• Protecting Water and Farmland in Simcoe County

Monday July 20: proposed Strawberry Island OPA at Ramara

In Agencies
Jul 13th, 2015
Strawberry Island

From Pamela Fulford Change.org

Thank you so much to all of you. Our Change.org plus hand signed petitions totalled over 1500 people! The petition to protect Strawberry Island was presented to Ramara Township Council on June 15 with a huge supporting crowd of 200 people. The speakers for Strawberry Island were clear and powerful and the night was a success but the battle continues.

The big news now is that Ramara Township’s consultant planner, Mark Dorfman will be presenting his Official Plan Amendment (OPA) for the island and Ramara Council will be discussing it at a Committee Meeting on Monday July 20 and voting on the OPA on Monday July 27. I believe both meetings will be held at the Brechin Township Office at 7 pm. If you can, please come out to both or either. We will not be able to speak, only listen.

Both Simcoe County, LSRCA (and I) have told Council it is premature to vote on this. And how can they, before the significance of the woodland is recognized by the developer or the 100m vegetation protection zone is included in the design? How can they set the densities on this island before they know what part of the island is developable?

Here is my latest letter, sorry it’s so long:

July 1, 2015

The Honourable Glen Murray
Minister of the Environment and Climate Change

Dear Minister Murray:

Re: Strawberry Island in Lake Simcoe threatened by Trans America Group Development Application based on Miscalculations of Phosphorus Loading

It has been scientifically proven that excess phosphorus in lakes encourages algae and weed growth and robs the water of oxygen, much needed for sustaining fish and invertebrate populations. Also algal blooms can make drinking water toxic to humans. Many Lake Simcoe shoreline dwellers still use lake water piped into their homes for drinking and washing. We want our water to stay clean.

The Strawberry Island proposal is a perfect storm of negative, accumulative, development impacts. Eight hectares of the island are deemed Significant Woodland under the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan Technical Definitions, yet 5 hectares are to be cut down. The island provides diverse woodland and wetland habitat to a rich variety of flora and fauna including five Species at Risk, Significant Wildlife Habitat and interior forest species. These will mostly be gone if this development is approved. Most concerning is that an increase in the Total Phosphorous (TP) concentration could directly affect the drinking water quality for Lake Simcoe inhabitants and degrade the critical cold water fish spawning shoals around Strawberry Island. According to the MNRF, lake trout and lake whitefish are naturally reproducing in Lake Simcoe for the first time in 40 years. We do not want to endanger their recovering populations by increasing phosphorus loading around Strawberry Island.

In 2014, MOECC staff essentially encouraged a massive 120 unit development on this small 10 hectare island in Lake Simcoe. In pre-application consultation through emails sent from MOECC staff to the developer (FSP, Appendix A) the limits for the development were virtually established. By the time the formal application is made for the Environmental Compliance Approval (ECA) from MOECC, the development will be a done deal and the ECA will be an irrelevant afterthought. Effluent quality targets and limits for phosphorus have already been set by the developer. The application is slated for a vote at Ramara Township Council on July 27, leaving any eventual weigh-in by MOECC ineffectual.

This glaring inconsistency and backwards timing is unfair to residents and to Ramara Township, since all the initial important decisions have already been made between MOECC and the developer privately, prior to other Ministries, Ramara Township and the public being officially circulated on the developer’s reports. The developer is granted privileged access, the Province steps back, and the community is barred from the process or simply ignored. This is not how the MMAH “one window” process should work. This particular “one window” is actually a closed and non-functional window. It is an unfair process that is biased in favour of the developer. If inappropriate development applications such as this are not corrected early, the costly and often biased option left available is the OMB, a choice that no one wants. This failed example of “one window” will be sent to MMAH to be considered in its current Municipal Legislation Review under separate correspondence.

Who is responsible for the implementation of the Lake Simcoe Protection Act? I spoke with our township’s planning consultant (we are too small to have our own Planner). When I told him I had read the June 25 letter from Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority that claimed “adoption of any amendments would be premature until conformity and consistency with Provincial Policy has been demonstrated”, he shrugged and said, “They are entitled to their own opinion.” It seems that the Ramara Township planning consultant thinks LSRCA is just another opinion rather than a knowledgeable, trained and informed agency. It implies that there is no legal requirement for Ramara Council to heed LSRCA recommendations. Simcoe County similarly suggests that a decision on this application is currently premature (Letter to MMAH, May 29). Will the County’s comments also be dismissed by Ramara Township? Who has the power and knowledge to ensure that the LSPA is properly implemented?

The island is zoned Rural under Ramara Township’s Official Plan and has provided solace to a small monastery of monks from 1922 until 2005, when the island was sold. It has been uninhabited for 10 years. The maximum number of people on the island for 90 years was 55 people with a small septic system designed to handle 10,000 litres per day. The consultant for the developer presented slides at the Ramara Township Public Council meeting of June 15, 2015. He showed the phosphorus discharge from the proposed sewage treatment plant that is designed for up to 500 people and 137,000 litres of sewage per day. He said the effluent discharge into the leaching field had 1.0 mg/L of total phosphorous and the shoreline phosphorus concentration would be 0.5 mg/L. This is about 50 times the existing concentration of total phosphorus around Strawberry Island now (0.01 mg/L).

