Simcoe County should be considered a priority area for greenbelt expansion, say local environmental groups

Groups warn Lake Simcoe is already in declining health

A recent report authored by the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition and Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition (Lake Simcoe Under Pressure 2021: Key Stressors and Solutions) warned huge projects in the area will overwhelm Lake Simcoe – which they said was a lake already in declining health.

The province is seeking feedback on how and where to grow the Greenbelt in Ontario until Apr. 19. Two local environmental groups are calling for the province to consider Simcoe County as a priority area for Greenbelt expansion, considering the growth pressures within the County and the health of Lake Simcoe.

“In 2018, Simcoe County was proposed by the province as a key area to expand Greenbelt protections to and for good reason,” says Margaret Prophet of the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition. “The sustainability of our farmland, significant wetlands, key shorelines and forests are threatened by the urbanization pressures we’re facing that encourage sprawl. We need to ensure the highest level of protection for our landscapes and water before we lose it to overdevelopment.”

The recent report by the two environmental groups outlines several recommendations about how to keep the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan strong as well as cancelling the outlined projects as they are currently proposed. The groups recommends to grow the Greenbelt to help protect the portion of the Lake Simcoe watershed that isn’t already in Greenbelt to protect its farmland, areas of hydrological importance, and to constrain urban growth in Simcoe County.

“We cannot afford to ignore the bigger picture,” says Claire Malcolmson of the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition. “The science about the lake and climate is telling us that already our land use planning decisions are destroying the places and water we care about. Building large scale infrastructure projects through MZOs and “streamlined” environmental assessments is using the same 1950s solutions that got us here in the first place. Lake Simcoe needs serious champions with a sense of urgency about the lake’s predicament because the impacts of decisions made today will be with us for centuries.”

The groups said they recognize the need to expand the Greenbelt to Simcoe County is urgent because Ontario recently changed many planning policies; municipalities are being directed to calculate the amount of land they will need to accommodate growth to 2051 with market based methodologies that favour sprawl.

Malcolmson said, “It’s expected that the watershed’s population will more than double and likely add 20 tonnes of phosphorus to the lake by 2051. The Lake Simcoe Protection Plan target is to lower phosphorus loads from an average of 90 tonnes to 44 tonnes per year by 2045. We are concerned that the province is approving development without any public discussion or consideration of the long term damage it causes to Lake Simcoe. That should concern everyone.”

The public has until April 19th to contact the province and encourage them to expand the Greenbelt to Simcoe County. The projects outlined in the report will also likely be decided on in the near future as well.

“There isn’t a single solution to fix the problems that recent provincial policy changes have created, but reconsidering these large infrastructure projects, strengthening the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan and expanding the Greenbelt to vulnerable areas are a good start,” said Malcolmson.

The public can review the Lake Simcoe Under Pressure report at: www.rescuelakesimcoe.org.  For those interested in submitting comments to the province about including Simcoe County and protecting Lake Simcoe with Greenbelt expansion, you can visit www.simcoecountygreenbelt.ca for tools and tips.

Ontario’s comment portal on Greenbelt expansion is at https://ero.ontario.ca/notice/019-3136 

Lake Simcoe Under Pressure can be found at www.RescueLakeSimcoe.org