phosphorus load from these new developments would be 15.3 T/yr. Additional analysis indicates that combining “Enhanced” stormwater management controls with LID practices would reduce the Phosphorus load from new development to 9.2 T/yr. While the Strategy and the Plan strongly encourage that effective measures are taken to mitigate and reduce Phosphorus contributions from new development wherever possible, significant Phosphorus loadings from development will occur and should be offset in some way.” (Lake Simcoe Phosphorus Reduction Strategy, p. 30)

[3] This change was made on April 14, 2022, in the More Homes for Everyone Act.

[4] York Region Staff Report: Regional Official Plan Update: Housing Challenges and Opportunities. January 14, 2021. https://yorkpublishing.escribemeetings.com/filestream.ashx?DocumentId=18865

[5] Porter, Kate. Sept 9, 2021. Suburban expansion costs increase to $465 per person per year in Ottawa. CBC news.

[6] Proposed Planning Act changes (the proposed More Homes for Everyone Act, 2022) https://www.ontariocanada.com/registry/view.do?postingId=41487&language=en

[7] Xing, Lisa. March 31, 2022. Ford government left key strategies out of housing legislation, critics say. CBC news. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/housing-crisis-doug-ford-municipalities-1.6403221?fbclid=IwAR0SktZPpUpfXlwj5paX_XXXhZhU9kGr-jLLmqYPejJ0FwKXRV_BUJDovCs

[8] MZOs issued April 14, 2021, for massive density in York Region: https://www.ontario.ca/laws/regulation/r22345 & https://www.ontario.ca/laws/regulation/r22344

[9] BILD influencing policy development, politics and voters: https://bildgta.ca/voteforhousing

Orbit or Obit for Innisfil?

The Orbit is a massive development planned for the location of a GO train stop, the 6th line, between the 20th sideroad and Lake Simcoe. This is a new city in greenfields, which is the opposite of Smart Growth.

A new GO train station, with lots of people living in a variety of high-density housing surrounding it, sounds good – right? But after you scratch the surface of a recent decision by the provincial government for Innisfil, you’ll see it’s far from good.

The Innisfil “Orbit” development is centred on a proposed new station to be built on the existing Barrie GO train line and is located between two small towns, Lefroy and Alcona, which are both shoreline communities of Lake Simcoe.

WHAT IS THE ORBIT?

So what is the Orbit?

If you believe the pictures, it’s an idealized round garden-city style community in which everyone has a cool job, with tasty micro-brew available downstairs, and where plants grow lushly off buildings. The trains must be silent in this fantasy. 

Here’s what I think it actually is: a brilliantly executed land grab, led by well-connected developers, whereby they get to build a new town, and put themselves in prime position to add lands to Innisfil’s already oversized employment area and also get a new interchange at Hwy 400 and Innisfil 6th line – all in exchange for building a GO station at some unspecified time.

MZO TIME

The Orbit project is being pitched to the people of Simcoe and Ontario as a high-density, environmentally friendly, transit-oriented community. But, having some experience with Minister’s Zoning Orders (MZOs) I was wary of these claims. The Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition labelled the Orbit as greenwashed sprawl in a March 2021 report, “Lake Simcoe Under Pressure”, because it opens up agricultural land for new and expensive development. 

The final and unappealable  MZO was issued on August 6th, 2021. Now, as municipal planning for growth up to 2051 is underway across the GTHA, Innisfil Council and residents are trying to figure out how an MZO that authorizes new houses for up to 150,000 “over a lifetime” fits with the other growth plan requirements, which would double the size of the Town. 

The use of an MZO for a project of this scale offends planners and urban sustainability experts. It also offends residents who made comments about it to the Town of Innisfil. Sixty of the sixty-one comments posted on the Town’s “Get Involved” website are against the Orbit or the use of an MZO. [1] But it seems the Town and the Minister care little about what citizens think. When the Minister of Municipal Affairs uses an MZO there is no requirement for public consultation or public support. So it’s a perfect fit for an unpopular project.

