Conservation authority looking into whether township allowed parking lot on protected land
By Andrew Philips Orillia Packet & Times
Paul Sanderson jokes another land dispute in Oro-Medonte Township could aptly be called “son of Burl’s Creek.”
But Sanderson doesn’t find anything amusing about the township’s decision to allow recent construction of a parking lot on what he contends is a Class 1 environmentally protected wetland area near Carthew Bay on Lake Simcoe.
“I’m quite committed to the environment,” Sanderson said, adding he’s especially interested in ensuring wetlands are protected for migratory waterfowl.
“I look at the hundreds of ducks and geese getting ready to fly south.”
Sanderson was taken aback when he drove by the site just off of Line 14 at the end of September.
He said crews began clear-cutting and removing all trees and vegetation from the estimated 200-foot-wide and 60-foot-deep site, which was followed a short time later by the removal of all topsoil and the eventual addition of sand and gravel to create three to four feet of new elevation.
“I didn’t see any permitting,” he said, adding he decided to dig into the development a little further.
“I found that this is the Oro Moraine and they shouldn’t be doing anything there. This is environmentally protected land.”
Sanderson filed official complaints with the township and the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority.
“(The township acknowledges) they blew it,” he said. “I want full prosecution to the point of conviction and penalties.”
Conservation authority spokesperson Susan Jagminas confirmed her agency has received a complaint and is investigating, but she couldn’t provide specifics regarding the case or how long its investigations normally take.
Shawn Binns is Oro-Medonte’s director of recreation and community services. He said the parking lot was seen as a way to provide greater access to the waterfront for township residents and visitors.
“A couple of years ago, the opportunity came up with the Carthew Bay store,” Binns said. “We entered into an agreement to create a parking area. It was an oversight from the township’s perspective that a CA (conservation authority) permit wasn’t obtained. We fully acknowledge we didn’t get a permit.”
Binns said he expects the conservation authority to determine whether the parking lot was built on a protected wetland.
“The conservation authority is the regulatory body and we’re working with the conservation authority,” he said. “It wasn’t our intent to move forward without a permit.”
Carthew Bay General Store owner Senti Rasa declined to comment, pointing out any questions relating to the parking lot should be addressed by Binns since the township created it.
According to information collected by Sanderson, the township initially planned to run the parking lot like it does other access points, with permits issued to township residents at no cost and fees collected from non-resident users, while the store, which owns the property, would benefit through increased traffic.
But Sanderson said even if the lands weren’t Class 1, or EP1, protected — “and they are” — the creation of a parking facility would still require legislated proper zoning, public meetings, signage posting, resident communications and consultations.
“These activities were never undertaken and as the lands are EP1, it is a moot point,” he said. “What is not a moot point is the destruction of provincially significant wetlands by creating a parking facility illegally.”
While Sanderson wants to see the land remediated to its former state, Binns said it’s too early to say what should be done.
“It’s too early to tell,” he said. “We were in the wrong. How do we make it right?”
But Sanderson said the trees need to be replanted and a fresh layer of rich topsoil added, all at the township’s expense.
“They can bring it back pretty close to the way it was,” he said.