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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Fish virus fears float to surface

Fish virus fears float to surface

Not much is known about an emerging fish virus that has infiltrated and killed fish on several of the lower Great Lakes, but it hasn't been found yet in Lake Simcoe or Georgian Bay. Viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS) has the potential to seriously deplete fish stocks in Ontario rivers and lakes, the Ministry of Natural Resources says. It's safe for humans to eat fish infected with VHS, which has been found in 16 fish species in Ontario, including walleye, chinook salmon, yellow perch, muskellunge and round gobies. "It hasn't appeared to have much of an effect on rainbow trout, at least that we know about," said John Johnson, the MNR's commercial fishing program co-ordinator.
"The bottom line is there's not much known about it." There could be serious ecological, social and economic impacts if the virus continues to spread to Ontario’s inland waters, the ministry says. "There's probably is no way to stop it," Johnson said. "The cure is to stop transmission to lakes that don't yet have it." Lake Simcoe has been added to the MNR's priority list for sampling and testing, which should begin this year. "There are quite a number of water bodies in Ontario that we've identified as having a likelihood (of becoming infected with VHS) that we've put on our priority list," Johnson said. Where the virus is present, most fish deaths happen when the water is 18C or colder. "There have been no huge impacts so far," Johnson said, "but we're taking a wait-and-see attitude." Moving bait fish infected with VHS from southern Ontario into waters in central and Northern Ontario will spread the virus and damage fish populations. To stop the spread of VHS, the province has been divided into three sections — infected, buffer and virus-free zones — to regulate live bait fish. Emerald shiners and bluntnose minnows, both used as live bait fish in Ontario, are two of 37 species that can carry VHS. One of the best ways to stop VHS from spreading, Johnson says, is to buy and use live bait in the same area where it's purchased. Anglers should also disinfect their boats and live wells after they've fished in VHS-infected waters.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Simcoe Marine Unit Launches

Lake Simcoe can be like a temperamental child — serene and peaceful one minute, only to turn surly as winds whip it into a fury.
And when that baby gets angry, there’s no calming it down.
“This lake is so expansive, and it’s shallow so it can really blow up fast,” says Sgt. Bob Eeles of the South Simcoe Police as he steers the marine unit’s 26-foot Harbercraft into Cook’s Bay.
South Simcoe launched the unit, which includes six officers, the Harbercraft and two Sea-Doos donated St. Onge Recreation, last Friday.
Officers started by patrolling the waters and reminding boaters to have all their safety gear, including life jackets, in place for another busy boating season.
Being prepared before you head out onto Lake Simcoe can make a difference if weather suddenly changes for the worse.
Even the officers can find themselves in peril if a storm suddenly approaches.Const. John Ellis remembers when a fellow officer called to warn that tornado-like weather pelting down heavy rains at Highway 400 was headed his way.
“They radioed me to let me know to get into shore because of the heavy weather,” Ellis says. “But it got there so quick I didn’t even have time to make it in.”
Luckily, Ellis was close enough to shore to weather the storm.
But boaters suddenly caught in the middle of storm, may not be so lucky. That’s why South Simcoe is reminding them to make sure their vessels are ship shape before heading out onto the lake this year.
During a short-patrol Friday, police discovered a boater who was doing just that.
“I’m just out here for a little bit checking to make sure our GPS (global positioning system) is in good working order,” the boat’s owner told Eeles as the Harbercraft pulled up alongside of the cabin cruiser.
When boaters are in distress, the South Simcoe marine unit, along with units from the OPP, York Regional Police and Barrie Police put their training, equipment and technology into action.When it comes to rescues, technology has helped police track down boats on Ontario’s fifth largest lake.
The Harbercraft is equipped with GPS and radar that helps officers pinpoint their own location and the whereabouts of other boats.
“The radar is sensitive enough to pick up birds that are on the water,” Const. Ellis says. “We can be in complete darkness or fog and find boats.”
Boaters with their own GPS and a VHS radio or cell phone can give police their co-ordinates, greatly reducing the time it takes to find them.
It’s the smaller craft without equipment that pose the biggest problem for rescuers
“They go out with no life jackets or equipment and they can get into serious trouble,” Eeles says.
Police from South Simcoe, the OPP and the Canadian Coast Guard had to rescue three 12-year-old kayakers who drifted far out into the lake while trying to paddle from Innisfil Beach Park to Snake Island May 18. Fortunately, they had the foresight to wear life jackets.
Even swimmers on floatation devices such as air mattresses can suddenly find themselves too far from shore to get back.
“Usually it’s cottagers who call us and tell us there’s someone way out in the middle of the lake,” Eeles says.
Drinking and boating is another focus for the marine unit. But judging from last year, there appears to be some good news in that area.
“Most boaters are fairly responsible in that regard,” Eeles says. “Even when you have all your faculties, it can get difficult out here. People want to protect their investments. They’re driving expensive boats.”
Marine police carry alcohol-screening devices just like officers on the road.Under a law passed last year, boaters caught drinking and boating in Ontario face the same penalties as those caught drinking and driving.
“It’s all tied directly to your driver’s license now,” Eeles says, adding the law has acted as great deterrent for boaters.South Simcoe Police offer the following safety tips:• File a boating plan with a marina, friend or family member, so youcan be located quickly and efficiently should you run into difficulties. • Know the condition of the water before you go out and take intoconsideration changing weather conditions that deteriorates rapidlyand may have an effect on water conditions. • Always know where your children are when around water; never leavechildren unattended. • Don’t fool yourself into thinking that your child would never go nearthe water without permission. Children react quickly to things andoften don’t recognize possible consequences. • Wear life jackets at all times. • Carry a cell phone to reach police in case of an emergency. Police boats are available to respond to emergencies at any time of the day or night. •Wear proper floatation attire and clothing when participating in a water-related activity. • Ensure that equipment and safety devices are in good working order,including having enough fuel, prior to venturing out onto the water.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Barrie stalling: Innisfil mayor

