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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Ontario moves to protect wetlands by Lake Simcoe

Ontario moves to protect wetlands by Lake Simcoe

Ontario announced new protected wetlands near Lake Simcoe on Sunday.
The land, acquired through the province's Natural Spaces Program, will add 25 hectares to the Beaver River Conservation Area.
"The Natural Spaces Program is helping to protect Ontario's environmentally significant natural heritage lands for the benefit of future generations," Lincoln Alexander, Chairman of the Ontario Heritage Trust, said in a press release.
"Acquiring these properties will help to keep this large wetland area relatively intact and ensure that its natural heritage features are conserved."
Under the Natural Spaces Program, landowners can voluntarily contribute their land to conserving the environment.
The program covers all of southern Ontario's land below the Canadian Shield. While 90 per cent of the area is privately owned, it's still home to greatest diversity of plants and animals in the province.
"The Beaver River Wetland Complex is one of the most environmentally significant areas in Lake Simcoe's watershed," Virginia Hackson, Chair of Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority, said in a press release.
"We can now protect these wetlands so they can continue to improve water quality, provide habitat for wildlife, and offer recreational opportunities for residents and visitors."
The Lacey property features 15 hectares of marsh, swamp, and thicket. The Norrie property consists of 10 hectares of mixed forest and swamp.
Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority contributed half of the funds required to purchase the two properties in Durham Region.
As part of the Natural Spaces Program, the provincial ministry of natural resources granted $6 million to the Ontario Heritage Trust to acquire and protect natural heritage properties.
Under the program, the Trust has approved 47 applications, representing 1,566 hectares of land across southern Ontario, with a total property value of approximately $9.6 million

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Swimmers could be squeezed out by boats

Dock dilemma pondered; Councillor worried swimmers could be squeezed out by boats

An inability to regulate docks could result in boats whizzing in and out of a small Lake Couchiching bay right by one of Orillia's main swimming areas, Coun. Tim Lauer says. As a plan for an eight-storey highrise condominium moves forward for the shore next to Moose Beach, Lauer pointed out the city has little control over whether a developer lays down one small dock or a full-blown marina. Lauer has taken a page from the story of Sophie's Landing, a subdivision off Atherley Road whose developer managed to float a dock on Lake Simcoe without council's approval. "The experience at Sophie's Landing indicates to me that there should be concerns," Lauer told The Packet & Times. That concern sparked a discussion at Monday night's council committee meeting over whether the eight-storey Panoramic Point project, planned for a plot of land at Lake Couchiching, will mean more docks.
Powerboats zipping back and forth in the small bay used by swimmers and sunbathers at Moose Beach would be "a real shame," Lauer argued during the meeting. "Will we be able to control that dock?" he asked. Kathy Suggitt, director of planning and development, acknowledged the city "doesn't have control over regulation of the docks," but added opportunities arise for municipal control as condo plans come before council for approval. Docks, Suggitt explained, fall under the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and tend to operate as lease agreements with the province. An application for draft plan of condominium approval for Panoramic Point at 354 Atherley Rd. received a nod from council committee Monday night in a split vote. Both Mayor Ron Stevens and Coun. Ralph Cipolla assured Panoramic Point's developer hadn't mentioned any plans for docks. But Clarence Poirier, president of P&B Marketing and spokesman for the project, said Tuesday future residents have expressed an interest in docks. "We are looking into the opportunity of having floating docks; however, we haven't gotten approval yet," Poirier said. If approved, the size of the facility would be modest, he added, noting it would serve very small crafts. Rafaella Mooney, a lands technician at the Ministry of Natural Resources Midhurst office, said she isn't familiar enough with Panoramic Point to comment on what agency would regulate docks there. But she said every scenario is different, depending on whether docks are on private water lots or Crown land. "It's not cut and dried." In the case of Sophie's Landing, the developer owns the lake bed, Mooney said. Though docks on private property are still subject to approvals from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Canadian Coast Guard, the ministry only has direct involvement in those which make use of provincial Crown land, she pointed out. The size of facilities can be influenced by environmental and navigational requirements, as well as feedback from stakeholders, including municipalities, Mooney said.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Mooring slips needed in Lake Country Lake Simcoe marinas turning away boaters