MIXING GOVERNMENT WITH PRIVATE BUSINESS

But that’s not all. The developer gets to have a Town employee, Chief Planner Tim Cane, (whose title is now Orbit Director for the Town of Innisfil) act like his sales guy, who pitches the development while the Town advocates for a new 400 interchange at the 6th line [2] and the rezoning of farmland for more unjustified employment lands all along the 400, all of which could benefit the Orbit developer. All of this became apparent in the Oct 14, 2020, Innisfil Council meeting: [3]

Counc. Bill VanBerkel: “What is missing from the staff report is a description of need from a financial point of view, and how this MZO is connected to and serves other infrastructure plans such as the 400 / 6th line interchange and Innservices.”

Answer from CAO Jason Reynar: (paraphrase) Developer is front-ending costs of infrastructure to finance the Orbit’s needs and to service future development including getting to the (proposed) 400 / 6th line interchange which the Town is lobbying at AMO and the province to have approved. 

Handy, right!? What a team! That may be because Innisfil is broke and can’t build the station it has been promising people is coming for the past 10-15 years. Innisfil, and I am afraid other small towns with big ambitions and low coffers, come hat in hand to a developer and they work something out that is mutually beneficial. This offends me because I am clear that business is not government. Only governments are responsible for delivering public services and environmental protection. The core business of business is to make money. Period. I am very uncomfortable with the blurred line, and even more uncomfortable with members of the public embracing this approach. 

USING MZOs IS AN ABUSE OF POWER

Further, this MZO (like most) is a massive abuse of power led by the province who by all appearances have decided that “the people” they are working for are mostly developers. While claiming that water will be protected in the 2018 Made in Ontario Environment Plan, with commitments to: “Build on previous successes and continue to implement the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan to protect and restore important natural areas and features of the lake…” [4], the province has changed a dizzying number of rules to let MZOs like the Orbit happen outside of a typical planning process:

  • We know the Ontario government loves issuing MZO’s, having now issued at least 60 of them.They have been mapped here. MZOs have been widely criticized for not following planning laws, not being appealable, and lacking the transparency we have come to expect in our democracy. 
  • The province gutted the Conservation Authorities Act and can now order a Conservation Authority to issue a permit for the destruction of a natural feature that the province used to protect. (With laws and all that pesky paperwork.) Before the MZO for the Orbit was even issued, we noticed a regulation requiring the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority to do just this. But the details are still missing almost five months later, and no decision has been made on the regulation, so we don’t even know what flood-prone or natural areas in this “green” development are slated for destruction. [5]
  • The Province allowed private money to be used to build GO stations, while guaranteeing “air rights” over the stations and extra density to say ‘thanks for building what taxpayers have always paid for.’ I am not aware that there were problems with the public sector building GO stations so it just looks like another way to have private business make more money at the expense of transparency. 
  • Until recently, the province has been getting away with these legislative changes. The Ontario Divisional Court ruled in September 2021 that the government of Ontario broke the law by using “COVID recovery” rationale to fast track the passage of a bill (197) with significant environmental ramifications, while not posting the proposed changes on the Environmental Registry of Ontario. [6]

WHAT’S GOING ON WITH A PROMISED GO STATION?

Image from http://www.innisfil.ca/orbit.

But it’s not just about policy. The locations of GO stations matter to residents and home buyers. Many homes have been sold based on the promise of a GO station located near new subdivisions in Lefroy. [7] As recently as 2011, Innisfil’s Official Plan said the GO station would be built at the 5th line, Belle Aire Beach Rd at the north end of Lefroy. [8] [9] But something changed. The developer advocated for the 6th line, which is in neither Alcona nor Lefroy, and lo and behold it’s on the 6th line. This change occurred under the former Innisfil Mayor Gord Wauchope. I tried to find information about the decisions that led to the selection of the 6th line location, which we understand were considered in an Environmental Assessment by Metrolinx, and by the province in an appeal of the draft secondary plan for the area where the Orbit would be situated today. 

In any case, that is where the station will be and the reason Innisfil NEEDED to use an MZO was to expedite the building of the station, to guarantee that it would be built in 2022. Only… there may not be anything compelling the developer to build the station that fast. There is no timeline in the MZO. There is no mention of a GO station either. On October 14th, 2020, a week after the idea of the MZO was brought to Council, this conversation happened at the Council meeting: [10]

Counc. Orsatti: Does the developer have to build the GO station by a certain time? If not, what is the point of an MZO? 

