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Friday, December 21, 2007

Last Friday’s Ontario Municipal Board decision approving the Big Bay Point Resort didn’t totally clear the road for construction.

Developer Geranium Corporation will have two major studies to do before any groundbreaking can occur: a pilot project to assess the resort’s impact on the functioning of the Alcona sewage treatment plant, which also involves improving technology to reduce phosphorous despite the increased load; and an Environmental Assessment (EA) examining how to extend servicing to not only the resort but its neighbours.


“Before development can proceed, there will be a pilot project for the sewage system and it will have to demonstrate the phosphorous (emissions) will not increase. Whether you call that a challenge or not, I wouldn’t say. It’s a threshold,” said Town of Innisfil solicitor Quinto Annibale, of Loopstra Nixon LLP.


Geranium is also proposing installing over-sized servicing pipes to the Big Bay Point area, which will allow 1,600 residents to hook up to the municipal sewage treatment system.


“Currently, a septic system is considered not good for the lake; to hook into the municipal system is preferable.


“Alcona does the capacity to deal with the effluent. On top of that, the additional control mechanisms for this pilot project, as well as monitoring and phasing provisions in the planning documents, will ensure there’s not only enough treatment capacity for this development, but also for the existing committed development in the municipality.”


That would assure Innisfil planned growth can be accommodated without adversely impacting the lake, he explained.


The EA would determine the path of the servicing pipe, estimate costs and project phasing.

Municipalities must do EAs, which ultimately require provincial approval, for servicing changes and upgrades, large or small, as well as for projects in other areas such as road extensions or reroutings.


But while those sound relatively simple and routine, the resort could face a freeze, as Ontario has imposed phosphorous limits on the 15 sewage treatment plants surrounding the lake, as part of its plan to protect Lake Simcoe, said environmental lawyer David Donnelly, who led the opposition to the resort on behalf of Nextnine Limited, a numbered company and the Innisfil District Association.


“They’re caught by the regulations. We don’t know what’s in the (proposed Lake Simcoe Protection Act), because it’s not written yet. I would predict it’s highly unlikely the government would now allow a developer to buy 600 acres and dig a big hole in the ground, put in 2,000 units and call it a resort,” Donnelly said in an interview.


He added the government will also not allow the Alcona sewage treatment plant to expand – based on Dec. 6 Ministry of the Environment statements to improve sewage treatment standards in the Lake Simcoe basin. In 2006, the 15 sewage treatment plants in the area discharged a total of 5.9 tonnes of phosphorous into the lake, although they are legally permitted to discharge up to 12.5 tonnes per year.


The province is proposing an interim regulation to prevent a new sewage treatment facility in the Lake Simcoe basin if the discharge will result in more phosphorous, as well as imposing annual phosphorous loading limits on the existing plants until March 31, 2009.


The province’s initiative also includes an $850,000 study to examine how to reduce the phosphorous going into the lake, as well as setting stricter limits for other phosphorous and other pollutants.


Still, Geranium’s lawyer Michael Melling suggested the developer could play an integral role in the province’s Lake Simcoe protection efforts, with its pilot study and EA.


“Our client’s intention is to put the pedal to the metal in 2008,” he said, acknowledging the work ahead in those studies.


“It will help the government in its recently announced initiatives to reduce the phosphorous levels. It all fits together very nicely.”

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