Toronto – Environmental groups from around Lake Simcoe are dismayed by the latest judgment of the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) permitting conditional land use changes that would allow 2,000 new hotel and residential units and a 1,000 slip marina to be dug into the shoreline of Lake Simcoe.
Although the OMB has given its conditional approval for the project, there are numerous outstanding environmental approvals yet to be obtained by the developer. These required approvals make the Big Bay Point mega marina subject to the freeze on proposed developments in Simcoe County. New developments will be subject to strict new rules under the proposed Lake Simcoe Protection Act, expected in spring 2008.

“This decision proves it’s time to fundamentally reform the OMB and adopt the recommendations of the Environmental Commissioner to get on with the job of creating real planning rules in Ontario,” said Dr. Rick Smith, Executive Director, Environmental Defence.  “The Lake Simcoe Protection Act will get it right and stop this project because the OMB got it wrong on endangered species, fisheries, lake protection, First Nations, forest protection and agricultural land. ”

The OMB approved 2,000 hotel and condominium units, a 300-person theatre, 86,000 square foot resort commercial space, 54,000 square foot conference facility, 32,000 square foot recreation centre and a 1,000 slip mega-marina with the support of the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority.  The OMB members call the loss of 100 acres of forest “extremely small” and said that digging a 30-acre hole in the shoreline will have “little if any impact… either on water quality or fisheries.”

The OMB has approved an increase in the size of the marina from 40,000 m2 to 158,000 m2, requiring a 30-acre lake to be dug into the shoreline of Lake Simcoe.  In contrast, cottagers are routinely forbidden from dumping sand on their waterfront or expanding their boathouses.

“We’re upset that the OMB has rubber-stamped the development proposal without doing us the courtesy of explaining how or why this “large scale development” fits with an overall protection strategy for the Lake,” said Robert Eisenberg, Co-Chair of Campaign Lake Simcoe and a founder of the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition. “When my neighbours find out that the OMB thinks it’s ‘OK’ to dig a hole in the ground the size of 15 football fields and call it fish habitat, they’re going to hire the same lobbyists that the developer did to pull this neat trick.”

The development will be caught by the proposed Lake Simcoe Protection Act because it still requires a large number of outstanding approvals.  For example, neither the required provincial or federal environmental assessments have even commenced.  Additional approvals under the federal Fisheries Act and Navigable Waters Protection Act have yet to be applied for.  Environmentalists adamantly oppose the developer’s proposal to run a Big Pipe up from the Alcona sewage treatment plant to service the New Town that could eventually grow to 4,000 – 5,000 people.  

Experts from a diverse range of disciplines appeared before the OMB on behalf of environmental groups to argue that cutting the forest (including endangered Butternut trees), excavating a huge area to create 625 new marina slips (for a total of 1,000 slips) and running a road through habitat for the Blandings Turtle and other sensitive species was bad planning.

The project calls for the clearing of 44 ha (100 acres of forest), including 15 ha (37 acres) of critical interior forest habitat.  Both federal and provincial guidelines call for municipalities to maintain 30% forest cover and 10% interior forest habitat.  Innisfil, where the proposed development will be built, has just 22% forest cover and 5.5% interior forest.   

All parties agreed that putting a new urban settlement at Big Bay Point was prohibited under provincial laws, particularly Places to Grow and the Planning Act.  The developer and public agencies argued that the development restricted occupancy to 300 days per year and is therefore a “resort” and exempt from growth management controls.   The OMB held that this restriction was the primary evidence that the development is indeed a resort and not a settlement with resort characteristics.

Yet the lead planner for Simcoe County concluded in a 2005 staff report introduced at the hearing, “even if non-permanent occupancy of all the units is achieved, the proposed development should be considered a Settlement, and that growth management issues need to be considered before there is any approval.”

The case is also notorious for a number of lawsuits filed against the project’s opponents, totaling over $85 million. 

“What a sad chapter in Lake Simcoe’s history this is,” said Annabel Slaight, co-founder of the Ladies of the Lake.  “With a Lake Simcoe Protection Act in the offing, we hope the McGuinty government will delay green-lighting the environmental approvals needed for this project to proceed until we’ve had a chance to look at the needs of the entire Lake. We also urge the province to take action to stop this nonsense of lawsuits being slapped on citizens who are just trying to speak out to help the Lake they love.”
 
-30 –
For more information, or to arrange interviews, please contact:
 Jennifer Foulds (416) 323-9521 ext. 232; (647) 280-9521 (cell)
Annabel Slaight, Co-Founder of the Ladies of the Lake, (905) 476-7575
Bob Eisenberg, Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition, (416) 484-1250 ext. 220