Barrie stalling: Innisfil mayor

Talks between Innisfil and Barrie regarding boundary adjustments and servicing issues have ceased because of "stalling tactics" on the part of Barrie council, says Innisfil Mayor Brian Jackson.

Barrie council passed a resolution Monday night stating it wants clear direction from the province about phosphorous loading limits of Lake Simcoe and more information about membrane technology before it returns to the negotiating table.

"It's a very sad day for Innisfil, Barrie and the county," Jackson said yesterday.
"It's a stalling tactic from their end."

Jackson said raising technical issues at this point in the process is premature until the fundamental elements of an arrangement providing long-term benefits to the city, Innisfil and the county are ironed out between the parties.

After talks broke down earlier this month, provincial development facilitator Alan Wells invited the parties back to the table to resume negotiations on accommodating population growth and future servicing issues on lands adjacent to Barrie.

He said discussions should proceed "in an open and transparent manner" so that both sides will be aware of the details. Wells is currently on vacation, and was not available for comment yesterday. Jackson said Innisfil's proposal would create 25,000 new jobs for city residents and the proposed new employment area in Barrie would generate nearly $8 million in annual economic benefits as a whole, with opportunities in Innisfil.

He would not offer further details of the town's proposal to Barrie. Barrie Coun. Mike Ramsay has been taking part in the talks and has said the city needs about 2,470 acres of land to expand its residential/industrial tax assessment ratio.

"Barrie seems to be under the false impression that a solution imposed by the province would be better," he said. "I know that the province wants us to negotiate our own solution because that's what's in the best interest of both our municipalities."

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Innisfil-Barrie talks to start up again

