By  Ian McInroy

Area residents jammed an east-end hall last night to have their say about how to save Lake Simcoe.
Organizers of the public information forum, which included Environment Minister John Gerretsen and Barrie MPP Aileen Carroll, entertained questions and comments from some of the 150 people gathered at the Lion’s Gate Banquet Centre.
The forum centred around the government’s discussion paper, Protecting Lake Simcoe: Creating Ontario’s Strategy for Action. With input from the public, the paper will eventually lead to the introduction of the Lake Simcoe Protection Act.
With baby daughter Tayte hanging in a carrier from her shoulders, Andee Pelan attended last night’s meeting because the lake and its future are important to her and her family.
She wants her daughter to be able to enjoy Lake Simcoe as she has.
“I’m here with my mom tonight, so we have three generations (that are concerned about the lake),” she said, adding that the forum was “a step in the right direction. But unless there’s actual teeth in it, it scares me that it’s just going to be a lot of words,” she said, citing one solution to the lake’s woes.
“There is no legal mechanism for stopping people from mowing their lawns right down to the water. That’s one of the most ecologically damaging things you can do. The lake is a community resource. We share it with the animals and the fish,” Pelan said.
Oro-Medonte farmer John Dunsmore agrees.
“I think they should regulate the cutting of trees within a certain distance of the shoreline. It provides shade for fish and other animals living there and helps protect the shoreline,” he said.
Pelan is also concerned that there isn’t enough education about the lake, something the protection act should address.
“Why isn’t there a course on Lake Simcoe in the schools? People don’t know about their own ecosystems,” she said.
Gerretsen said the government has already invested $850,000 to manage phosphorus levels and introduced interim regulations to place stricter limits on phosphorus discharges into the lake and its tributaries.
Those limits will be in effect until March, 2009, by which time the act should be in place.
Keith Perry, president of Envirolinks Canada, addressed the forum and suggested technology could play a big part in cleaning up the lake.
The forum is a step in the right direction, but there are more cost-effective ways of reducing pollution produced by boats, he said. He’s been working on a system called magneto-hydro dynamics, which dramatically reduces emissions from boats.
“If they want to spend money wisely, they should clean up these boats,” he said, gesturing towards nearby Kempenfelt Bay.
“They exhaust right into the water. If fish could talk they’d say ‘You guys are killing us’. Retrofitting old boats is expensive. Why wouldn’t they give boaters a retrofit grant?” he asked.
David Donnelly, of Environmental Defence, told the forum that cleaning up the land around the lake is vital to Lake Simcoe’s health.
“Saving the lake is great but we need to save the land that sustains the lake,” he said. With that done, the lake could take care of itself, he added.
Barrie Coun. Barry Ward was one of many past and current area politicians from Simcoe County municipalities in attendance.
“There is a great public interest in Lake Simcoe,” he said. “We’ve heard from our constituents that the health of Lake Simcoe should be our main priority.”
“We need input from people and groups associated with the lake,” Gerretsen said, adding the forums will contribute to the development of draft legislation that would hopefully be introduced sometime in the spring, followed by a legislative review process. A proposed protection plan would be started, with ongoing community engagements taking place during various stages.
“A year at the outside,” Gerretsen said, of when the protection act could be passed.