PICKERING — The Greenbelt legislation is working, but stronger laws are needed to deal with threats to the open space.
That’s the message delivered during a town hall meeting hosted by the anti-airport group Land Over Landings at the Brougham Hall on Wednesday, Jan. 28. The packed house of about 150 people heard from experts and activists who are fighting to protect the Greenbelt.
The Greenbelt legislation was set up by the Province in 2005 and it covers 1.8 million acres from Northumberland County west to Niagara Falls. As this is the 10th year for the Greenbelt Act, it’s up for a mandatory review.
Susan Lloyd Swail, of the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance, said there’s been “significant pressure by developers to open up the (Greenbelt) act for more sprawl.”
Faisal Molla, director general, Ontario and Northern Canada for the David Suzuki Foundation and a professor at the University of Toronto, said “The Greenbelt is working. We need to strengthen it and grow it.”
Ms. Swail added, “It shouldn’t be possible to building highways, an airport, dump contaminated soil and have sprawl on the Greenbelt. Yet, it’s happening.”
David Donnelly, an environmental lawyer, said Land Over Landings is “fighting one of the greatest fights in Ontario history.”
Preserving agriculture is “one way of preserving rural communities,” Mr. Donnelly said.
Debbe Crandall, of Save the Oak Ridges Moraine (STORM) Coalition, said stronger laws are needed to preserve the Greenbelt.
“Policies have some gaps and loopholes,” she said.
Mr. Donnelly noted loopholes in the act allow for wedding and banquet facilities, go-kart tracks and paintball sites to open.
“The only way to protect it in perpetuity is if the next generation becomes engaged,” Ms. Crandall said. “We are on a trajectory that is going in the right way. There are bumps and gaps, but we’re on the right way.”
It’s “crazy” lands in the Greenbelt could be used for housing “yet we have so much land already appropriate for growth,” she noted.
“We need a stronger legacy so the next generation of champions is engaged and now is the time to do it,” Ms. Crandall said.
Ian McLaurin, the chairman of the Ontario Soil Regulation Task Force, noted contaminated soil from construction sites is being dumped in the Greenbelt.
“We call it dirty dirt.”
Contaminants in soil, such as oil and heavy metals, would be picked up by crops, leach into the water and could be blown away by the wind, he said.
“Soil the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change considers too polluted to sit under a parking lot is being dumped in the Greenbelt,” Mr. McLaurin said.
All of the land set aside for the Pickering airport is within the Greenbelt, said Mary Delaney, chairwoman of LOL.
“A new airport, if it’s ever needed, should not be built on our finest farmland,” Ms. Delaney said. “Airports don’t need farmland, but farmers do.
“The soil is simply the best and rarest there is. It’s a farmer’s dream,” she said. “Once it’s degraded, it’s gone. It’s a unique and priceless asset that we must not squander.”
Ms. Delaney said she is “quietly optimistic” an airport won’t be built. “Our sense is there’s no appetite with anyone in government for an airport.”
Mr. Molla noted, “The benefits of nature is part of our hidden economy. Fifty-one per cent of growth in the GTA is on the best agricultural land in the world.”
He added that “less than five per cent of Canada can produce food. Nature provides for our most fundamental needs. Nature is our house.”