Environmental activists disparage development of Mary Lake LTC

November 22, 2023   ·   0 Comments

‘This is the wrong place to locate an LTC’

By Jim Stewart

There was anger in the air followed by an impassioned call to action at the King Bible Church at a special public meeting convened by five environmental activist groups.
The seminar was entitled “Beneath the Surface of Mary Lake: A Microcosm of Ontario’s Struggles with Greenbelt Preservation and Citizen Engagement” and over 125 concerned citizens attended the lively and informative event. There was, indeed, much citizen engagement during the evening, especially during a rapid-fire Q and A session in which one exasperated and ardent audience member literally asked the panel of speakers: “What do you want us to do?”
It was evident that the spirited messages of the five speakers – former King MP Deb Schulte, Save the Oak Ridges Moraine rep Debbe Crandall, Susan Walmer of Oak Ridges Moraine Land Trust, Kingscross Ratepayers Association rep Mary Muter, and Steve Holysh of Ontario Headwaters – resonated with those assembled and each panel member voiced concerns about building a 160-bed LTC facility on the environmentally-sensitive wetlands surrounding Mary Lake.
All speakers were quick to note and emphasized that they were not against the building of a 160-bed facility for seniors – they were, in fact, advocating for such a timely installation of a much-needed LTC in King Township – but they emphatically iterated that such a structure must not be built on the proposed Mary Lake site which is part of the Green Belt and, more specifically, on the Oak Ridges Moraine.
Former MP Deb Schulte noted that she was not against the LTC facilities being built in King; instead, she questioned openly “the location of this facility given its lack of proximity to transit and health care centres.” Through an informative slide show, Schulte showed the prospective site’s dangerous proximity to a kettle lake and she averred that, given existing legislation, “a building this size would never be allowed on the Oak Ridges Moraine.”
Schulte described the building’s approval process as “outrageous” and noted that the current provincial government has been infamous for “its neutering of the Oak Ridges Conservation Authority” and other watchdog groups who would have summarily rejected such a building proposal on these environmentally-sensitive lands.
Mary Muter, of the Kingscross Ratepayers Association, echoed Schulte’s remarks about the devastating consequences of such a building on the groundwater below the St. Rita LTC construction site. She described in graphic detail “that it is illegal to discharge water into a kettle lake” and that “422,000 litres of ground water per day will have to be pumped out of the construction site and sump pumps will have to be installed permanently.”
She also decried the approval of a “scary” building plan that “calls for a retaining wall to hold up a three-story structure while continuously pumping out millions of liters of ground water from the foundation and the base of the retaining wall.”
Muter also noted a significant problem was discovered in the core samples extracted by the developer’s hydrogeologists: “A disturbing element was the presence of oils found in the initial groundwater and soil samples” and she warned that if these contaminants are flushed into the lake as proposed in the building plan, “it will destroy eight species living in the lake. The discharged oily ground water will also kill a significant portion of the plant life that surrounds Mary Lake.”
Her laser pointed to the prospective destruction of sensitive wetlands surrounding Mary Lake akin to a wreath of gnarled, dessicated plant life and further disparaged many of the flaws in the building plan’s treatment of discharge water and storm water including the dangerous erosion of the embankment leading down to the lake from the LTC: “The placement of discharge water into plastic tanks is just one of the problems; storm water will flow – only partially-treated – directly into the lake.”
Muter used repetition for rhetorical effect when she intoned what many of the speakers had mentioned: “It is illegal to discharge storm water into a kettle lake.” This warning became the recurrent motif for the evening and put in clear terms what is at stake in this development at Mary Lake where a ceremonial groundbreaking for the 160-bed LTC took place earlier in the fall.
Muter’s vivid, fact-based descriptions of such environmental degradation as well as decimation of fauna and flora certainly registered with the congregated citizens and she implored them to action by calling for donations – “any amount!” – to fight the building of this LTC in its current site and to “Save Mary Lake” and other kettle lakes from developers. Donor lineups were substantial before and especially after the presentation in the church’s foyer.