Answer from Chief Planner Tim Cane: We have always been talking with our partners about 2022 for the GO. 

I gather this is not the robust response some Councillors had hoped for. 

WILL ORBIT REALLY HAPPEN?

The Orbit story in fact goes way back, before the use of MZOs was widespread. The impact today is that people expecting a GO station still don’t have one, and there is no public commitment to a timeline for its construction. What Innisfil also has is an absurd amount of growth allowed in a built form that doesn’t fit with the look and feel of the Town. But because it came in using an MZO, the Town does not have control over the project and will have a huge challenge making this project fit with other Town aspirations and commitments to sustainability. 

The Orbit is such a crazy plan that I don’t think will work. Is there a market for condos in a farm field on a train line? Hm. And if this doesn’t work, what’s plan B? You can bet that the developer has one. 

References:

  1. https://www.getinvolvedinnisfil.ca/go/forum_topics/staff-report-discussion
  2. Identified as “Future Recommended County Road” in the Simcoe County Transportation Master Plan, Public Consultation Phase 1,  March 2021. Pg 15. And https://innisfil.ca/6th-line-interchange-ea/
  3. Youtube Innisfil Council meeting, Oct 14, 2020 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gCkx_rsynyQ&t=7569s
  4. Made in Ontario Environment Plan, https://www.ontario.ca/page/made-in-ontario-environment-plan p. 13
  5. Regulation – Time to Grant Permission and Enter into a Compensation Agreement on Lands Subject to Zoning Order O.Reg. 568/21 https://ero.ontario.ca/notice/019-4097
  6. https://www.lawtimesnews.com/practice-areas/environmental/ontario-government-broke-the-law-in-failing-to-comply-with-the-environmental-bill-of-rights-court/359987
  7. https://www.simcoe.com/news-story/2001696-planned-station-not-going-anywhere/
  8. Innisfil Official Plan, 2011 says: “8.3.1 The preferred GO Rail Station location is delineated on Schedule C at the Belle Aire Beach Road. It was selected by GO Rail in their Environmental Assessment study.” https://innisfil.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Innisfil_OP_April_8_2011_Text.pdf
  9. https://www.metrolinxengage.com/en/content/innisfil
  10. Youtube Innisfil Council meeting, Oct 14, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gCkx_rsynyQ&t=7569s

Take Action To Protect Our Forests and Natural Spaces!

**Updated November 25, 2021**

Please provide your feedback to Simcoe County by December 3rd about the changes proposed to the province’s Natural Heritage System (NHS). We’ve created this guide to help you.

WHY? In 2008 all parties unanimously supported the passage of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan. It is now in effect but more needs to be done to achieve its objectives. For instance, the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan identifies that 40% “high quality natural cover” (HQNC)  is needed to protect and restore the watershed’s ecological health. A low estimate is that hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent identifying and mapping these areas. We want them protected, not just studied!

Putting these features in the province’s new Natural Heritage System will give some green spaces MORE policy protection than they now receive. But Simcoe County has recommended more areas get removed from the province’s Natural Heritage System map than we think the province’s criteria and laws recommend. For example, they have taken out registered plans of subdivision from the NHS. But some of those won’t get developed for 30+ years, if ever. We think those should remain as the province mapped them, IN the Natural Heritage System. 

CLICK ON A HOTSPOT BELOW TO SEE DETAILED MAPS AND BRIEF CONCERNS.

Green indicates the province mapped it as part of the Natural Heritage System. Red means it is proposed to be taken out. Blue means additions to the NHS.

Right-click on the small maps that pop up above to zoom in, or download this map and find the tile for your location.

WRITING YOUR SUBMISSION: WHAT TO SAY & HOW TO SAY IT

Use the County’s form, and don’t give up! Despite appearances, it is not just for developers to use. Tips for specific questions are below.

**Please only submit one form.

Or email kristin.pechkovsky@simcoe.ca.

