Ajax continues to fight Carruthers Creek urban development amid flooding fears

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Published October 26, 2022 at 3:21 pm

The Town of Ajax continues its pleas to safeguard the Carruther’s Creek headwaters as Durham Region plans thousands of acres of urban sprawl, which could cause extensive flooding if the area is developed.

The headwaters of Carruthers Creek in Pickering and Ajax has long been a flash point of debate regarding the environmental impacts of development.

Ajax town council has been pushing for Green Belt protections for the area since at least the last election. Renewed concerns emerged after reports indicated developing the area would create a greatly increased flood risk, larger flood plains, and diminished water quality.

Council’s calls to include the headwaters in the Green Belt were echoed by the previous Dalton McGuinty and later Kathleen Wynne-led Liberals. They promised to include the waters in the Green Belt but did not do so during their 15 years in power.

In his 2018 race for Ajax’s seat in Queen’s Park, then-candidate Rod Phillips also promised to include the area in the Green Belt, but also did not deliver despite serving as the Progressive Conservative (PC) Doug Ford Government’s Environment Minister.

Phillips was later moved to Finance Minister, ejected from cabinet after lying about a tropical vacation during a COVID-19 lockdown, and then returned from exile as Long-Term Care Minister. He did not seek re-election, abandoning the seat in February 2022. He was replaced months later by the new Ajax PC MPP Patrice Barnes.

Later, Pickering put forward the creek area as a potential location for the new Lakeridge Health hospital. This ignited renewed calls to protect the area. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath was among the first provincial voices to renew calls to protect the creek in 2021 during a visit in Ajax.

Horwath later tapped noted environmentalist and former mayor of Ajax, Steve Parish, to run in Ajax in 2022. However he was quickly ousted from the race amid controversy over naming a street after a Nazi ship captain in 2007.

Shortly after Horwath’s visit, Phillips reiterated a desire to protect the area. However protections never came even as other parts of Durham Region were brought into the Green Belt.

Fears of developing the area flared up again when Pickering put forward the area as a potential home for a new Lakeridge Health hospital. Ultimately, despite pleas from Oshawa and Pickering, Lakeridge chose Whitby to host the new site.

However, concerns for Carruthers Creek have not abated. Durham Region has long been debating how to accommodate an expected doubling of the population over the coming years. Projections indicate the Region will grow to 1.2 million people.

The Region weighed a few options in how to expand ranging from increasing the density in the urban cores, to heavily expanding less dense suburban areas. Ajax has vocally pursued higher density, but other municipalities, such as Pickering have advocated for sprawl.

Ultimately Regional council opted for a option that would consume 9,300 acres of farmland for lower density development. The motion passed by a slim margin of 16-11. All Ajax representatives voted against the move.

Ajax Mayor Shaun Collier slammed the move at the time calling it “short sighted” and “developer friendly.”

“This short-sighted decision makes the urbanization of the Carruthers Creek headwaters not only possible, but likely, ” he said, “Leapfrogging the Greenbelt to develop a community of 60,000 people in north-east Pickering greatly increases the risk of downstream flooding in Ajax. To date, developers have proposed only the minimum measures to mitigate the negative impacts.”

Collier doubled down shortly before his re-election writing a letter to current environment minister David Piccini. He has again requested Piccini add the creek to the Greenbelt, or failing that, to the Growth Plan Natural Heritage System.

The boundaries of such an addition are outlined in the Carruthers Creek Watershed Plan. However this would require more study to finalize the boundaries.

“With the headwaters in play,” Collier said, “the residents of Ajax deserve answers to several important questions: what flood and erosion mitigations will be put in place; how will water quality and quantity be protected; and who will pay for flood mitigation solutions?”

He concluded, “Ajax cannot be the only voice in the conversation. All parties must come together to find solutions to preserving this sensitive aquatic ecosystem, and to protecting the residents of Ajax from downstream flooding.”

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