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Tottenham Airfield project stirs Council debate

August 30, 2019   ·   0 Comments

By Kira Wronska Dorward

Council’s first session back from the summer break on August 26was a contentious one. The audience was filled as the public came to give their input on numerous issues.

The first item under discussion concerned the Tottenham Airfield.

Councillor Harrison-McIntyre, who has been at the helm of this subject for six years, began debate by stating that, after a cessation in filling activities for almost exactly a year, the application to continue bringing in fill to construct a second run-way “was not in the public interest” and that Council “would not grant an extension” in the continued construction of the airport and “would stand behind that.”

“We are under no obligation to extend their permit,” McIntyre-Harris concluded, to cheers from the audience. “They will hear that message loud and clear.”

The Councillor then encouraged all residence concerned to write letters to Transport Canada voicing their opposition.

The Councillor informed those in attendance that although the owners of Tottenham Airfield had gone to Transport Canada (under federal jurisdiction) to ask to extend the airport’s second runway, hoping to outmaneuver the Town’s ordinance that had the project shut down once the imported fill tested positive for cyanide in what was originally called “a lab error.”

However, the annoyance and health concerns of residence about the enormous amount of fill being brought in was already in place before the cyanide matter. Many residents took to the podium to discuss their opinions and experience of living with the airfield.

David Francis, a resident of the senior living community Tecumseth Pines, spoke eloquently about watching the alarming increase in the number of fill trucks (up to 190 a day) going by to the airport, and how since the shut down of operations on August 20, 2018, “we have enjoyed a year of peace.”

Although he professed the community’s appreciation for the flight school’s services and flying lessons, he was less than complimentary towards what he deemed “a company with big pockets trying to intimidate the Town.”

Francis said, after consulting professional sources, that runway construction should, by his calculations, take at most ten weeks, not the five years the fill has been arriving at the airfield. “There’s money in dirt,” Francis concluded, “not in runways.”

Francis described how the Town is playing a “poker game” with Transport Canada and the company behind the construction of the airfield, playing on the authority of municipal versus federal jurisdictions, and how this application before council was “the poker game continuing.”

The CAO reiterated that “we’re in a position to bring in a court application to prevent them from bringing in fill without our permission.”

Mayor Milne, before other speakers took the podium, reinforced that “Council has turned [the application] down.”

A local woman then came forward with an online petition of 9,000 signatures she had collected in opposition to the fill. She pointed out to those present that the notice handed to residents about filling beginning again was poorly written and unclear, and most people did not realize that by doing nothing they were de facto agreeing to the contents of the notice.

The resident put numerous questions before Council, including why Council has not enforced penalties for breaking bylaws and regulations or revoked the permit entirely, among others. She also questioned the testing frequency of the wells near the fill site, which she asserted were testing at a Table 2 which she personally “would not want to drink”, but is considered within guidelines.

The issue of contaminants at the fill site was also mentioned. She reminded those present that Council only has until September 9 to object to the notice, and it was time TAC be forced to “clean up their mess” that is “negatively affects the neighbouring environment and water,” while the large pile of dirt remains “a disgusting eyesore.”

Staff responded that they have stepped in in the past two censure the airfield and end inappropriate behaviour and practices. Staff added that groundwater monitoring continues at the airfield, with some thirteen wells having been tested, meeting the criteria of the agreement (being within Table 2).

It was made clear that the Town will be sharing its concerns with Transport Canada in a letter sent to the ministry, which they would file in or before the September 9 date for response.

Cheryl Connors, who works at the Heart & Stroke Foundation, then took the podium to voice her professional and personal concerns about Town health regarding the fill and air quality.

“I suggest an exit strategy that will clean up the existing site. It looks like we’re driving through a sandstorm in the Sahara Desert.”

Connors went on to discuss the recently released reports from the Heart & Stroke Foundation about the dangers of “fine particulates” in things such as this fill, which, aside from affecting the heart and lungs, has been linked to dementia. She also asked who was going to be responsible for the “inevitable” flooding, now that the natural barrier of the Oak Ridges Moraine, which absorbed rainwater, has been removed.

“This company can more than afford [to clean up],” said Connors. “You have the opportunity to do the right thing now, clean it up and let us get back to our lives.”

The CAO pointed out that the Town has $750,000 in securities if they were to pull the plug on the deal.

“The Town does have a few mechanisms it can use to recoup its costs,” he concluded.

Although Council was unable to give a time frame about when this issue might be resolved, they remain optimistic about a favourable result.

“In effect,” said Councillor Harrison-McIntyre, “in three years, we have closed it down, knock on wood.”

Speaker Laurie Neville had the last word. Directing her comment at Council, she said, “continue to send a message to businesses. Know you can’t contaminate, you can’t pollute.”


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