Provincial development facilitator Alan Wells will meet on Friday with Barrie, Innisfil and Simcoe County chief administrative officers to work out the process of new negotiations.
“Yes, we are going back (to the negotiating table), provided the technical issues are addressed,” said Barrie’s CAO Jon Babulic.
“We’ll settle the technical issues first, without the politicians there, then start to renegotiate. I’m meeting with Alan Wells and the CAOs from the county and Innisfil this week … just to set the process.”
Talks with Innisfil broke down two weeks ago. Wells said the talks were progressing and the two municipalities were not far apart.
However, since then, the Ministry of the Environment study on the impact of phosphorous on Lake Simcoe has been released, which could impact the capacity of Barrie’s sewage treatment plant – and therefore, the amount of land the city could service.
Innisfil requires servicing for some of its employment lands, while Barrie requires additional land for both employment and residential uses.
Coun. Mike Ramsay, the chairman of Barrie’s negotiating team, said until the MOE decides how to handle phosphorous loading on Lake Simcoe – possibly through a Kyoto Protocol type of plan – Barrie cannot determine its servicing capacity.
“Barrie cannot negotiate in the dark. It’s not fair to Innisfil or Barrie or the province. We’d start down a road only to say ‘whoops’. We can’t do that,” said Ramsay, adding protecting the health of Lake Simcoe is a key Barrie priority.
Phosphorous sources include sewage treatment plant discharge, urban and agricultural runoff, as well as the atmosphere. Ramsay noted that the Holland Marsh – a major agricultural producer, has a lot of runoff into the lake, and the MOE may decide to limit other sources of phosphorous.
Phosphorous encourages plant growth, and as water plant life decomposes, the oxygen in the water drops, which can adversely impact fish and other aquatic life. Kempenfelt Bay’s water quality has been improving over the past 20 years and juvenile lake trout are sustaining themselves, noted Barrie’s acting community services commissioner Richard Forward.
“It’s important to balance growth with environmental stewardship,” he added.
Barrie council’s resolution states that Barrie cannot enter into negotiations until the MOE examines how to handle the phosphorous loading into Lake Simcoe.
“Until we have that information, we’d be negotiating with a blindfold on,” said Ramsay, adding the study could also impact growth in Innisfil.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

David Suzuki heads to Barrie

Famed environmentalist David Suzuki will pitch earth-friendly ideas to Barrie North Collegiate students next Friday, hoping to entice them to take action in protecting the planet.

Suzuki will promote ways to preserve the quality of life residents have now for future generations.

Other keynote speakers include Kimberly MacKenzie of Lake Simcoe Conservation Foundation, John Williams from Farm Fresh, Barry Thompson from the City of Barrie, Sandra Trainor and Marty Lancaster from Barrie Wind Catchers.

Various displays will also be set up inside the school. Suzuki's visit was made possible through the school's fundraising efforts. Students raised $3,194 through their Hug-A-Tree-a-thon April 3.

Suzuki will also be making a second presentation at Georgian College's Athletic Centre on May 19 at 7 p.m.

He will hold a book signing at 6 p.m. for ticket-holders.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Ladies of the Lake

The Ladies of the Lake and the now famous nude calendar, followed by their Naked Truth Citizens Action Plan to save Lake Simcoe, were “the tipping point” that led to a federal government grant of $12 million, Simcoe North MP Bruce Stanton told the LOL meeting Saturday.
Mr. Stanton predicted “this is just the start of it”.
That was music to the ears of Virginia Hackson, chairperson of the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority. Ms Hackson said she hopes the $12 million will become an annual grant.
The response of the federal government, along with the successful passage of a Lake Simcoe protection resolution by Simcoe North MPP Garfield Dunlop, heralds a new reality in politics at all levels, she said.
The new power wielded by groups like the Ladies of the Lake and the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition will make both provincial and federal candidates ignore environmental issues at their peril, Dr. Rick Smith told the audience.
Dr. Smith, the executive director of Environmental Defence, said polls taken in Simcoe County express widespread support for Lake Simcoe environmental issues and deep concern over the anticipated intensification of development in the county, which is not protected by the provincial Greenbelt policy — unlike Georgina on the east side of the lake.
Campaign Lake Simcoe, a joint initiative of the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition, Environmental Defence and Ontario Nature, has taken the cause of the lake into the halls of Queen’s Park, he said.
Protecting Lake Simcoe has become a priority for a wide-ranging alliance of environmental groupsacross the province, he said.
The support is significant enough to enable a strong push to have candidates for office in the Oct. 10 provincial election declare their support for a Lake Simcoe Act, such as those passed for the Niagara Escarpment and Oak Ridges Moraine, or face the wrath of voters. That act would include sustained annual funding, as those two other areas enjoy.
That new coalition of environment groups is coming together for the first time at a Lake Simcoe Summit, tentatively set for June 18 at the South Shore Community Centre in Barrie, Mr. Smith said.
“The goal of the summit would be to build consensus around the principles in the Act” and then demand politicians running for office support it,” he said.
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