By Amber Cowie

Despite the existence of a 10-year-old conservation plan developed to protect the sensitive natural areas, farmlands and watersheds of the Oak Ridges Moraine, construction of two heliports and a 792-metre runway has begun in the Township of Scugog, located in the heart of the moraine.

This development project is permissible because the construction of aerodromes, airports and heliports falls under the auspices of Transport Canada’s Canadian Aviation Regulations, which trump the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan and have allowed the development of the multi-staged construction project to begin on a rehabilitated gravel pit on Lakeridge Road.

“According to Transport Canada regulations, private aerodromes don’t have to be justified in terms of need or follow the strict environmental assessments required of other projects on the moraine,” laments Marilyn Pearce, former mayor of Scugog. “Proponents don’t need a permit – they only need to register with Transport Canada. Perhaps the most troubling thing about this is that no environmental siting is required to be approved under the federal legislation.”

Earthworx Industries, the company overseeing the development, has run into a snag, however. Building on a gravel pit has required that the company dump a large amount of fill into the construction site, which triggered a requirement soil testing.

The selected soil sample failed to meet the standards set out in the bylaw; the sample contained excessive quantities of chemicals, so the permit to use fill was revoked. Although the township issued a stop-work order, fill continues to be brought onto the site and construction is ongoing. In December 2010, the town’s council passed a motion to file, with the Ontario Superior Court, an application for an injunction.

“This property is located at the top of the Oak Ridges Moraine, right at the intersection of three watersheds, and it has the potential to affect them all, given the identification of this area as an area of high vulnerability aquifers,” notes Ian McLaurin, spokesperson for Lakeridge Citizens for Clean Water. “As this site is a rehabilitated gravel pit where aggregate was being extracted deep below the ground, the fill is now being dumped just metres from the water table.”

“When agricultural land was becoming increasingly more valued for development than [for] food production, the government reacted with provincial land-use plans,” adds Pearce. “But now, when the same land is being used for commercial fill operations, it seems to be out of everyone’s jurisdiction to regulate it. This is about the integrity of agricultural land and the future of food in Ontario.”