***Comments must be received by 4:30 pm on December 03, 2021

Question 3. Subject Lands (ARN) Area Roll Number (optional). Find them here.

If you don’t have the roll number or locates exactly, provide an address for the property you are referring to, or many addresses, or road intersection, or the tile number from the 87-page map below. Tile numbers are listed below for each area of concern.

Question 9. Which criteria for refinement applies to your property? Check all that apply.

Do not be deterred – this is not just about your property.  None of the options really apply. Instead, fill out the field –  Other – and say “Mapped areas of high quality natural cover should be included in the NHS” or something similar. 

Question 10. Describe the area or natural feature on your property which you would like refined and provide the reason(s) for the refinement.

Insert all or part of the following text depending on your area of concern.

Big Bay Point: Tiles 28 & 29 

Most of Big Bay Point was mapped and identified as “High Quality Natural Cover” by the province of Ontario in 2011; the province found that the BBP area was worthy of inclusion in the NHS. Any components of the Point that are not approved plans of subdivision must be included in the Natural Heritage System. There is no guidance in the province’s NHS Technical Criteria that suggests that registered plans of subdivision should be removed from the NHS. 

Additional details on BBP locations of concern:

  • Two areas north shore of BBP, on the edge of Barrie: Both areas are mapped as Significant Woodlands in Innisfil Natural Heritage Discussion paper Final, pg. 14. North South Environmental. These are in the High Quality Natural Cover map from the province. Indicated as “shoreline residential” with Natural Heritage overlay on Innisfil OP 2017 Land Use Schedule. Not in a settlement area. 
    • Area 1 – west side – 3655 20 Sideroad, Innisfil;  3699 20 Sideroad, Innisfil, 3718 Fairway Road, Innisfil,  1344 Robinson Place, Innisfil, over to roll # 431601005411070, All of Longwood road, down to Big Bay Point rd. 3710 Strathallan Woods Lane South, Innisfil, lands southwest of Longwood, to Stathallen woods. As a whole these are all large enough to keep in the NHS. 
    • Area 2 – east side – the area between the Silverbirch and Whitecap Dr subdivision, and the next NHS area. Roughly from 1215 Shoreview Drive, Innisfil on the west end of this section, to along Shoreview Dr., to Guest Rd – hard to believe these are less than 50% forested. These should remain in the NHS. 
  • Friday Harbour Golf Course – put it back IN the NHS since it is large, not a subdivision, has some natural cover and could have more, and is part of a “high quality natural cover” area
  • Church compound –  3857 30 Sideroad, Innisfil. Currently a collection of cabins, but is not a subdivision. Would like as much as possible to remain in the NHS.
  • Crescent Harbour, South corner – landowner starting to alter landscape, may be looking to build. Crescent Harbour Rd (titled Block Plan-area and shoreline highlighted) and also Plans 675 from 1923 and Plan 1016 from 1951 that confirm the designation as a subdivision. It has not been developed.
  • Leonard’s beach wetland- make sure this remains IN the NHS

Gilford: Tile 22 

  • 1284 Shore Acres Drive, Innisfil. Roll # 431601000400200 Large “unevaluated” wetland proposed to be removed – this must be protected in the NHS. It borders a large privately held conservation area at DeGrassi Point, and abuts the historic Walker Farm, a heritage site, and helps to reduce flooding in Gilford which is already a problem. It “…has been a draft plan of subdivision for executive estates since around 1986” according to the local Councillor. It is included as “estate residential” in Innisfil OP 2005 Land Use Schedule. In the 2017 OP it is not in the Gilford settlement area boundary. 

Oro-Medonte:  Tiles 36, 37 & 48

Almost the entire Oro Medonte shoreline is identified by the province as High Quality Natural Cover. 8 Mile Point has a conservation area that should be included in the NHS. Only remove the built-up areas that are approved plans of subdivision. There is no guidance in the province’s NHS Technical Criteria that suggests that registered plans of subdivision should be removed from the NHS. 