Mooring slips needed in Lake Country Lake Simcoe marinas turning away boaters

Finding a place to dock in Orillia and area hasn't been easy for boaters recently. With some marina properties undergoing condominium development, resulting in a reduction of slips in the area, other marinas have had to turn boaters away or refer them elsewhere. "There is a shortage with marinas closing up on the lake," said Steve Clark, owner of Blue Beacon Marina at The Narrows. "It's put a demand on slips on Lake Simcoe." Of the 85 slips at Blue Beacon, only four are available - for long-term stays only.
"I can't take (transient clients) because, if I have a boat there, I'm turning down a yearlong client," Clark said. Clark has been referring boaters to the Port of Orillia for temporary tie-up. Orchard Point Marina, just across the lake from Blue Beacon, isn't renting slips while condo development begins on the property, said developer Ron Sattler. Orchard Point once had 55 slips available. Crothers Twin Lakes Marina is completely full, reported co-owner Cindy Crothers. All 99 slips are occupied, mostly by year-round clients. "It's crazy, but it's awesome for us. I could build a bunch of slips and still sell them," she said, adding such an addition is not in the plans. The harbourmaster at the Port of Orillia was pleased to hear of referrals from other marinas. The port has the room, as only transient slips are rented there. "We have not heard of any plans for seasonal slips at the Port of Orillia," Susan Lang said. "It's not set up for that." Across the bridge on Lake Couchiching, Ojibway Bay Marina is "pretty much full right now." Of the marina's 150 slips, most are seasonal, and none were available late last week, said manager Steve Sanderson. Marina operators also suspect some of the increased local business is a result of the proposed resort development at Big Bay Point Marina in Innisfil.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Shingle Bay here to stay

Shingle Bay here to stay
Councillors heed public sentiment against honour for late pope

The verdict is in on renaming a Lake Simcoe bay after the late pope John Paul II, Coun. Ralph Cipolla acknowledged at Monday night’s council committee meeting.

Public sentiment, as indicated by correspondence sent to the city after a call for input on the proposed name change, is resoundingly against renaming Shingle Bay.

All 21 responses received by the city were against renaming the bay.

“None of us, from what I understand, knew anything about (Shingle) Bay,” Cipolla said.

But letter writers were quick to point out the bay, named for its coarse gravel, was an important spot for early settlers travelling along the shore of Lake Simcoe.

“Now I’m better informed on what (Shingle) Bay was, and I respect that and honour that,” Cipolla said.

Last spring, the Ward 2 councillor first proposed renaming the bay to commemorate the Polish pontiff’s visit to the area in 2002.

John Paul II, who died in April 2005, stayed at Strawberry Island, a retreat run by Basilian Fathers, during his visit to Toronto for World Youth Day events.

His unexpected trip in a cabin cruiser to the shoreline near the Huronia Regional Centre (HRC), an institution for the developmentally handicapped in Orillia, attracted hundreds of spectators.

Shingle Bay extends from Kitchener Park to Brough’s Creek.

Cipolla said his job as councillor is to bring constituents’ queries to council.

“And if the community accepts it, that’s fine, and if they don’t, we can do what the community wants,” he said. “And I want to reiterate, this was not a religious thing, as indicated by some of the letter writers.”

Five of the 21 responses suggested commemorative plaques to recognize the late pope and the bay.

Monday night, council decided to explore wording for that kind of a plaque, to be located at the Lightfoot Trail.

Coun. Joe Fecht said such a marker should recognize the area’s use by early settlers, John Paul II’s visit, and the HRC, which has fronted the bay for more than a century.

“I think that’s what the marker should be talking about,” Fecht said.

Coun. Michael Fogarty thanked Cipolla for bringing the proposal forward, but noted he’d received numerous comments from constituents wanting to preserve the historic name.

