Air Park battle between residents and Vince Rossi is part of a much bigger question: Does the Region want an airport?



By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.  June 24, 2013.  They will apparently meet in a barn – during one of the hottest days so far this year.  The barn is in a direct line with the north-south runway the Air Park wants to extend once it has acquired the land to the north of the existing Air Park.  That land will become a runway ending at the edge of Vanessa Warren’s property where she expects to develop an equestrian facility.  Vanessa is not pleased nor are the members of the Rural Burlington Greenbelt Coalition, which is made up in part of LARA, Lowville Area Residents Association, PERL Protect Escarpment and Rural Lands and  CONE , Coalition on the Niagara Escarpment.

Landfill from the Air Park crowds the fence of the Cousin’s property on Appleby Line.

The meeting is the first event since the Regional government heard delegations last week from both the Coalition and Tim Crawford who was representing Vince Rossi, owner of the Air Park.

Barbara Sheldon walks to the south side of her property – only to look up at a 30 foot + hill of landfill that touches the edge of her property and there is apparently nothing she can do about what a commercial operation has done.

At that Regional Council meeting Burlington Councillor John Taylor pulled five undertakings from Crawford, who admitted that while he was speaking on behalf of the Air Park he had no authority to actually bind the corporation.

The five undertakings Taylor believes he has from the Air Park are:

1.      “Shave” the earth piles back on Cousins and Sheldon properties to improve views;

2.      Conduct well and surface water testing under MOE supervision of the surrounding properties for contamination;

3.      Provide verification that the 58 soil samples provided are a complete set of all sources for the last five years and are fully representative of each source; if not complete provide other samples;

4.      Provide a drawing where each fill source is located on property; and

5.      Agree to provide a site development plan for review by City and Regional Planning Departments; and conduct a public meeting to get public input on the plan and review results.

Crawford’s apparent willingness to provide this information and to have the Air Park make the changes set out – is a significant step away from the position that corporation has been maintaining for the past five years and that was that the Air Park is a federally regulated operation which does not have to respond to the wishes, by-laws or rules of either the province, the Regional government or a municipality.  They have maintained they are responsible to the federal minister of transportation only and for the past five years they have managed to get away with that story.

Oakville Mayor Rob Burton advised Vanessa Williams that she had rights that had been trampled upon and that there is jurisprudence and precedent in place that suggests her property and that of any other resident can be returned to its pristine condition if damage is proven.

Many don’t expect the meeting to last much more than fifteen minutes before Vince Rossi blows a gasket and storms out. The Warren property has not yet been damaged, just threatened,  but the Sheldon and the Cousins property has certain been severely damaged.

This evening Vince Rossi is expected to meet face to face with the steering committee of the coalition.  The meeting is being held in a private home and will be chaired by city of Burlington General Manager Scott Stewart who knows how to manage a meeting with any number of hot-heads in the room.

Many don’t expect the meeting to last much more than fifteen minutes before Vince Rossi blows a gasket and storms out.  Others don’t think he will bother to show up but send the hapless Tim Crawford again.

The Regional council meeting certainly, as Mayor Goldring put it,” left Rossi badly overdrawn on his public relations account.”

The attempt at a meeting with the community was to be a first step on the part of the city to begin a dialogue with Rossi.  The hope was that if a first meeting could take place then possibly there would be an opportunity for a larger community wide meeting.

Meanwhile the city’s legal department is working through its options and expects to report to a city council meeting with recommendations as to what the city can do.  Given the way the legal department in Burlington operates they will ask to hold the discussions in a closed session.  This might be one of those instances where the lawyers will be right.  Get council approval on a direction, file the papers at the Court House in Milton and have them served on the Air Park and then advise the public on what has been done.

Air Park Counsel Glen Grenier wasn’t prepared for a city manager like Jeff Fielding who supported his legal team to the hilt and basically suggested the Mayor send the lawyer packing – which he did. Here Fielding and Grenier spar verbally while city lawyers Blake Hurley and city solicitor Nancy Shea Nicol look on.

What is abundantly clear is that the different political jurisdictions have Vince Rossi on the run.  He can no longer maintain that he is responsible only to the federal government.  That position was lost when Burlington’s city council balked at the Glenn Grenier, the Air Park’s legal counsel of the day,  tried to push past them when he delegated.  Rossi appears to have parted ways with that lawyer.  There will be others.

The much bigger question the city and the Region as well as the provincial government has to ask and answer and that is: should there be an airport in north Burlington.While the city works on two fronts: determining what their legal options are and what they can develop in terms of a strategy, while at the same time doing their best to work with the people most impacted by the damage being done as a result of thousands of tonnes of landfill being dumped on Air Park property, there is a much bigger question the city and the Region as well as the provincial government has to ask and answer and that is: should there be an airport in north Burlington.

