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Greenbelt expansion ignores needs of Simcoe County, says advocacy group

'Currently, all the land is up for grabs and no one is thinking about our future,' says Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition board member
2021-03-29 Lake Simcoe
Lake Simcoe is shown in a file photo.

Last week, the provincial government announced that it would be further consulting about a potential Greenbelt expansion; however, the proposed areas were limited only to publicly owned land surrounding some urban river valleys in the GTA most of which are already protected by conservation authorities.

Local community advocates see the expansion as a red herring to distract from the real damage that is being done to the existing Greenbelt, Lake Simcoe and Simcoe’s farmland and wetlands through other provincial projects and initiatives.

Margaret Prophet, executive director of the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition (SCGC), says: “While the province expands the Greenbelt to already protected land within Toronto, our region is being used as a land bank for zombie highway projects and MZOs for sprawl. Despite the photo ops and platitudes about loving Lake Simcoe and protecting our environment, the actions on the ground couldn’t be further from that image.”

David Jeffrey, SCGC board member and member of the Reform Gravel Mining Coalition, says: “The places that provide our clean drinking water are also the places that are cheap to pave over and mine for sand and stone. Without provincial protection of these places, we face a sorry future which is why many are calling for a moratorium on new gravel pits and licences until proper study and forecasts for demand can be done. We need to build affordable communities rather than sprawling into forests and wetlands. Currently, all the land is up for grabs and no one is thinking about our future.”

Successive provincial governments have been aware since the early 2000s that the water supply in the area is under threat including a 2006 report that predicted that intense sprawling pressure would threaten the available potable water supply unless intervention was taken. A 2015 report as a part of the Source Water Protect Committee for the area further elaborated on how climate change could see local wells drying up and potentially new sources of water needing to be found to sustain water supply. Reports about the health of Lake Simcoe also demonstrate a lake whose salt and phosphorus levels are increasing as well as beach closures and blue green algae events  all signs of a sick lake.

Prophet worries about the future of the region without stronger protections like the Greenbelt and meaningful climate action.

“We have serious issues that need to be addressed before it is too late. I want a place where kids can still explore forests and swim in the lakes. No one is going to miss another highway or a subdivision full of McMansions, but we will all miss the clean water and forests we are blessed with now. The province has to stop pulling from the 1950s planning guidebook and step up to today’s challenges with modern solutions before its too late.”