By Mike Anderson
They’re mad as hell, and they’re not going to take it anymore.
That was the feeling expressed by many residents who participated in a special aerodrome meeting held at the Pefferlaw Lions Community Hall on Tuesday night.
The meeting, organized by the Pefferlaw Area Ratepayers (PAR), was called to come up with a strategy to fight Federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra’s recent decision to green-light the Georgina Aerodrome, billed as a replacement for Markham’s Buttonville Airport with two all-weather landing strips, a clubhouse and hangar.
The Minister’s decision was made despite opposition from the Town of Georgina, York Region, MP Scot Davidson, the Chippewas of Georgina Island, residents, the LSRCA and environmental groups, who argue they weren’t adequately consulted, and an aerodrome shouldn’t be built on prime agricultural land within the Greenbelt.
Many of those who spoke were concerned about the environmental impact of the 1.2 million cubic meters of fill required to build the aerodrome.
Several residents, including local farmers, who live near the aerodrome site at 7818 and 7486 Old Homestead Rd., pointed out that any contaminated fill would significantly impact surrounding wetlands and groundwater and pollute the creek that runs into Lake Simcoe.
“What really bothers me is the power of the federal government. It’s a stupid idea. It makes no sense. And yet they have all this power to create an environmental disaster, and they don’t care,” said Karen Wolfe, who co-chaired the meeting, which attracted close to a hundred participants, with Jim Keenan.
Wolfe began the meeting with a concise powerpoint presentation which suggested the project is a Trojan Horse of sorts, a fill site disguised as an aerodrome.
Wolfe said the principals of Sutton Airport Development Inc., the company behind the project, have no experience in aviation and have never built an aerodrome.
However, they do have strong ties to the waste management industry.
Wilf Goldlust, one of the principals, is the president of Triwaste Systems and has been previously cited by the province for illegal soil dumping. While Mauro Marchioni, a lawyer and the president of Sutton Airport Development, has acted on behalf of several waste management companies, including Goldlust’s company.
Wolfe also said Sutton Airport Development has been careful not to trigger an environmental review by the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada by keeping the runway (991 metres) under the 1,000-metre threshold – Buttonville’s runway, for example, is 1,200 metres.
According to Wolfe and MP Scot Davidson, who flew in from Ottawa to attend the meeting, the company may never build an aerodrome but stands to make a fortune from tipping fees, estimated to be between $12 to $18 million.
Davidson argues the company is gaming the federal regulations on aerodromes to “cash-crop dirt.”
“This is a failure of government completely. We had motions from the Town, the Region, and the Chippewas. Obviously, I spoke up about this issue, and still, the Minister failed to listen to the public interest,” said Davidson.
“The community is galvanized now. This is an important issue. And the community won’t stop, and I won’t stop.”
Those who held out hope that the Town of Georgina might be able to halt the project were disappointed.
Mayor Quirk said the Town could use its site alteration bylaw to prevent contaminated soil from entering the site. But it couldn’t stop the aerodrome from going forward.
“We don’t have the power to stop it. If this were any other development, we wouldn’t entertain it. But because it’s a federal jurisdiction, in terms of airports and aviation, we have very little to do with it. The only thing we have control over is the soil quality,” Mayor Quirk said.
“We have our site alteration bylaw, and when an application comes in, we’ll make sure that they are following that — in terms of testing the loads and monitoring the site — all those things are in our site alteration bylaw, and we’ll enforce it to the fullest extent.”
While residents made strong suggestions, including legal action, stepping up lobbying efforts, forming alliances with agricultural associations and environmental groups, initiating grassroots protests, and reaching out to national media, there was also a realization that fighting a federal ministry’s decision is no easy task.
Wolfe, MP Davidson and Mayor Quirk all agreed that Minister’s decision might only be reversed with a change in government.
“He’s a Liberal cabinet minister, and this is a Conservative seat. It’s politics,” Wolfe said.
“Why would Omar Alghabra want to make Scot Davidson happy? Why would he want to make the people voting for Scot Davidson happy?”
“I like the idea of going down there and protesting his constituency office. Tell him that his decision has an impact on people’s lives. And if he has a conscience at all, maybe, he will look at that and go, well, you know, maybe I did make a stupid decision.”
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