Do we want a “Buttonville” West?  There are those who think that would be a super idea and great for economic development for the Region.  Oakville’s Mayor Rob Burton tried to draw those for the idea of an airport out of the bushes at the Regional meeting but they chose to stay hidden.  Make no mistake – there are those who think an airport would be great.

Rossi certainly has his supporters who have helped him get away with his antics for the past five years.  That gig of Rossi’s is over – but the bigger question has yet to be asked publicly and then answered.

We will return to that question.

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13 comments to Air Park battle between residents and Vince Rossi is part of a much bigger question: Does the Region want an airport?

  • Andrew Forber

    Roger, I actually agree with you. It requires a bad misreading of any of my previous messages to say otherwise. And I have said as much to some people at the airport. If you have been near the airport for long you will know that we pilots try to accomodate the neighbours and reduce our impact on them.

    On the other hand, we recognize that the airport needs to grow in order to be viable, and as I’ve said previously that will benefit a great many people. It’s not a question of whether, but how. I am hopeful that the airport and the neighbours can resolve their issues. The best way to do that is to keep the discussion honest and civilized.

    • Andrew Forber

      (I should say that I agree with you *PARTLY*. Your assertion about it “should be illegal or soon will be” is almost certainly mistaken. The federal jurisdiction is strong here, and is there for good reasons: I could write a long article about that, some time. Whether the current regulatory regime is adequate is another story.)

      • Roger

        The Federal government has jurisidiction over aeronautics, agreed. However they have no regulations or development process for the construction or expansion of an airpark / aerodrome. That is absurd! There are well founded reasons for having a planning and development regime and process. The current serious problems with the Burlington Airpark works and others across the Province are because responsible standards and protocols were not and are not followed. The result is loss of prime agricultural lands, flooding of neighbour properties, loss of farm fields, killing of vegetation / trees, and potentially the contamination of drinking water wells and streams.
        The Feds need to set regulations, or allow the Municipalities to apply their long proven development processes. This must be done before our landscapes are buried under mountains of construction fill. There is a place for everything. Responsible people applying responsible ecological land stewardship will find a way, assuming legislators open their eyes to the long term damage being needlessly done.

        • Andrew Forber

          I’m not certain from your message whether you’re still arguing with me, since I mostly agree with you. There is a gap in the standards and enforcement. I will say that the airport has been more cooperative on some of these issues than has often been portrayed here.
          The reason for the federal jurisdiction is that aerodromes influence and value extend well beyond the municipalities’ borders, or even the provincial ones. My own view is that development should be done with due regard to good environmental practice and with due consideration to neighbours, but that municipalities must not have the ability to unreasonably restrict the development of infrastructure projects like airports which transcend their boundaries. The key word is “unreasonably”. And from where I’m sitting there are reasonable people who have reasonable concerns here, and there are unreasonable people who do not. And with the state of news coverage and misinformation being spread, and emotions running high, it’s difficult to tell which is which. That is why I am trying to urge calm, and ask for a balanced view of verifiable facts. Let’s have an adult conversation about it, and try to make progress, rather than just shouting at each other.

          Editors note: Halleluiah on the “adult conversation” suggestion.

          • Roger

            Andrew, I think we are aligning on these last points.
            It would be great to have the Feds pass guidelines and regulations on airpark aerodrome construction and expansion, especially as it pertains to site alteration, grading and fill. Unfortunately, the House is not sitting, and the Feds appear uninterested in changing. So what now? How do we stop the destruction, and how do we correct the damage, now? In the short term, the Burlington Airpark could voluntarily agree to, without prejudice, adopt and implement the Municipal guidelines and standards as detailed in their Site Alteration Bylaw, which applies to every other business wishing to do works. Burlington’s Site Alteration Bylaw is similar to other Municipalities.
            We need to responsibly move forward taking all stakeholders’ needs into account, including that of the environment.
            I appreciate the dialogue. Thank you.

  • Andrew Forber

    Except, Stephanie, that I have never said that. Ever. Your anger over what is going on is blinding you to facts, and it would probably be good for you to step back for a few minutes and reconsider.

    I have never ever said that the airport has a right to “destroy lands, lives and lifestyles” (which are, by the way, fairly extravagant claims). On the contrary, I have expressed sympathy for neighbours who are negatively affected and expressed hope that the issues can be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. I would appreciate it if you could refrain from trying to put words in my mouth.

