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Issues with county position on Freele Tract waste facility

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In Council Watch
Jun 13th, 2020
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Freele Tract

Letter from Robert Wagner, Phelpston June 6 2020

In reference to the article which appeared in today’s edition of the Toronto Star, I note that the County’s spokesperson was Debbie Korolnek, General Manager of Engineering, Planning and Environment.

Just to place Ms. Korolnek’s assertions in the proper perspective, please note the following:

1) Korolnek claims that the County assessed “more than 500 sites….. which were all evaluated using environmental and technical criteria”. While this sounds impressive, the reality is that 501 sites were placed on a list, most of those were forests (which seems an inappropriate approach to choose a site for a massive industrial project), and 494 of those sites were easily dismissed for various, quickly determined reasons. Only 7 sites were fully evaluated, not “all” as stated by Korolnek.

2) Early in the process, the County’s Rob McCullough refused, in writing, to contact an industrial site representative whose name, phone number and e-mail address were provided. That existing industrial site may be more cost effective to develop, rather than starting from scratch in the middle of a forest. After development, it might also be more cost effective to operate, given that is is closer to the City of Barrie (which generates approximately 26% of the garbage in the County), and on route to the end destination for the sorted/processed product. If McCullough had performed the due diligence required of any employee in the private sector, is it possible that the proposed garbage depot could be in operation right now? Is County Council content to rely upon guidance provided by County Staff who (in this case) refused to simply pick up the phone or send an e-mail?

3) At a recent County “Meeting of the Whole”, one of the Counsellors asked whether any of the County Staff had contacted the City of Barrie with regard to jointly developing a site (e.g. if Barrie were to provide the site and the County were to construct the facility, there might be a cost saving). Korolnek answered, on the public record, “Well, the supposition is that the City of Barrie will want to handle its own waste management”. Supposition!? Supposition!? Again, where is the due diligence with respect to taxpayers’ money? This is a multi-million dollar project, and yet not one of the County Counsellors challenged Korolnek’s superficial response to a valid question.

4) The forest in question had been planned for inclusion in the Greenbelt until the change in provincial government after the last election. That forest is situated on top of the “Oro Moraine” and is home to 4 “species at risk”, as formally designated by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. Yet, County Staff had failed to disclose that fact until their hand was forced, after Friends of Simcoe Forests Inc. retained a competent field scientist whose report was presented to County Staff. Why the failure to disclose such an important factor at the outset? Lack of competence? Deliberate intent? What is the explanation, and how does this support the County’s credibility in any of the related matters?

While Korolnek asserts that “95% of the 207-acre Freele Forest will remain untouched and likely be open for public use”, she fails to disclose that the proposed facility will be in the middle of that forest and is intended to operate 13 hours per day (from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.), 6 days per week (from Monday to Saturday inclusive, excluding only Sundays), and will be subject to 420 arrivals/departures of large garbage trucks each and every one of those 6 days (i.e. 210 deliveries and 210 departures). Based on the proposed hours of operation, that equates to 1 arrival/departure every 1.86 minutes, not including the Staff vehicles and the larger transport trucks which will be used to deliver the sorted/processed product to its end destination.

Also, despite County Staff’s assertion that the total increase in traffic along that road (which is a main thoroughfare to cottage country, Wasaga Beach, ski hills, etc.) would only be 6.2%, the reality is that effectively 100% of that increase is heavy truck traffic. Based on an admission from the County’s own transportation specialist, the international “rule of thumb” when conducting traffic surveys allows for 10% of the traffic flow being comprised of heavy truck traffic. In this case, the County’s own projections of a 6.2% increase will equate to a 62% increase in heavy truck traffic, trying to merge in and out of tourist traffic once every 1.86 minutes.

Korolnek also fails to admit that 76% of the participants in the initial series of public meetings were opposed to the placement of the proposed garbage depot in any of our forests, and she fails to acknowledge the subsequent petition which was presented by 1,200 County residents. Can she produce any subsequent public survey which supports the selection of a forest over an industrial site? No. Why not? Are County Staff afraid to ask the question?

Recall the waste of $12 million of taxpayers’ money when this same County Staff persisted in developing a new landfill site on a local farm, which was situated on top of an aquifer? That was the “Site 41” fiasco, and I was one of the demonstrators who took part in the final march to oppose that illogical site selection. The County lost that fight in the face of public pressure and their own failure to arrange operational approval from the Ministry of the Environment. It seems County Staff have now turned their attacks from farms to forests.

These forests belong to the young people of Simcoe County and, more broadly, all of Ontario. Given their participation in world-wide environmental demonstrations last September, it will be interesting to see how they react this September, if construction commences to convert one of their own local forests to an industrial garbage depot.

If there is any concern over wasted time and taxpayers’ money to date, it is clearly County Staff who are responsible for that waste, and it is not clear as to why County Council consistently fail to ask the logical questions, or follow up for substantive responses, or take their own Staff to task for visible failures in due diligence. Let’s just follow up on the existing industrial sites which were/still are available, and get this project done. It should not be necessary to turn a reasonably sound idea into something which is needlessly confrontational.

As for the County’s request for a Minister’s Zoning Order, it seems most likely that this is due to their fear of losing the appeal which is being considered at the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal. Hopefully, the Minister can see through this ploy and simply encourage the Tribunal to get on with it (thereby negating the concern over the timeframe).

One Response to “Issues with county position on Freele Tract waste facility”

  1. Carolyn Elaine Milne says:

    Sent to James Hallworth, auditor for NEPCon, who is doing an audit of the county’s forest management and activities.

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