It has been a long, tiring road for Vince Rossi; has his dream hit a brick wall? Will Burlington force him to comply with city by-laws?

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON. Jul5 5th,  2013.  We know about the damage the land fill being piled up on the site of the Burlington Executive Air Park has done.

What is it all in aid of?  Are they really building a bigger airport out there?  And if there is going to be a bigger airport does the wider community not have some say in what takes place?

Yes, airports are regulated by the federal government – there are very good reasons for that.  But methinks the Air Park people have really bent those rules and using them as skirts to hind behind. 

The Air Park has never really had a business plan or at least not the kind of business plan that would keep city officials happy.  There had to be some kind of a plan to keep their bankers satisfied when they got a $4.5 million mortgage but other than knowing there is a mortgage on the property not much more is known.

This was the market Vince Rossi wanted to attract to his airport.

As what has now become a city problem works its way through the various departments at city hall it is becoming clear that Rossi and whoever is advising him never did know how to approach city hall and talk up their project.

The more of these, the better was the mission – the idea had merit but the team assembled didn’t have the smarts to pull it off – then the city found out and that may have been the begining of the end to the dream.

Rossi did have one meeting with Mayor Goldring.  He was intrigued but told Rossi at the time to come back with a much more detailed plan.   He never came back.  At the time Goldring wasn’t sure if Rossi was looking for financial support or if we he was just getting a briefing.

At the time, Goldring was still quite new to his job and may have failed in not red flagging the project and keeping a watch on it.  He didn’t.  His former chief of staff Frank McKeown would have had some very clear thoughts on the project assuming he sat in on the discussion the Mayor  had but McKeown is no longer on staff.

Rossi was dumping landfill at that time and he just continued doing just that.   And for the past number of years, since 2008 at least,  Vince Rossi has been getting away with it – and it is going to take some effort to bring a halt to what he is doing and then to clean up the damage.

The “airport crowd” those people who rent hangers, own light aircraft, like to fly and follow the rules appear to be a very decent bunch of people.  They are being tarred with the brush that many want to use on Mr. Rossi.

When Glenn Grenier, legal counsel for the Burlington Executive Air Park, appeared before council to state his client’s case, his objective seemed to be to scare the city by telling them what they were up against and he couldn’t seem to understand why the city didn’t read his 10 page plus letter and then just fold.

The city manager, on three different occasions, advised the Mayor to move on with the meeting and dismiss the lawyer. He has nothing for us stated Jeff Fielding – he represents the interests of his client.

When advised that he had just five minutes to delegate he told council that he would need more than five minutes – he didn’t get it.

The city knew next to nothing about  what is going on out on the air field.  The only source of information was what the locals can pass along and according to Blair Lancaster, ward Councillor for the north Burlington community, they weren’t telling her anything. Lancaster says she didn’t hear anything from the local people until March 5th of this year.

During the Q&A portion of the council meeting  Grenier did say that  the Air Park’s plans were on their web site.  Councillor Lancaster commented that what she saw on the web site were not plans – “not much more than a wish list” from her point of view.  Meed Ward, ever the techie. added that the web site was no longer on-line.  Grenier said there were technical difficulties.  He could also have said they were experiencing some air turbulence.

At the end of the council meeting the Mayor said this was serious stuff and the city would be moving quickly to get something done – even though at the time they really didn’t know what they could do.

Both the Region and Conservation Halton bought the argument that they had no jurisdiction but Rossi appears to have kept them informed. It wasn’t until Vanessa Warren went public with a delegation to Burlington that the fat was in the fire. Above is one of the early site plans he submitted

The issue would get taken up at the Regional level while the city scurried about to meet with the residents and hopefully get Vince Rossi into the room as well.

Vanessa Warren spoke to a Regional government committee and heard nice words and real, genuine concern from members of that Council.

Burlington took three weeks to determine what its strategy should be.  They are in a very tricky situation and have to deal with someone who cares not a whit about the community he does business in.

In the middle of all this Rossi announces that the company doing the landfill work has a contract to dump asphalt stripped from the 407 and will be doing so all night long as well.  Everyone was astounded at the news.  That contract appears to have gone somewhere else.

Tim Crawford appeared before Regional Council to delegate against the decision to have the southern gate to the project closed and was mauled by a number of Regional Council members. (Every member of the Burlington city council is also a member of the Regional Council.)

Oakville Mayor Rob Burton explained to Crawford that the one thing Halton had going for it was its “livability” and they weren’t about to see that lost.

