Toronto – The developer of the proposed Big Bay Point Mega-Marina is preparing to cut trees at the site despite opposition from the province and local citizens.
Heavy machinery moved onto the site yesterday.  Tree cutting is expected to begin soon, unless the province intervenes as requested by Environmental Defence and the Innisfil District Association (“IDA”).
Innisfil Council voted on January 27 to allow site alteration in the form of tree cutting at Big Bay Point. The vote appears to defy directions from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH), which has jurisdiction over Ontario municipalities.
The province sent a sharply worded letter on January 19, 2010 to the developer’s lawyers last week, advising that “provincial staff have identified provisions that must be satisfied before site alteration or development of the Big Bay Point resort lands can take place.”
Put plainly, the MMAH letter stated that the Big Bay Point project, including any tree cutting, cannot proceed until an environmental assessment has been completed to determine whether there will be sufficient capacity to collect and treat wastewater from the mega-marina. The environmental assessment would also need to show that the mega-marina would not directly or indirectly release phosphorus into Lake Simcoe.
The Ontario Municipal Board made clear in its 2007 ruling on Big Bay Point that that the Planning Act approval is conditional on the developer securing a large number of environmental approvals, some of which may never be obtained, for the construction of the 2,000 resort units, 1,000 slip mega-marina and commercial space. Environmental Defence and the IDA have filed a legal brief with the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority and the province last week advising that the proposed excavation of 30 acres of shoreline likely contravenes the Lake Simcoe Protection Act and Conservation Authorities Act.
“The Big Bay Point Mega-Marina and unprecedented shoreline excavation would never be permitted if it were proposed today and may never be approved, so why the rush to cut the trees?” asked Environmental Defence counsel David Donnelly, citing the ban on new shoreline development under the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan. “So if the project never proceeds, as we predict, why would anybody think it wise to cut increasingly rare shoreline forested area at this time”, Donnelly asked.
“Speaking as an area resident, I’m appalled that Innisfil Council is endorsing this tree cutting before the province has even approved any marina construction”, said Don Avery, past President of the IDA.
This new dispute follows closely on a complaint lodged with the Minister of Environment John Gerretsen for proceeding with public consultations under the Lake Simcoe Protection Act and Environmental Assessment with tens of millions of dollars in Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (“SLAPP”) suits outstanding against Big Bay Point opponents. The complaint states that:
Continuing these taxpayer funded public consultations in this climate of SLAPP suits is unacceptable.  We note that this phenomenon has proliferated under your government.  We call your attention to the Ministry of the Environment Statement of Environmental Values, specifically the Introduction which advises [that] “Ontarians should have the means to ensure that it is achieved in an effective, timely, open and fair manner.”
It is hard to believe a decision-maker or Tribunal would find that approval of the infrastructure under the EA process, conducted under the pall of millions of dollars of SLAPP suits could be considered an “open and fair process”.
Most of the province’s environmental organizations have called on the McGuinty government to put an end to SLAPPs and on-going public consultation processes tainted by them.
Background
The Big Bay Point proposal would feature 2,000 hotel and condominium units, retail space, a 300-seat theatre and an unprecedented 1,000-slip mega-marina. Constructing this marina would require digging a 30-acre hole in the shoreline and destroying 100 acres of forest. There is an existing, much smaller marina on the property. The endangered butternut tree is also found on the property.
 Strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) are lawsuits (often for defamation) that are aimed at dissuading citizens from making their voices heard before public decision-makers and tribunals. They are a growing threat to meaningful citizen participation in Ontario and constitute a significant barrier to access to justice for those members of the public who seek to participate in environmental law and policy matters.  Members of the Innisfil District Association are currently the targets of SLAPPs seeking millions of dollars in damages over their opposition to Big Bay Point.
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For more information, or to arrange interviews, please contact:
Erin Charter, Environmental Defence, (416) 323-9521 ext. 258; (647) 210-7888(cell)
David Donnelly, Donnelly Law, (416)-722-0220 (cell)
Don Avery, Innisfil District Association, 416-997-7836 (cell)