“And I don’t want the city to get into the habit of renaming things,” he said.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Plan for massive resort project on Lake Simcoe splits community and makes lots of work for lawyers

Plan for massive resort project on Lake Simcoe splits community and makes lots of work for lawyers

It's summertime and the livin' is easy at Big Bay Point, snug on the southwest shore of Lake Simcoe.
All appears peaceful, from gulls wheeling across a cobalt sky to ducks herding their fuzzy youngsters over glass-smooth waters.
But beneath the veneer of tranquility big trouble is brewing.
A Toronto-based developer seeking approval for a $1 billion vacation resort and marina in Innisfil has caused a storm of controversy by taking on detractors with a flurry of lawsuits. Opponents counter that that Earl Rumm and his Geranium Corp. are abusing the courts in an effort to muzzle them. Rumm and his company have four lawsuits on the go – at one time there were seven – seeking a total of $85.8 million in damages.
Rumm says he is only trying to protect his interests, but the targets of his suits accuse him of bullying.
"We think this is just another intimidation tactic aimed at keeping the people quiet," says Don Avery, the president of the ratepayers' group, Innisfil District Association, and one of those being sued.
"I think this has become a personal vendetta."
Rumm says this is nonsense, explaining that the suits were launched to hold his critics accountable.
"The courts will decide if these are just done to intimidate," he adds. "Otherwise this is nobody else's business. So my answer to you about the lawsuits is `no comment.'"
If given final approval, Big Bay Point Resort will feature 1,600 condos and townhomes as well as 400 hotel rooms, all clustered around a 1,000-slip boat marina.
The 600-acre property is a prime chunk of Lake Simcoe real estate near the tip of upscale Big Bay Point, about 10 kilometres east of Barrie.
The point itself is chockablock with million-dollar homes and has long been a summer hangout for wealthy Torontonians. But it's also the kind of mixed community found on lakes across the province, featuring rambling waterfront estates next to places like the Bee Happy Family Campground.
Rumm himself has cottaged in the area for many years, so many of his opponents are neighbours.
The resort proposal has driven a wedge between area residents, with some saying it will raise property values and attract much-needed economic activity.
Others say it will be a too-large, out-of-character, environmentally unfriendly blight on the landscape. According to a list of resort supporters supplied by the developer, everyone from the head of a local environmental group, to artists and area ratepayers' groups are lined up firmly in the resort's camp.
What makes this battle a little different from the typical development brouhaha are the lawsuits, which pit a cast of incongruous local characters against Rumm.
Defendants include Avery, two prominent local lawyers, a couple of top Toronto investment bankers and the former head of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
Court documents offer up some meaty, lakeside reading.
The defendants are accused of everything from conspiring to buy the main marina property out from under Rumm's nose, to badmouthing him in a letter to the town.
One suit seeks damages of $41 million from Murray Brasseur, chair and founder of investment firm Middlefield Group, and Ned Goodman, chief executive officer of Dundee Bancorp Inc. That one alleges the duo set up an elaborate and secretive scheme with two Barrie-area lawyers to cheat Rumm out of the marina property using a "sham" offer to purchase.
In his statement of defence, Brasseur says the offer to buy the marina, when Rumm had already purchased it, resulted from a misunderstanding. This was allegedly cultivated by the seller, who was "playing both Geranium and Brasseur off each other," in the hopes of boosting the purchase price, the statement of defence says.
A separate suit filed against lawyers Thomas Wilson and Marshal Green, a numbered company "and persons unknown," alleges the defendants were part of this same "conspiracy," a statement of claim says.
In their amended statement of defence, Green and Wilson say the suit against them, also for $41 million in damages, "is completely without merit. It is an abuse of process of the court, brought solely in an attempt to enhance Geranium's prospects of obtaining planning approval for its Big Bay Point proposal."
Lawyer David Donnelly, with Gilbert's LLP and Environmental Defence, is acting for Avery, Brasseur, Goodman and John Bulloch, former head of the independent business association, at an upcoming Ontario Municipal Board hearing.
Donnelly maintains the lawsuits are "casting a pall" over the full OMB hearing, which is scheduled to begin in August. "The process can't work if the parties feel threatened or constrained by people suing them all over hell's half acre," Donnelly says. "That could chill the process."
Whatever the outcome of the suits, there is no doubt they have fostered a climate of distrust between Rumm and some of his neighbours, who, in turn, don't see eye-to-eye among themselves on this issue. The acrimony has led Rumm to post a round-the-clock guard at the front gate to the resort.
The proposed resort's three- and four-storey condo buildings will not be marketed as full-time residences. Instead, they will be sold as time-shares or fractional ownership units. No full-time residents are expected to live at the resort, eliminating many infrastructure costs.
"The town wouldn't permit it," says Jim Maclean, a Geranium spokesperson.
Along with shops and restaurants, the resort would feature a conference centre, sports and fitness centre, Main Street-style retail, an 18-hole golf course and an amphitheatre.
"The whole idea is to make this above standard," Maclean says. "This will not be your typical resort."
Rumm is proud of his project, which he says will have the largest inland marina in the province.
The resort will be built to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) silver or gold standards and the golf course will be designed to Audubon benchmarks, he says.
"This is an environmentally sound project with lots of protected green space," Rumm adds.
Maclean says the resort will create hundreds of jobs and direct millions of tax dollars to the town's coffers.
But critics say the project is too big for the sleepy residential community and won't be economically viable. "The developer has tried to marginalize us as a lot of NIMBY's," Avery says. "But this is a low-key cottage area and it isn't designated for growth. This thing just doesn't fit in."
Donnelly argues that the 1,000-slip marina spells trouble for a lake already under assault.
"It may be Lake Simcoe can sustain this level of increased activity," he says. "But there has been a dramatic increase in near-shore weed growth and the cold water fishery has been decimated. The lake doesn't need any more problems."
Such talk infuriates Rumm, who says the residents have never been able to come up with any scientific evidence to show his development poses a threat to the environment.
"All they can say is, `It's too big, it has too many people,'" Rumm says. "They just don't want it in their backyard."
Donnelly wants Queen's Park to declare a provincial interest in the area based on environmental concerns, as it did in a proposed development on the other side of the lake near Shanty Bay.
That would mean the provincial cabinet – not the Ontario Municipal Board – would get final say on whether the development is approved. Both the town of Innisfil and Simcoe County have given the development the green light.
Two months ago, a memorandum of agreement spelling out a list of conditions, was signed by officials with the province, Simcoe County, Innisfil, another local ratepayers' group and the developer.
Three issues are still outstanding: the production of an environmental impact statement, a report on sewer and water treatment and a report on the marina basin.
Avery's ratepayers' group refused to sign off on the agreement, however, saying they had not been included in the process. The deal would also obligate them to withdraw their opposition to the plan, something the group refused to do.
"The fix was in when they held meetings without us," Avery says. "We had no say in those issues they agreed to. We are counting on the province to hang tight and fight this on the environmental issues."
Larry Clay, director of the central regional office for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, says talks with the developer continue. "The ministry is still looking at their studies and reviewing them," Clay said this week. "But we expect to have a decision shortly."
Clay said provincial lawyers are expected to be at the table at an OMB pre-hearing scheduled for Monday.

