Toronto

45 years later, will Pickering finally get an airport?

A long-discussed plan to build an airport in Pickering may get new lift from a staff report expected to come before city council's planning committee Monday.

Mayor Dave Ryan says council will 'urge the federal government to get on with it'

Mary Delaney is the chair of Land Over Landings, a group that's long protested a proposed airport in Pickering. (Jonathan Castell)

The question of whether or not to build an airport in Pickering has been the talk of the city for more than four decades, but that's pretty much all it's been.

Now that talk appears to be taking off again with a new staff report expected to go before Pickering city council's planning committee Monday.

"We're urging the federal government to get on with it," said Pickering Mayor Dave Ryan.

It was back in 1972 — when the other Trudeau was Prime Minister and the CN Tower was still under construction — when the Government of Canada bought 18,600 acres of land with plans to develop an airport.

Back in 1972, the Government of Canada bought 18,600 acres of land with plans to develop an airport. (Jonathan Castell)

A number of homes and farmland were expropriated, fuelling community opposition that ultimately shelved the airport plan.

Now 45 years later, council plans to ask the federal government to make a decision once and for all.

"We've been in limbo too long," said Ward 2 Coun. Ian Cumming.

Study after study

The decision to build ultimately lands with Transport Canada.

It released a study in 2011 that found Toronto Pearson International Airport would likely reach capacity sometime between 2027-2037, making the case for flights in and out of Pickering, located about 43 kilometres east of downtown Toronto.

Then the project seemed to take a big step forward in 2013, when the late federal finance minister Jim Flaherty, announced after "decades of uncertainty" an airport would indeed be built in Pickering.

At the same time, Flaherty announced the creation of the Rouge National Urban Park. About half of the original parcel of land is now dedicated to green space.

Advocates: keep the land green

A group of advocates in Pickering want the remaining land preserved.

A group of advocates, part of a group called Land over Landings, want the remaining land preserved. (Jonathan Castell)

"How can anyone justify paving the best farmland and cleanest water for an unneeded airport?" said Mary Delaney, the chair of Land Over Landings.

The group is planning its own study, arguing agriculture could help boost the local economy.

Pickering Needs to Know

Ryan says he's personally in favour of an airport. He believes it will create much-needed jobs.

He says whatever the case, Pickering needs an answer.

"As a municipality we've had to plan around what I call a hole in the donut, because we just don't know."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shannon Martin

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Shannon is an award-winning reporter with CBC Toronto. She was part of the core team that launched "No Fixed Address", a hugely popular series on millenials renting and buying in Toronto. In 2016, Shannon hosted a special live broadcast on-air and on Facebook simultaneously from Toronto Pride, which won top honours in the Digital category at the RTDNA awards. Contact Shannon: shannon.martin@cbc.ca or find her on Instagram at @ShannonMartinTV.

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