    I also see a logical flaw in something else you attributed to me: I have never said that there are no neighbours whose residence pre-dates the airport. What I have said is that there are SOME neighbours who moved in after the airport was created and began complaining about it, even before any expansion work was done. Personally I know of at three instances where people have bought homes near the airport and, within weeks, have begun to complain about the noise of airplanes, without any changes having been made at the airport. As pilots we try to be good neighbours. We sigh, and we mutter at the foolishness of people who do not research their new purchases, and who then complain that their bad decisions are someone else’s fault. We change our procedures in ways that may shave safety or cost us money, and we try to continue. Sometimes there are changes due to changes at the airport, and as pilots we try to mitigate them: I spent time Saturday morning with Milt Farrell and a group of pilots talking about what we can do to reduce noise for neighbours on the west side of the airport when doing engine run-ups, to try to make their homes a bit quieter: this in the absence (to my knowledge) of a complaint. So don’t point at pilots here, we’re not the bad guys.

    I find several things in this discussion unfortunate. One is that people with no legitimate complaints are being given, in some cases, equal credibility to those who do have valid complaints, which does not help the people with valid complaints. If you lend credence to NIMBY-ism then you create antagonism across the table, which will only hurt the people asking to have *actual* harms redressed.

    Another problem is the level of rhetoric I’ve seen here and on some related web sites. Uninformed and scurrilous speculation about someone leaving the country or duping people is just venting. It does not belong in a rational discussion of the facts of the matter. All it does is create and promote anger, which will prevent amicable resolutions from being reached. If we’re going to have a polite conversation – which is the only way to resolve anything – gratuitous insults should be off the table.

    Another problem is criticism of either side by people unqualified to do the criticism. Have you ever run a multi-million dollar corporation? Have you ever run an airport? Have you tried to build a business completely on speculation that other businesses will come to justify your risk? This talk of economic development plans is fine for people who run sewer systems or have captive markets, who have a regular tax base and predictable budgets, or have drawn salaries all their lives and can predict their income. Mr. Rossi, whatever else you think of him, has invested millions of dollars of his own money on a venture which may benefit many people, with NO guarantee of a return. It’s naturally unpredictable, and few of the variables are under the control of the business in question. You might as well ask if it’s going to be sunny on Saturday six weeks from now.

    I also have a problem, naturally, with one-sided coverage on this WordPress blog. I hope that will be remedied soon, there are encouraging signs. Let’s hope such discussions are not derailed by elevated rhetoric.

    • stephanie cooper-smyth

      Oh Andrew….again….you raise emotions but avoid the issues.

      In the past you’ve asked for an ‘intelligent discussion’ but how can we talk intelligently with you Andrew?

      1) You have declared (again) but provided no proof of the “fairly extravagant claims” to the massive destruction and damage – yet you’ve apparently never been on the sites of the damaged properties. For the record and public consumption, the Coalition and residents have provided substantiated proof of this to Regional and City Councils and their staffs.

      2) Rossi’s personal investment is irrelevant and the cost of doing business. Oh – and regarding anyone anyone who tries to build a business completely on the speculation that other businesses will come to justify your risk? Ask anyone successful business person if this should be done…
      and please get back to us on your research!

      3)You seem to have missed the constant claim by your landlord that the Airpark can provide strong economic development and income to the region – but when asked, has never produced a plan.

      To paraphrase what an esteemed and intelligent member of Halton Regional Council declared: This is amateur hour at its finest.

      • Andrew Forber

        I’m referring to your unhelpful rhetoric. “Destroy lands, lives and lifestyles” is pretty dramatic. I have lost several friends to cancer in the last couple of years: that’s what I call “destroying lives”. Your standards may vary for what the word “destroy” means. “Damage” is a fair word to use, in my opinion. “Destroy” is hyperbolic. First-world problems, and all that.

        I have not seen the documentation of which you speak. Perhaps you’d be good enough to point that out. I have seen some claims of 1000 trucks a day, which hasn’t been substantiated that I know of and seems absurd. I’ve heard people claiming that airlines would be moving in to the airpark, which is as likely as Starfleet setting up shop there. I’ve read on this site that soil testing was never done, and then that the results of soil testing were being shared, in articles written on the same day by the same person. I’ve heard someone spreading word that an inflated price was being paid to buy land near the airport, which was proven not to be the case (and already known to be untrue by the person saying it). I’ve seen a web site claiming outright that there’s “illegal dumping” going on, which is (a) perjorative and (b) not true until established by competent legal authority, and probably actionable if someone really got upset.

        Also, your statement about how to run a business speculating whether it will pay off indicates clearly that you’ve never been in business. If you do want some kind of substantiation of the value of airports, though, you should look at the independent studies which reached the same conclusion as Mr. Rossi has, which were done for Brantford, Saint Catharines, London, Windsor, Oshawa, Saint Thomas, Hanover/Saugeen, and other airports in Southern Ontario. I very much doubt that a similar study of Burlington would indicate that it alone would not benefit the community. And in any case it’s not the usual thing for corporations to submit their business plans to governments for approval, especially when there is no clear jurisdictional reason for them to do so. (The studies I mentioned were used to decide on the degree to which the local community, which had an ownership stake in each of the airports in question, should contribute financially.) I’m sure those studies must be accessible somewhere: you could start by looking them up.