MP deserves credit for work on environmental issues

Federal government's action on funding for Lake Simcoe With political parties of all stripes claiming to be the champions of environmental strategies, combined with the bickering back and forth in Ottawa, one might easily become cynical whether anything is actually being accomplished. We, in the Simcoe North Riding, are equally concerned about local environmental issues and the need for action to begin as soon as possible. With some personal investigation on this front, I have discovered that our local MP Bruce Stanton and York Simcoe MP Peter Van Loan have successfully advocated for this area.
As a result, the federal government's National Water Strategy has allocated $12 million over the next two years to support cleaning up Lake Simcoe, which has been affected by excessive amounts of phosphorus from both urban and rural sources. Citizens and environmental advocacy groups, among others, are hailing the Conservative government's affirmative action. The Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority has congratulated Stanton and Van Loan for "vision and leadership and for bringing federal attention to an ecosystem so in need of financial support." The regional environmental action group Ladies of the Lake has expressed gratitude for the federal government's response and action. Stanton is being criticized by the local bearer of the Liberal banner, as being a "just in my backyard" politician, but factually that is not a fair analysis. Stanton deserves the acknowledgement for his advocacy, on our behalf, of this very important environmental issue. The government's action should be applauded for its contribution to local environmental issues as well as those on a national scale. Observing the political wrangling in Ottawa causes one to not see the forest for the trees. There are some very conscientious politicians who are seriously working on our behalf in Ottawa. Their positive accomplishments are being overshadowed by partisan "mud-slinging," the latter making bigger headlines in the media. No matter which political party we hail from, it is only right we acknowledge the facts and appreciate the work that Stanton is doing on our behalf. Our local MP is getting things done in Simcoe North. Credit should be given where it is due.