Leigh Blenkhorn
Protecting Lake Simcoe by curtailing rampant development in its watershed was one of the suggestions Environment Minister John Gerretsen heard at a public forum in Barrie Wednesday night.
Residents packed the Lion’s Gate Banquet Centre for the first of two public information forums on creating a protection Act for Lake Simcoe.
The session was held to get feedback from the public on the provincial government’s discussion paper called Protecting Lake Simcoe: Creating Ontario’s Strategy for Action.
The night was designed for the Ministry of the Environment to get feedback from the public.
Some suggested the lake have a plan similar to policies for the Oak Ridges Moraine and the Niagara Escarpment, which are protected from rampant development.
Others wanted the Ontario Green Belt to simply be extended to cover the Lake Simcoe area, which would also sharply curtail new housing projects.
Residents raised concerns over deforestation around the lake and many said while phosphate contamination of the lake was a big concern, it should not be the only issue.
Some, including David Donnelly from Environmental Defence, disagreed over the definition of a lake cleanup.
“The wrong approach for us to take is to say that we need to look after the lake. The lake can look after itself,” he said. “What we need to look at is the land that polishes the water that feeds the lake.”
A majority of residents at Wednesday’s forum on Lake Simcoe were in favour of the direction the Ontario government is taking.
Claire Malcolmson, from Campaign Lake Simcoe, called the government’s plan a “brilliant approach.”
“There is definitely no issue I feel more passionately about than saving Lake Simcoe,” she said. “I want to thank this government for taking this vision of setting the gold standard for sustainability.”
Gerretsen thanked all the groups who have been working to protect the lake in the past.
“What we are doing is coming up with this act, which is empowering legislation, and the plan that will be developed out of the act is to build on all the great work that has been done by so many great people over the last 20 years.”
Lake Simcoe protection legislation should be introduced during spring session, and will hopefully be scrutinized through public hearings during the summer, Gerretsen said.
Legislation should come back for a third reading in the fall, and the act should be passed by Christmas.
The legislation will call for a plan to be created involving public consultation, aboriginal engagement, the creation of a stakeholder advisory committee, and research by a science advisory committee.
The second public forum will take place April 23 at the Newmarket Community Centre.