By Mike Anderson

During a special council session held on December 15, which included a presentation from Avia NG Airport Consultants on behalf of Sutton Airport Development Inc., Georgina Town Council unanimously passed a motion opposing the developer’s proposal to build a new civil aviation aerodrome in Pefferlaw.

The proposed $8 million aerodrome, located on 350 acres (141.6 hectares) at 7818 and 7486 Old Homestead Rd., near Stoney Batter Rd. and Old Homestead Rd., would include two paved all-weather runways, a flying clubhouse and an aircraft hanger.

Billed as a possible replacement for Markham’s Buttonville Airport, which is slated for closure, the aerodrome, according to Bernhard Schropp, president of Avia NG, would create 50 to 100 jobs and contribute $5 to 10 million to the local economy.

However, residents opposed to the aerodrome argue it could negatively impact neighbouring farms, wildlife, and environmentally sensitive wetlands and woodlands.

They also fear that the fill used to build the runways could contaminate the water table and nearby wells.

“This is a highly environmentally sensitive area, surrounded by vulnerable wells and wetlands that would be at risk if contaminated fill were brought in,” said Karen Wolfe, on behalf of the Pefferlaw Association of Ratepayers (PAR), during her remarks to council.

“We respectfully request that the proponents reconsider this site selection for a new aerodrome and withdraw the application. Alternatively, we appeal to the Minister of Transportation to consider all of the negative impacts and deny this application.”

During the council session – which was at times contentious – Maurizio (Mauro) Marchioni, vice-president of Sutton Airport Development Inc., and his engineer, Schropp, fielded questions from the Mayor and council.

However, Marchioni refused to answer any questions from the public, arguing his company was not required to do so under federal regulations.

Mayor Margaret Quirk was openly critical of the proposal.

“I am very concerned about the lack of transparency, the lack of consultation and obviously the environmental impacts; this is not an area that is conducive for an airport,” she said.

She also referenced a letter she had received from Chief Donna Big Canoe, which directly contradicted the developer’s claim that it had prior consultations with the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation.

“A lack of consultation with the First Nation is very unsettling. We have no knowledge of any environmental assessments or archeological assessment being undertaken,” Mayor Quirk quoted.

Marchioni also did little to assuage fears that his company was more interested in running a for-profit fill operation than building an aerodrome.

He admitted that this was his company’s first aerodrome project.

He also said that his partner, Wilf Goldlust, was no longer involved in the waste management industry, even though he is currently listed as a director of Trillium Recovery Inc., a Toronto-based waste management company.

Councillor Dave Neeson asked Marchioni to provide a business plan or some proof that the project was sustainable; however, he declined.

“At this point, we don’t feel our business plan is, in fact, relevant to the concerns of the town. That is our concern as private investors,” Marchioni said.

When Regional Councillor Rob Grossi asked how much the developer would pay for fill, Marchioni replied it would charge $100 to $135 per truck.

According to Marchioni and Schropp, the project would require 1.2 million cubic metres of fill or 120,000 truckloads.

That means the developer would stand to make more than $16 million from tipping fees.

Grossi pressed both men to provide assurances that if the aerodrome was not completed, the company would remove the fill, but none was forthcoming.

“That’s a legal, contractual question; from an engineering perspective, I can’t respond to that,” Schropp said.

“It’s our position that this would never happen because we are satisfied in our ability to bring this project to completion,” Marchioni added.

“We’re not seeking any outside investment. We can handle what needs to be done in respect to this development.”

The veracity of the proposal was further brought into question when Councillor Mike Waddington, who owns CPG Aerospace, an aerospace manufacturer, questioned Schropp over the length and position of the proposed runways.

Waddington pointed out that the proposed runways are too short to replace Buttonville’s. More importantly, they face the wrong direction, away from the prevailing northwest winds making taking off and landing more difficult.

The council’s motion, which expressed opposition to the aerodrome based on a series of concerns, including land use, environmental, traffic and noise, was forwarded to the proponents as part of the public comment process, required by Transport Canada, which ended on December 22.

The motion will be included in a summary report that the proponent must forward to Transport Canada for review this March, with a decision expected after 30 days.

However, Town CAO Ryan Cronsberry pointed out the council motion has no legal or regulatory force, as the decision to approve or reject the aerodrome rests solely with the Minister.

If the Minister declines to comment, the aerodrome is automatically approved, and, according to Schropp, construction could begin in mid-2022 with a completion date of 2025.

Meanwhile, York-Simcoe MP Scot Davidson says he will continue to actively lobby Federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra to reject the aerodrome proposal.

“There’s been a public outcry over the lack of consultation. People just don’t want an airport,” he said.

“The municipality has also spoken against it, as well as the member of parliament. And the Minister should take appropriate action when he sees that. That’s how our system works in a democracy.”

Davidson is also calling on the Minister to review the regulations around new aerodromes, specifically to make prior consultation with municipalities and First Nations mandatory.

“The whole process has to be looked at,” he said.

“You have a flawed process now. If someone feels there’s a need for an airport, it should be discussed with the municipality at the official plan level.”

“The world has changed. Consultations have changed with First Nations. It’s changed with municipalities. The legislation is out of date. We live in an open, transparent society. I would hope we are always in search of the truth.”

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