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Monday, March 31, 2008

Public opinion needed for health of Lake Simcoe

Strong relationships stem from good dialogue.

Having a solid line of communication with Lake Simcoe stakeholders is the key to sustaining a healthy relationship with the lake for generations to come, said Ken Neale, Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority spokesperson.

“We need the public to weigh in on these issues and be engaged,” Mr. Neale said.

The province will ask residents and scientists how best to protect Lake Simcoe through a discussion paper, Environment Minister John Gerretsen announced Thursday.

In addition to the paper, news of a scientific advisory committee for the lake and a reduced limit on phosphorus discharge was anounced.

Asking for public input is exactly what Ladies of the Lake co-founder Annabel Slaight says is needed to sustain a healthy watershed.

“People can put in their concerns from their perspective and very many interesting things will come up,” Mrs. Slaight said.

“It’s really 30 years of increasing human activity that has caused the problems. We really need everybody from the farmer to the cottager to a kid to a government official to comment. We live on an ailing lake. We have to do thousands of small actions that will allow the lake to get better,” Mrs. Slaight said.

York-Simcoe MPP Julia Munro said while she supports any move to improve the lake, the Liberals need to provide municipalities with more than ideas, arguing special funding to improve sewer systems should be made available as well.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Association to manage Roches Point Dock

Georgina council members voted unanimously last night to allow a community association to manage a local dock and beachfront on Lake Simcoe.
The move comes after years of complaints of drunken rowdiness, illegal fishing, noise and drug abuse at the Roches Point public dock.

It prompted a couple who live next door to offer to buy the property for $650,000 and close it to the public, forcing council to declare the sale to be considered during a meeting that packed the council chambers.

The offer sparked the Roches Point Community Association to come forward with an alternate plan to manage the dock area with the hope of ending the chronic problems. The association members feared losing local use of the lakefront area — a federal dock for more than a century before it was taken over by the town several years ago. Association president Murray Marriage said the proposed sale would also set a dangerous precedent leading to more potential private takeovers of public lakefront.

Council supported the proposal after hearing plans for the complete transformation of the property, including the continuation of its use by Georgina residents only, council.

A report from the town's leisure services department will outline details of the agreement.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Developers vs. citizens - OMB

Mar 23, 2008 04:30 AM
Late last year, the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) approved a controversial proposal to build a massive resort, including a 1,000-slip marina and an 18-hole golf course, at Big Bay Point on Lake Simcoe.

But that's not the end of the story. Shortly after the December ruling, the developer, Kimvar Enterprises Inc., served notice it would ask the OMB to order opponents of the project, including a ratepayers' group and its lawyers, as well as two local companies, to pay $3.6 million in costs related to the three-month hearing.

No date has been set to hear the cost application. But the staggering amount Kimvar is seeking has raised fears that it could deter community groups from taking their concerns about proposed developments to the OMB in the future.

OMB cost orders are unusual, but they are allowed in cases where a party has acted "unreasonably, frivolously, vexatiously or in bad faith."

Kimvar argues the conduct of its Big Bay Point opponents meets that test. The developer cites badly prepared expert witnesses. It also says its $3.6 million claim – which would be among the largest in OMB history – simply reflects the amount of money it has spent.

But Rick Smith of Environmental Defence, which helped pay the ratepayer group's legal bills and has been granted intervenor status on the cost motion, argues the developer's actions amount to intimidation. "Any citizen thinking about going to the OMB is going to be taking a hard look at this, and thinking twice," Smith says. We agree.

Where is Queen's Park on this issue? The government has shown no interest in intervening in this dispute over the awarding of costs, and Municipal Affairs Minister Jim Watson has ducked the Star's questions about where the government stands.

Surely the government can summon up the courage to say whether it believes a $3.6 million award is reasonable in this case.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Ice Fishing is almost over!

You have one more day to enjoy ice fishing.

As of midnight tonight, all huts and structures have to be cleared away across the province.

Nick Reynolds is the Enforcement Supervisor for the Ministry of Natural Resources, Midhurst District.

He says March 15th has been the cut off day for years because of safety issues.

Reynolds says even though it still looks like winter and there's more snow than usual, it will warm up soon and ice will become unsafe.

There is also an environmental concern. Reynolds says as the ice melts, if the structures are still out there, they'll break up and wash up on people's properties or cause problems for boaters.

He says if ice hut operators don't comply, they could face fines of five hundred up to 15 hundred dollars.

Reynolds tells us he hasn't heard any complaints from operators who have to remove the structures.

He says MNR officers will be regularly patrolling Georgian Bay, Lake Simcoe and Lake Couchiching to make sure all ice huts are off by tonight's deadline.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Holland Marsh faces disaster with quick thaw, experts say

March 7, 2008

Conservation authorities are monitoring water levels in Lake Simcoe as one heavy rainfall or a quick thaw in the next few weeks could mean disaster for the Holland Marsh.

The warnings have brought back memories of 1954, when Hurricane Hazel flooded the marsh and washed away crops and homes.