Additional details on Oro-Medonte locations of concern: 

Tile 48

  • 8 Mile Point 
  • Has a conservation area that should be included in the NHS. They did not request that this conservation area be removed from the NHS. 
  • Just north of 2880 Lakeshore Rd E is the Carthew Bay Wetland. Roll #434603 001 206 500. Take care not to remove this from the NHS, and only take out the housing on Lakeshore.
  • 2553, 2501, 2461 Lakeshore Rd E – these are large woodlands and should not be removed from the NHS. 
  • 820 Memorial Ave. Subdivision between Woodland Dr and Memorial Ace on outskirts of Orillia. Shoreline wetland must be protected. 

Tile 47

  • Roll # 434603001213860 – shoreline habitat with no road access. Keep in NHS. Just west of Line 15 S. 
  • Just north of 538 Line 12 South, Oro-Medonte, NHS wooded area should remain in NHS. Roll # 434 60106 1044300
  • 16 Taras Boulevard. Held by “Ukrainian Park”. Appear to be looking for Zoning change, from EP2 to EP1 for seasonal trailer and or cabins. ZBA 10 – but no application – This is currently forested, should remain so, is in the HQNC area mapped by the province. Does not appear to be “community area” in the Simcoe County GIS. 

Tile 36 

UCCI / Greenwood Forest Road – Registered Plan 51M-187, Block 43

– Residents are opposing the development; it’s a significant woodland connected to the NHS; it is mapped by the province as an area of High Quality Natural Cover; it should not be removed from the NHS

– Not proposed as a subdivision, but it meets the criteria of a subdivision. Therefore there is no registered plan of subdivision.

– The proposed 10 proposed UCCI development lots would have these approximate addresses:  

– proposed lot 9 lots on Greenwood Forest Road attached would be approximately 30 Greenwood Forest Rd (lot 9 attached) thru to lot 2 attached would be approximately 60 Greenwood Forest Road

– the one lot on Windfields (lot 1) that are situated directly beside the cold water creek would be approximately  23 or 25 Windfield Dr West

– the developer UCCI has submitted to Township of Oro Medonte in June 2020 this request:

– Applications 2020-B-04 to 2020-B-12 and Notice of Public Meeting Zoning By-law Amendment (“ZBA”) Application 2020-ZBA-05, for the lands described as Registered Plan 51M-187, Block 43, in the Township of Oro-Medonte, County of Simcoe.

– it is under consideration and not yet approved.

– 691 LINE 9 SOUTH, should remain in NHS, not developed. May be part of the same proposal.

– Assessment # 434601000830000, just east of line 5, also unsubdivided, forested, should remain in NHS. 21 Windfields Dr. 

  • Near Lakeshore E and Orillia St, West of Line 7, just east of where line 8 would be. Roll # 434601000955002, 434601000955001, 434601000955000, 434601000954904, 434601000954911, 434601000954912 undeveloped subdivision contiguous with NHS, keep in NHS. 
  • Red removal outline on water – is this to remove water rights? Close to Line 7, 131 Lakeshore Rd. E. 
  • Roll # 434601000935500 and 118 Lakeshore Road West, Oro-Medonte – super rare undeveloped shoreline lots – this must not be removed from the NHS. This is a common Beach property for community park! This is connected to the north to the NHS and HQNC. 
  • Line 2 area – Roll # 434601000711100 “Shanty Bay Church Woods”. Seriously people. This was saved BY THE COMMUNITY, BY RESCUE LAKE SIMCOE COALITION DIRECTOR TIM CROOKS. RIP. This must stay. It is protected by a covenant with the Couchiching Conservancy. 

Ramara: Tile 50

There should be a buffer on the north side of the Canal Lake along the Trent-Severn Waterway abutting the Greenbelt. Ensure that all of the province’s High Quality Natural Cover is included in the province’s NHS. Only remove the built-up areas that are approved plans of subdivision. There is no guidance in the province’s NHS Technical Criteria that suggests that registered plans of subdivision should be removed from the NHS.  