        • stephanie cooper-smyth

          Hey Andrew, your assumption is wrong. I have been a successful company President and CEO for decades – and for that matter, my team and I have generated the successful development of 100’s of public and private businesses.

          But this really is not about me, is it?

          I believe this is about facing the facts about this current situation at Burlington Airpark, not about other airports or aeronautics, items in which you seem well ‘schooled’.

          Accordingly, I am more than delighted to point you to the facts that are now public knowledge, facts that you are either missing or perhaps hoping aren’t true because of your emotional attachment to your home flying base.

          Please watch, as I have, the Burlington City Council last two webcasts – and the last two webcasts from Halton Regional Council.

          All of these videos are available on their respective websites.

          Clearly, so many people can’t be wrong in their identification as well as their verification of the facts that speak quite loudly to Rossi’s destructive actions to his neighbors – and his self-destructive actions to our government officials.

          Hope this really helps you.

  • Roger

    Please walk around the western side of the Burlington Airport, where millions of tons of fill is being landfilled directly abutting the neighbours’ properties. What is being done is very wrong, and soon will be illegal. The Airpark owner and its contractors can not be allowed to destroy adjacent properties and lives, nor can they destroy Greenbelt lands.
    We all have a fascination with watching small planes fly, some love them. For decades there were no issues with the Airpark. Not until the thousands of dump trucks and the bulldozers arrived to change the landscape. That is a game changer, which will not be accepted. The Burlington Airport owner can make things right again…he knows what must be done.

  • stephanie cooper-smyth

    Oh Andrew…

    Since YOU have a pronounced slant on this issue perhaps YOU’D enlighten us by telling us what you think straight out…as to why you believe your landlord has any right to willfully and needlessly destroy lands, lives and lifestyles, for any purpose whatsoever??

    And please shed some light on this as well: How much credibility would you give a business owner’s claim that he really wants to grow his business when all he can produce is a bucket list of dreams and not an economic development plan.

    And for the record, several of the current farms and residents were in that area well before the Airpark existed. And the way it’s looking now, they’ll be there long after Mr. Rossi flees the country…and there you’ll be – standing in your hanger surrounded by hundreds of thousands of tons of landfill.

    Oh Andrew….looks like you’re being duped like so many of Rossi’s other targets.

  • Andrew Forber

    I’m curious as to whether that has been your agenda all along, given your previous coverage. Is that what this is about? You’re siding with those who have no legitimate complaint about the airport, who moved in long after it was created and are now crying “NIMBY”?

    As for the Mayor, or any other local politician “reaching out” to airport supporters – as far as any airport supporters can tell, who I have talked to, that has not happened at all. Such supporters would be easy to identify for anyone who has tried: there are businesses based there, users, and clubs, all of which have public profiles and none of which have been contacted by any representatives of the regional council.
    Since you have a pronounced slant on this issue perhaps you’d like to enlighten us by telling us what you think straight out, in something akin to an editorial.

    Airports are like any other kind of infrastructure – roads, sewers, the electrical grid. They support the economy. They are part of the ecosystem of the local economy. You can dislike having an airport nearby, but in that case you should in conscience refrain from taking vacations, or accepting air mail or courier packages, or worrying about forest fires, or asking for productive agricultural crops, or accurate surveying, or demanding air ambulance service, or claiming any part of the Arctic is Canadian. Why? Because virtually every pilot or flight engineer who ever flew one of those aircraft or supplied sustenance to the North or put out a forest fire or flew an air ambulance started out by learning to fly at an airport just like the one you seem to love to complain about. When those airports and flying schools are gone, so is the rest of it. And that’s just the start of it. Local and distant businesses depend on the airport in order to make their businesses efficient, to allow them to locate in Burlington. There are lots of other places to build horse farms in Ontario, and not so many places you can build an airport.

    Other communities recognize this. They subsidize airports from city coffers, they promote their local airports as a benefit to business, they use it as a way to boost themselves and prove themselves serious about the welfare of the community. It would be good if we can all get back to a point where that’s possible again. We can start getting all of this back on track, but we have to start by ignoring people who moved next to an airport and then would rather moan about it than admit their mistake. Some people have doubtless suffered some negative effects from changes at the airport. Others, though, have no one to blame but themselves.

    And yes, I am a pilot, and I do fly out of Burlington Air Park. I am not representing other pilots in my opinion here, but I’m pretty sure you’ll find, if you talk to them, that they agree with me, as do a great many other people.

  • Dave

    Why no comment on Lancaster’s position? Or isnt there one?