"Let's put it this way. We're at a 40-year high on the lake, and the reason we're so high is that situation that we had in January where the extreme thaw put all the water into the basin," said John McCallum, an executive of the Holland Marsh Joint Municipal Service Board Drainage Committee.

That huge snowmelt on Jan. 8, which caused flooding and forced the evacuation of Huntsville residents, raised water levels in Lake Simcoe to 219.05 metres above sea level, just one centimetre shy of the lake's capacity.

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Since then, the drainage committee has been operating the dams at the outlet of the lake non-stop to get rid of the excess water. Two months later, they've managed to bring the water down by only 11 centimetres.

Dave Ness, a water-control engineer with the Trent-Severn Waterway, said recent heavy snowfalls and some very mild days haven't helped the situation.

"It can go up as much as eight centimetres in a 24-hour period, so you can easily cancel out all the headway we've made since January [with] one heavy rainfall," he said.

"The lake doesn't have the storage capacity to receive the freshet [waters produced by a thaw] that could potentially be generated this spring. If the lake goes higher than say it would normally, there could be the potential for nuisance flooding."

As a result, the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority this week put out a notice to area residents to report any water spilling over dikes or roads in the marsh area, where the land is much lower than Lake Simcoe.

A major breach in the levee could easily flood the 7,000 acres of farmland. However, an emergency system that would involve reinforcing the earthen dikes with sandbags, Mr. McCallum said.

The canals were last dredged in 1955.

Tom Miedema, a farmer who grows onions and carrots on the Holland Marsh, said there has been concern among farmers in the area because certain dikes and banks are weak in places.

"The potential is there in certain spots. If a dike breaks, it could be bad," he said. "When we had hurricane Hazel, there weren't near as many homes and buildings here, so [a flood this year] would make a mess."

Lake levels highest on record

Higher than normal water levels in Lake Simcoe could lead to flooding this spring.

The Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority (LSRCA) staff say water levels in the lake are approximately one foot higher than those normally expected at this time of year.

The mid-winter thaw in January is one of the primary factors for the high levels and the coming spring thaw will add additional water as snow and ice melts.

The high water levels "increase potential for flooding in low-lying areas where ground levels are only slightly higher than normal lake levels," the LSRCA's press release reads.

"Flooding caused by ice jams, wave action and high winds may also increase as a result of these elevated lake levels."

In an interview Wednesday, Tom Hogenbirk, manager of engineering and technical services with the LSRCA, said there is the potential for severe flooding in many areas around the lake.

The agency will continue to monitor the situation and will issue condition reports regularly.

He's also urging residents to be keep an eye out for ice jams or blocked culverts.

"One thing people can do is be the eyes and ears of their municipality. If they see something forming, they should alert the municipality immediately," he said.

"That's critical."

The potential for severe flooding, Mr. Hogenbirk said, is of particular concern if the watershed experiences warmer temperatures and/or heavy rains.

"The extent of any flooding really depends on what happens in the next few weeks," he said.

Mayor Larry O'Connor discussed the issue at Monday's council meeting, saying Gamebridge, Thorah Island and the Alsop's Beach area are at risk of flooding.

However, Mayor O'Connor said, the threat pales in comparison to the one facing neighbouring municipalities.

"Georgina and Lagoon City would likely be the hardest hit," he said.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Give your input on the exapansion of the greenbelt!

2008 may be the year for the green to grow.

The province wants your ideas on how to handle requests to expand the Greenbelt boundaries, which is music to environmentalists’ ears.

A draft criteria has been developed by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing to allow for applications from regional, county and single-tier governments to expand Greenbelt boundaries. Any suggestions asking for the reduction or the removal of Greenbelt areas will not be considered.

The news seems good, said Natalie Helferty, ecologist and past president of the Richmond Hill Naturalists. The government moving forward after the creation of the Greenbelt in 2005 is a positive sign for the province and the environment, she added.

“There are urban areas (that need to be protected) in Richmond Hill, the David Dunlap Observatory and all river corridors up to Lake Simcoe at the minimum,” Ms Helferty said.

Safeguarding the environment and natural ecosystems is part of the Greenbelt plan.

The Greenbelt identifies where growth and development can and cannot take place.

Rapid growth in the region is cause for concern when it comes to protecting sensitive areas, Ms Helferty said. Areas designated for growth need to be looked at carefully and the feasibility of building beyond Greenbelt boundaries on sensitive land should be carefull considered in the expanded areas, she said.

News of input into the expansion of the Greenbelt is nothing new, said Gloria Marsh, York Region Environmental Alliance chairperson. Just because the Greenbelt can expand, doesn’t mean it will offer more environmental protection, she said.

Harold Sellers, Oak Ridges Trail Association executive director, agreed with Ms Marsh in that sensitive areas need protection.

“There are some buffer areas for the Oak Ridges Moraine that would benefit from some levels of protection,” he said.

He wants to see the southern part of Simcoe County considered as part of the Greenbelt, which would protect it from the rapid development taking place.

“From our perspective, having recreational trails, people want to be in natural areas,” Mr. Sellers said. “The more