What the developer’s consultant’s slides did not show was the last step used in the consultants’ calculations – diluting the sewage discharge by the flow of the entire lake (Jan 2015 FSP pg 16). The consultants propose to dilute the sewage discharge by the entire lake flow so it can meet the clean 0.01 mg/L level of phosphorus that exists now around the island. This is flawed, erroneous and does not stand up to intelligent review. This calculation assumes that the 0.5mg/L TP at the shoreline from the development somehow instantaneously mixes with the entire water flow of Lake Simcoe. This is impossible because the phosphorus discharging from the development will never fully dilute into the total water flow of the lake. Furthermore, the solution to pollution is NOT dilution. The large 120 unit development will cause a continuous leaking of local, higher concentrated phosphorus into the lake around the island. More analysis and a smaller sewage system capacity are essential because the proposed development will increase the concentration of total phosphorus in the water around the island.

The Functional Servicing Plan (FSP) incorrectly claims that the “existing system” contributes 12.2 kg total phosphorous annually to Lake Simcoe (Jan 2015 FSP, p 16). The “existing system” has not been used for 10 years and is likely inoperable. This load calculation is invalid as it is based on the FSP estimate – not actual data – from an inactive septic system built in 1986. Current data show that the pre-development total phosphorous load is actually 0.71 kg/yr. (App. E). Due to the proposed development, a higher phosphorous concentration around the island will likely damage the sensitive and significant fish spawning areas and threaten the drinking water quality due to potential increased algal growth. It is contrary to the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan 4.4-DP that states: “No new non-municipal sewage treatment plant shall be established in the Lake Simcoe watershed unless the person applying to establish the plant can demonstrate that: a. the plant will result in a net reduction of phosphorous loadings to the watershed from the baseline conditions for the property that would be serviced by the new plant; or b. the undertaking that the plant will serve will not add phosphorous loadings to the Lake Simcoe watershed.”

The true baseline conditions for the property are 0.01 mg/L total phosphorus.

Furthermore, the developer’s consultants base their phosphorus loading amounts on 243 days a year rather than 365 days. They claim the development to be “seasonal” although there is no way to guarantee, monitor or enforce seasonal usage. Year-round islands exist on Lake Simcoe and Strawberry Island will be used year-round as well. Any phosphorus loading calculation must be based on 365 days per year. Anything less is simply not supportable, scientific or acceptable. Conservative estimates are essential on Lake Simcoe, which is the only lake in Canada that has its own protective legislation.

The water table level was measured in April 2015 to determine the ground water level on Strawberry Island in order to build the sewage facility that will handle up to 137,000 litres of sewage per day. The new information is that the water table is “1 foot” below the grade level in the area of the leaching field. No one wants the Strawberry Island sewage leaching field to discharge sewage into the water table. Further analysis is required to ascertain a conservative spring water table level such that any proposed septic tile bed construction will be guaranteed to be above the water table under the most extreme circumstances.

We are dealing with a small island and 4,300 feet of natural shoreline that is directly exposed to the lake – a special island ecosystem. I represent 1500 people who signed a petition to protect this island. We do not expect MOECC staff to comment regarding the Significant Woodlands, Significant Wildlife Habitat, Species at Risk or wetlands that are all currently threatened on Strawberry Island. That is for others to do. But we do expect you to properly address our concerns regarding the excess phosphorus loading that will result from this super-sized development on this small but historical and naturally diverse island. We had expected the developer to downsize this development to an appropriate capacity long before now in order to meet the requirements of the LSPP. To our dismay, the development has continued to increase in size, hence this letter to you today. The LSPA is a good law, a strong law, but proper implementation is key to its success. Excess phosphorus loading is why the law was created.

We are asking you to establish the limits now for the Trans America Group Inc. development application for Strawberry Island in a transparent, accountable, understandable and scientific way.

I shall respectfully request that Ramara Township Council awaits your comments before making any OPA or zoning change decision. Please respond soon. It is not certain that they will wait.

Pamela Fulford

Cc to:
Garfield Dunlop, MPP
Bruce Stanton, MP
Premier Kathleen Wynne, Province of Ontario
Michael Walters, LSRCA
Lisa-Beth Bulford, LSRCA
Dan Kingsbury, Simcoe County
Cindy Hood, MOECC
Ramara Township Council and Staff
Friends of Strawberry Island
Mark Dorfman, Planning Consultant, Ramara Township
Kim Benner, Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry
Amanda McLachlan, Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry

2 Responses to “Monday July 20: proposed Strawberry Island OPA at Ramara”

  1. Ann says:

    This whole development is insane and must be stopped!
    It completely violates the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan and will destroy one of the last wild places left on Lake Simcoe.
    This is just more developer greed. They have no respect for the environment, only their bottom line!
    Ramara Council can’t allow this to go ahead! They need to listen to the people who elected them.
    Keep up the good work Pamela! We are all behind you!

  2. When I first heard of Strawberry Island all I could think about was the foot print it would leave. What came to mind was a friend. He owns a place in the Midland area. One Friday afternoon my husband and I went to visit him. We had to drive through the bush, for several minutes, on a private road. His cottage is fairly isolated. There are five other cottages in the area. All are built on lots of an acre or so. When we first arrived it was so peaceful. A Pileated Wood Pecker came by to work on a tree for a while. We heard the call of a loon in the distance. Sometimes a little brown squirrel would scurry through. I thought my friend had owned a little peace of heaven. Then about five that afternoon I heard car doors opening and closing from the one neighbour. A short time later they started up their boat. At the same time a cigar boat had arrived at another cottage. They stopped at their dock to drop someone off before driving off to make large circles in the lake. Then jet skies started up just before the helicopter arrived. The helicopter went up and landed a few times before we left at about five thirty. All of this in the time frame of about half an hour. This was the noise of three cottages, including ourselves. The others hadn’t arrived yet. These people were doing nothing wrong. They were just enjoying their cottage on the lake. However, I think it would have been more peaceful if they had build beside the Gardener Expressway. I know that Lake Simcoe is a busy lake. However, making it even busier isn’t the way to go. Is this what we want to add to our already busy lake?

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