Oro-Medonte mayor, staff admit oversight in creation of parking lot
By Andrew Philips Orillia Packet & Times
To badly paraphrase Joni Mitchell, Oro-Medonte seems to be “unpaving paradise and tearing down a parking lot.”
That’s Paul Sanderson’s take regarding the saga of a piece of land on Line 14 near Carthew Bay on Lake Simcoe, where the township is restoring a wetland area after recently turning it into a parking lot.
“They’ve taken all the fill, all the gravel and all the sand out,” Sanderson said. “It’s back to four feet below where it was.”
At the end of September, Sanderson raised the alarm over the township’s decision to begin building a parking lot on the site he contends is considered a Class 1 environmentally protected wetland area.
At that time, Sanderson 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.
He also filed official complaints with the township and the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority.
Oro-Medonte Mayor Harry Hughes said the township is working with the conservation authority to remediate the property to its former state and “make things right.”
“An oversight occurred,” Hughes admitted, noting once the oversight was realized, the township took the appropriate steps to correct the issue.
“For some reason, there was an oversight of reading the maps on what areas are environmentally protected.”
The township’s administrative offices were closed Thursday, but Shawn Binns, Oro-Medonte’s director of recreation and community services, stated in an earlier interview 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 at the time.
“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.”
Hughes said the parking lot had been in the planning stages for about a year and a half and was seen as a necessity to safely ensure those using the bay for fishing or other activities had enough space to park.
But Sanderson said the whole exercise will likely hit ratepayers in the end since someone has to pay for creating the parking lot and removing it.
“Fiscally, it is costing an arm and a leg, as I’m pretty sure all the employees running the heavy equipment were on overtime for the stat holiday,” Sanderson said, noting they will also have to pay to have the removed fill reprocessed/screened for reuse, replant the trees and add a fresh layer of nutrient-rich topsoil.
“Now, who pays for all this kerfuffle and the restoring of wetlands? Will the responsible staff be shorted on their pay to cover the costs of doing wrong and then the cost of undoing their wrong? Will this impact their salaries and bonuses/increases? Probably not.”
While Hughes said the total cost isn’t immediately known, he noted the township is saving money by using its own staff rather than contracting out to remediate the property. “Our own workforce is doing it. We wouldn’t have a billing from it,” he said.
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.
But Sanderson said even if the land wasn’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.
As well, he still finds it hard to believe the township didn’t check with the conservation authority in the first place.
“It’s like finding a gun at a crime scene and not fingerprinting it,” said Sanderson, who earlier referred to the incident as the “son of Burl’s Creek” and now says the outcome is “one small step for the environment.”