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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Time to get serious

Governments are going to have to get serious about investing in infrastructure and managing growth around Lake Simcoe if the lake is to stand any chance of recovering, said Simcoe North MPP Garfield Dunlop.

Last November, he introduced a private members’ bill, the Lake Simcoe legislation calling on the province to embrace comprehensive watershed protection for Lake Simcoe.

“I had the support of all three parties,” he said. It’s a good first step, but he wants the province to do more.

“I’ve been around politics for 25 years and in that time there has been all this talk on the pressures on the lake.” During that time, there has been excessive development throughout the county and infrastructure has not kept pace.

He would like to see leaking septic beds upgraded and new water treatment plants ensure water heading to the lake is clean. “The province has a huge responsibility in improving the water quality in the lake,” he said. There needs to be money made available for infrastructure, septic beds and storm and waste water treatment systems.

This work should have been done years ago, he acknowledged. “I’m going to press my party to put some policies in place, and keep it on the front burner. ”

Dunlop is calling on all provincial parties to include protection of the Lake Simcoe watershed in their platforms before this fall’s provincial election.

Studies of the lake over the years have shown the water quality has deteriorated to the point that it can no longer support a cold-water fishery. Dunlop points out that the lake is not only valuable for its beauty, but many industries, including fishing and tourism, rely on it economically.

Increasingly, protecting Lake Simcoe has become a key concern to many local residents, and last summer Dunlop held a number of public consultations to hear their suggestions on what should be done to deal with the current problem and reduce the contaminants entering the lake.

A survey done last year showed almost 80 per cent of county residents would support green space protection legislation for the county, similar to the province’s Greenbelt legislation.

Last year, the province passed this legislation that effectively freezes development in the rural land bordering the GTA. Simcoe County was not included. Already, there is a leapfrog effect taking place as developers eye the county’s real estate.

“If we’re going to have growth, let’s make sure the infrastructure is in place first and that development is sustainable.” Development should take place within the existing urban boundaries.

Uncontrolled development along the lake and its watershed is one of the key issues facing the lake.

“We’ve got a problem here,” said Dunlop. “We have to do more.”

It’s going to take a lot of money to solve the problems, he cautioned. “We can’t put it off until the next government,” he said. “We’ve got to start addressing it now and have a plan in place.”

A report released last year estimates the county will be home to an additional 250,000 residents over the next 25 years. “Twenty-five years rolls around very quickly.”


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