Steve Hadolysh, a hydrogeologist from Ontario Headwaters, delineated horror stories of drilling faux pas across Canada that certainly inspired donating to environmental causes locally and nationally. The engaging speaker cited hundreds of reports that his organization has collected over the last ten years warning Canadians about our poor management of groundwater.
He also asserted that the Oak Ridges Moraine Groundwater Program has been a leader in groundwater management for over twenty years and that this valuable and timely data “is not being used by the current provincial government.”
Holysh cited Professor John Cherry’s “Water Talk” hosted by the University of Waterloo where the groundwater expert advised that “water security should be considered a strategic asset” and implored government leaders to step up and lead: “Canada is blessed with abundant natural resources including water and therefore has an obligation to assume a leadership role.”
Holysh presented a daunting picture of human water consumption – “Humans have depleted 1/3 of the groundwater on the planet” and reminded the assembly that “Most surface water has groundwater origins.” He also pointed out “a strawberry from California is made from harvested groundwater deep under the state in its ancient aquifers” and he pointed out that even Minnesota – “The Land of 10,000 Lakes” – is experiencing water shortage problems.
Holysh issued an unsettling warning via Professor Cherry who noted that “this can only lead to disaster for human existence, but we are not even monitoring the path to disaster.”
Holysh closed with what ORMGP does to manage the “huge need” of protecting groundwater and offered a mildly-terrifying vision of “not monitoring our poor management of ground water and the dire implications of building a 160-bed LTC facility at Mary Lake.”
Susan Walmer outlined for the assembly the vital importance of the Oak Ridges Moraine Headwaters via a series of maps and highlighted that “the Moraine is about wetlands and rivers – two valuable assets that need to be protected.” She also reminded the assembly that protecting the woodlands around Mary Lake is equally important: “Forests give us natural health benefits.”
Her succinct warning about the development of Mary Lake was ominous: “It’s a healthy kettle lake right now – it won’t be if this development goes through.”
Walmer discussed the benefits of wetlands and outlined the benefits of activism with direct reference to STORM (Save the Oak Ridges Moraine), an activist group that has been in place since 1989. She championed “the advocacy model” and mentioned many practical actions that audience members could undertake, thus answering the concerned voices in the audience looking for direction and the highest degree of activist efficacy. She cited lessons she has learned after thirty years of advocacy and encouraged those assembled to donate to environmental groups to “protect 470,000 acres of land (of the Oak Ridges Moraine), support climate change resilience, support species at risk, and connect to the land.”
Complementing Walmer’s message was STORM rep Debbe Crandall, who discussed the dangerous environmental deregulation during the Mike Harris years and the repeat performance by the Doug Ford-led government.
Walmer explained the meandering process of “How did we get here tonight? Three years ago, the Augustinians asked for a rezoning order to open a resort and in brazen disregard for the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan, the Ford Government approved the rezoning. After resistance to the plan, the Augustinians changed their grandiose scheme to a 168-bed LTC. It was particularly galling that the Augustinian Fathers’ developer will have to de-water the building site. Equally disturbing is that there is no hydrogeologist on staff at King Township.”
Crandall implored the audience for support: “We truly need your help to save the Oak Ridges Moraine by stopping this development.”
The aim of the meeting was to provide “an open forum to update the public on the ‘Save Mary Lake’ project and highlight the important goals of protecting and sustaining the Oak Ridges Moraine (ORM) as envisioned and described in the regulations of the ORM Conservation Plan, and the direct connection of this kettle lake and the wetlands site within the ORMCP and the Greenbelt.”
Over the course of two and half hours of impassioned public discourse, the meeting became so much more than an informative conservation seminar. It became a call to action not unlike this summer’s province-wide protests against the desecration of the Green Belt by the current provincial government.
Only time will tell if this group of activists have the same high degree of efficacy in successfully repelling the efforts of developers to build on the legacy lands and winding waterways and wetlands of the Oak Ridges Moraine.



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