Residents call out PortsToronto for continuing to ignore escalating health and safety issues surrounding the island airport
By Rosemary Frei
Put your hand up if you went to the February 7 open house and public meeting about the new Master Plan for the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport due to be released early next year.
Now keep your hand up if you think PortsToronto officials were taking the exercise seriously and will make sure the nascent Master Plan reflects your concerns.
Hmmm, now I only see one hand waving in the air — and I think it’s acutally someone trying to fan themselves as they overheat while recalling PortsToronto’s continuing stonewalling.
Here is a sampling of the questions and responses at the meeting, to convey the general sense of disgruntlement.
The number of people using the airport has been increasing exponentially – it rose from 26,000 in 2006 to 2.8 million already by the end of 2013. Four or five people asked whether the climate-change crisis will be taken into account in the Master Plan by reducing the projected future passenger volume rather than letting it continue to, well, skyrocket.
For example, Sarah Miller asked if PortsToronto is liaising with City of Toronto staff and officials to conform to the goals of Transform TO.
“We meet every two weeks with the Waterfront Secretariat,” responded PortsToronto’s Executive Vice President Gene Cabral. “…We have regular dialogue with the city. We’ll make sure that we do what the city asks of us.”
That was Cabral’s most fulsome answer to questions about climate change. (Actually, neither Cabral nor anyone else used the word fulsome that evening, so that was the one positive point about the gathering.)
There also were many queries about the direct health and safety dangers posed by the rising tides of people accessing the island airport.
Richard Persich recounted a recent run-in with a taxi driver at the vehicle-clogged access point to the pedestrian link to the airport.
“The taxidriver whipped right past me, and when I yelled out at him he gave me the finger,” said Persich. “It happens all the time. What’s it going to take? For a kid to be killed? The access to the airport is limited. How can you [continue to] expand? There shouldn’t be an airport there anyway.”
Catherine Exner, who said she’s lived in the Bathurst Quay area since 1995, pointed out that the neighbourhood has “sustained a lot, without any clear input in recognizing the negative inpact of that [quantum increase in passengers] on the people who live there.
“Also, this is an airport that has no real buffer zone. I live 500 metres from the main runway. My kids’ schoolyard is 350 metres from the main runway,” Exner told Cabral. “Does that sound healthy?”
He responded that the airport was more heavily used in the 1970s than it is now.
Exner shot back that nobody lived across from the airport then.
Cabral became somewhat defensive, saying, “We didn’t put [those] buildings there…. We’re trying to do our best so that we’re managing things like traffic and noise.”
Cabral’s answers led to increasing agitation among attendees.
CommunityAIR chair Brian Iler reinforced the voices of those recounting practically choking from the heavily pollution-laden air while sitting on their balconies or walking with their children in nearby parks, particularly at times last summer when lines of planes were idling on the tarmac waiting for gates to become available. Delaying each plane’s take-off would have reduced the queues.
“I don’t understand why you can’t say to Porter, ‘You’re not going to [let your aircraft] sit at the end of the runway and persecute the people [who suffer as a result],’” said Iler. “You let them [Porter] do that. That was just wrong. And offensive to the community.”
A woman named Diane chimed in, imploring PortsToronto to be accountable for the increasing airplane-related pollution.
“People first! The health of the community has to be a high priority! You need [to put] that up there – [instruments to monitor] the air quality,” she said. “I’m begging you: put health first for the commmunities that you’re building airports in.”
Cabral’s response to her — “The Master Plan will take that into consideration for sure” — was as non-commital as it was unconvincing.
So Diane pressed him further, saying, “You need to know the [air-pollution] thresholds … [that are] safe for us to live [with].”
“That will be part of what the Master Plan takes into consideration,” Cabral intoned.
Norman Di Pasquale, chair of No Jets TO, asked if PortsToronto would make a commitment to not expand the airport’s footprint for a runway and safety area if those ever become mandatory.
Cabral said he and his colleagues are waiting to see what Transport Canada requires.
“Maybe you could also rein in the airline [Porter] that wants to pave the lake [to comply with any new regulations],” said Di Pasquale. “You should lean to[ward] using the existing footprint rather than paving the lake any further.”
Cabral fell silent. That was his most common act that evening in the face of serious concerns raised by people living and working in what’s become a densely populated sacrifice zone.