Oro-Medonte residents clash with Boots and Hearts, WayHome organizers
Music festivals featuring Neil Young, Kendrick Lamar and Sam Smith have local residents worried over degradation of rural lands
For weeks, Bruce Wiggins has watched in dismay as dozens of trucks haul burly construction equipment past his front window and into the Burl’s Creek Event Grounds.
“Even when I am out in the yard or just coming home from work, driving in, I see it,” he told the Star. “They start at 6 in the morning and they are there at 6 in the evening.”
It’s been a dizzying sight — all part of preparations for two summer music festivals set to bring thousands of campers and concertgoers to the predominantly agricultural lands while featuring performances from stars such as Neil Young, Sam Smith, Kendrick Lamar and Brad Paisley.
But the upcoming WayHome and Boots and Hearts festivals won’t be music to Wiggins’ ears.
He and about 500 other local residents — part of the West Oro Ratepayers Association (WORA) and grassroots group Save Oro — are worried that the festivals and construction work undertaken to prepare for them will degrade valuable land and bring noise, traffic and rowdiness to the rural Oro-Medonte community, just north of Barrie.
“There will be such an intrusion with having a rock concert venue in your backyard, and with the sound in the background, you won’t be sleeping,” WORA president Ron Golden told the Star. He also alluded to potential problems with water and waste.
Those concerns emerged recently after two numbered companies purchased the lush Burl’s Creek grounds and surrounding properties, frequently used for local events.
Thousands of tickets to the WayHome and the Boots and Hearts festivals — run by event giant Republic Live Inc. — were scooped up by music fans while an application seeking permission to hold music and camping festivals, concerts and parking on the entire site has been awaiting municipal approval since April.
As of Friday, no date was set for council to make a decision on the application, but the township’s website warned that applications typically take three to six months to process — a timeline that extends past both festivals’ July and August dates.
The timeline could grow more if the application is granted and then taken to the Ontario Municipal Board by residents.
If a decision isn’t reached by the date of the planned festivals, the city said the organizer can only proceed on the smaller portions of the land zoned for special events.
“It sounds to me like a perverse bureaucratic nightmare that Neil Young would write a song about,” said David Donnelly, an environmental lawyer hired by residents, who filed a legal application with the township on Friday to fight the festivals.
Despite the animosity from residents and “ongoing enforcement” of bylaws by the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority, officials with Republic Live and Burl’s Creek Event Grounds are still sure the shows will go on.
Republic Live executive director Shannon McNevan said in a statement to the Star, “We are confident that the team of professionals at Burl’s Creek will continue their due diligence as they work with their regional and provincial partners to follow all the appropriate channels to ensure that these events will move forward as planned.”
Burl’s Creek vice-president of venue operations, Ryan Howes, admitted the conservation authority slapped the property managers with violation notices and charges for extending a gravel fill to accommodate additional toll booths, but said, “The matter was handled immediately and no further work has been done or will be done in that section.”
To clear up issues surrounding the applications and impending events, public meetings are being held to allow local residents to share their concerns.
For the ratepayers and the Save Oro group, who are worried about traffic, noise and unruly behaviour, Howes cited a roster of first-aid, waste control, emergency services and transportation and engineering officials who were brought on board for “months of planning to mitigate festival impact on the surrounding community.”
As for claims about disturbing the environment, he said that a barn and dilapidated house were torn down, with plans to salvage wood for miscellaneous uses around the site, and soil had been shifted for grading work, but none removed.