Land Over Landings says it’s time to put an end to the Pickering Airport dream

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Published March 27, 2023 at 10:26 am

Photo courtesy Land Over Landings

The federal government’s decision to study the impacts of development in and near Rouge National Urban Park is “one more strike” against the chance – becoming more remote each year – of a future international airport immediately to the north of the park, says citizen-led advocacy group Land Over Landings.

The organization, a successor to People or Planes, have been pushing Ottawa to return all the lands expropriated in 1972 for a future airport in north Pickering since 2005 and Land Over Landings Chair Mary Delaney put the question to federal officials that if they think building housing developments near the park is a problem, “what about an airport?”

A national park and an airport are “fundamentally incompatible,” Delaney said in a news release Sunday. “A national park’s mandate is to protect the wildlife and ecosystems within its boundaries. An airport’s mandate – which overrides all others – is to protect the safety of aircraft, crew, and passengers by scaring off, trapping, or killing birds and other wildlife within the airport’s wildlife hazard zone.”

The federal government expropriated 18,600 acres of mostly farmland in north Pickering, Uxbridge, and Markham 51 years ago for a six-runway international airport. Another 25,000 acres were expropriated at the same time by the provincial government for what is now the Seaton development.

The airport was never built and some of the expropriated acreage eventually became protected as the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve. Those lands that are now under threat from the Doug Ford government after it removed them from the protected greenbelt, along with 12 other parcels of land, on October 26, the day after the election.

Now Ottawa has stepped in, with Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault announcing last week a joint study on the impacts of development on the park and on the adjacent agricultural preserve.

“We welcome this federal study,” said Delaney, who believes the impact of a future airport on the park – which will “erase the natural landscape,” she claimed – will also be assessed. “We consider this announcement one more strike against an airport in north Pickering, and one more step towards adding the federal Pickering Lands to Rouge National Urban Park.”

Because bird habitat near an airport is a safety issue, Land Over Landings believes giving the airport a green light will give the government permission for bird breeding grounds and environmentally sensitive wetlands to be “destroyed” during construction.

“If an airport were built (Rouge National Urban Park) would be unable to meet its environmental integrity requirements,” she said. Saying no to an airport and further development near the park and the agricultural preserve she added, would be “affirmative climate action” and would “solve many environmental issues at once, both present and future.”

Rouge National Urban Park was first announced in 2013 by the federal government and 5,200 acres of the airport site were officially transferred to the new Park in April 2015. A second transfer was announced that same year and the land was officially turned over in 2017, bringing the total transfer from airport site to the park to 10,000 acres.

Since then, there has been growing pressure to move the remaining Pickering airport lands into the park, where their wild spaces can be protected and their agricultural lands can continue to be farmed.

David Masters of Land Over Landings was at a Pickering Council  meeting February 27, asking the City to reverse its decision in 2017 to support the future airport and “stop wasting taxpayer money” on the campaign.

Masters was one of more than a dozen delegates that day asking for the airport dream to be put to bed, including family members of famed sculptor, inventor, naturist and filmmaker Bil Lishman (1939-2017) and his wife, fashion designer Paula Lishman.

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