GENERAL COMMENTS ABOUT SIMCOE COUNTY’S NATURAL HERITAGE SYSTEM MAPPING

  • There is a challenge acknowledged, and identified in the province’s NHS technical guidance, around the protection of NH in a highly fragmented landscape. That defines the Lake Simcoe watershed and Innisfil in particular. This guidance recommends the protection of smaller patches in fragmented landscapes. Thus I am asking that North South Environmental, then Simcoe County and finally the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks ensure that no small patches of natural cover that are close to areas of “high quality natural cover” are removed from the NHS. 
  • Refinements of NHS mapping must aim for a net increase in protected NHS lands and must capture the entirety of all local PSWs and locally significant wetlands as this natural infrastructure is integral to climate adaptation and mitigation. These are also goals of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan.  More specifically I recommend these targets: 
    • Forest cover: 50% forest cover or more of the watershed is likely to support most potential species,and healthy aquatic systems. Simcoe County has 22%, but is losing forest cover.
    • Wetlands: The greater of (a) 10% of each major watershed and 6% of each subwatershed, or (b) 40% of the historic watershed wetland coverage, should be protected and restored, and no net loss of wetlands. Simcoe County has 14% wetland cover based on our analysis, and approximately half of its historic wetland cover. Simcoe County is losing wetlands. 
    • Achieve the LSPP’s 40% High Quality Natural Cover target: The NHS refinement opportunity must result in the protection of all mapped High Quality Natural Cover in the Simcoe County portion of  Lake Simcoe watershed. The maps have been available on LIO since 2011, and can also be found here along with the technical guidance for identifying these features.
  • I support the inclusion of the LSRCA’s Natural Heritage System Restoration Strategy recommended areas for an NHS, and the inclusion of the LSRCA’s recommended areas for restoration in the SC NHS. 
  • Registered plans of subdivision  that were not brought into the settlement area boundary by July 1, 2017 or that are not going to be developed with the 2022 MCR updates to 2051 should remain in the provincial NHS. As per the Growth Plan policies, if they are not contiguous with existing settlement area boundaries there is no justification at this time for their removal from the NHS as they should not be approved for development. See Growth Plan policy 5.2.8.4. and 4.2.2.5
  • The MNRF has mapped all Lake Simcoe watershed wetlands. It is up to the County to now apply appropriate protection through this process. SC mapping does not include all mapped wetlands. 

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

Consultants and County planners review public comments, and propose a final NHS map.

Municipalities have until January 12, 2022 to provide comments and feedback to the County. A report will go to County Council for approval likely in Jan or Feb. Then to the Province for approval. We have been told that public comments will all in be included in the public report. We have also been told that questions will be answered at one time, and that time is not now.

WATCH FOR THIS
Here are some recommendations or statements from North South Environmental’s Review and Refinements to the Growth Plan’s NHS that we will expect to see in Simcoe County’s OP, as they support the County’s decision to remove registered plans of subdivision from the NHS: 

“It is anticipated that the County Official Plan will require that all draft approvals have lapsing dates and will include policies that indicate that when determining whether a draft approval should be extended for lapsing draft plans of subdivision, the policies of the Growth Plan must be considered in the development review process.” (p 12)

“…municipalities may refine the NHS for the Growth plan at the time of initial implementation in their official plans.”  (p 8) so there could be opportunities for improvements and removals later on in your municipality.

“In some cases, portions of registered Plans of Subdivision remain undeveloped and there are portions of key natural heritage features and key hydrologic features located within these subdivisions; these key natural heritage features and key hydrologic features are currently protected by in-effect zoning and Official Plan designations and relevant policies. It is anticipated that the County Official Plan will include policies that direct the local municipalities to establish appropriate policies in their Official Plans that control how development and redevelopment occurs in these subdivisions.” (p 11)

Simcoe County is recommending removing 7000 sites from the NHS where there are “minor discrepancies” in mapping of areas less than 1 hectare. Rationale is ease of administration. We need to respond to this approach. I think we should use the province’s Lake Simcoe High Quality Natural Cover map as the rationale for keeping some in the NHS mapping. (p. 21)

LEARN MORE 

A Place to Grow Act 2020

“Other implementation” policy 5.2.8.4

If a plan of subdivision or part thereof has been registered for eight years or more and does not meet the growth management objectives of this Plan, municipalities are encouraged to use their authority under subsection 50(4) of the Planning Act to deem it not to be a registered plan of subdivision and, where appropriate, amend site-specific designations and zoning accordingly.