In an interview after his Regional delegation he talked about how he got involved in the air park development.  He, like just about everyone involved in this project, is a pilot.  He saw great potential for the air park and knew that the Kovachick family wanted to sell the property when Vic Kovachik died.

Rossi has always had a big picture and as his plans matured he bought up the pieces of land he needed. There was always a plan – what was missing was the capacity to execute on the plan.

Crawford had an idea and pulled together a meeting of some 60 pilots and pitched them on the idea of forming a group that would buy the property.  Of the 60 people it turned out less than ten were prepared to write a cheque.  One of the ten was Vince Rossi who at the time was just another pilot with hanger space.

He seemed to be able to raise the funds and eventually bought the property from the Kovachik family – then quickly learned that the operation was a money loser.  Rossi, scrambling to find something, anything that would produce revenue, looked into storing thousands of cars on the site as part of a used car auction operation.

That deal didn’t work out.

The helicopter training operation was going to go in the location in the lower left corner of this drawing. It would have been 75 yards from Barbara Sheldon’s front door. Given the air port is a federally regulated operation – the city’s bylaws had no impact.

Then there was a potential contract to train hundreds of Chinese pilots how to fly helicopters.  That contract never got signed. 

Then there was going to be a cell phone tower that Rogers wanted to put up; that opportunity created huge resistance in the community and after considerable public resistance and a noisy public meeting at city hall in January of 2009 the proposal to build a 65 metre (213-foot) cell tower on a piece of the Burlington Airpark in the north end of the city was withdrawn” and the company looked for and found a different location.

Crawford talked of his meetings with the Burlington Economic Development Corporation which didn’t go very far. “We met with them but all they seemed to want to do was sell us a page of advertising in a publication they were involved in”.  Crawford went on to say that he and Rossi couldn’t get any traction with the economic developers but added that they did buy a page of advertising.

Vince Rossi was able to catch the ear of Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion.  News that the Buttonville airport was going to close was known by everyone and, as Crawford explains it, “the distance between Burlington and Toronto is basically the same as the distance between Buttonville and Toronto – that made a Burlington operation a natural business opportunity.  And an airport in Burlington would be seen as a plus for Mississauga.

Problem with all this thinking, according to Monte Dennis, one of the original participants in the POP (People or Planes) fight that stopped the Pickering airport plans back in 1972, is that “small airports don’t make any money”; something Vince Rossi is learning.  So far he has financed his operation by being paid to have landfill dumped on the site.  Many think that the game is really to make money from landfill and when that comes to an end to walk away from the project.  Those who know Vince Rossi will tell you that he is passionate about this project and does want to see a bigger airport built.

In a presentation document used by Burlington Executive Air Park the following information is set out:

An estimated $30 Million funding project will provide the airport with, but not limited to the below enhancements that will emphasize the importance of the airport to not only the community, but to all of the GTA.

Further land acquisition to enhance the main runway

Construct a new terminal building and associated aircraft movement area

Complete construction of a new West side taxiway servicing the main runway

Service and construct the west side infrastructure

Enhance safety and protect airspace surrounding the airport

Provide services for Transient aircraft

Construct hangars and office space for GTAA Small and medium business’s

Also in the same presentation document:

It was a great idea that is about to become mired in an expensive court case. It didn’t have to be this way.

Burlington Airport is in transition in an effort to provide the current vital transportation and social services we currently offer, as well as move the airport to the next necessary level to meet the growing demand. As a privately owned business, the financial assistance provided for infrastructure to the municipal owned airports is unavailable, yet we serve the community in the very same manner. Of course, positioning the airport for the future requires focus, precise planning and funding. To date all the funding has come from the Airport Owner, Mr. Rossi, but the ability to meet the future service demand will need other sources of infrastructure funding. Mr. Rossi has invested near 4 Million dollars into infrastructure listed below to enhance the facility.

Rossi has been consistent since the year he bought the airport – his operation is federally regulated and he does not have to comply with provincial, regional or municipal rules or regulations.

The Region and the Conservation Authority appear to have bought into that line of thinking and they have done next to nothing, until Vanessa Warren delegated to Burlington’s city council June 10th.   Rossi has run up against a city administration that is determined to be both informed and involved.

The determination of this difference of opinion could we decide what happens to northern Burlington – it will also determine what Vanessa Warren and her husband are able to do with the equestrian school they want to develop – the planned runway extension will be yards from the riding ring they are currently building.

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9 comments to It has been a long, tiring road for Vince Rossi; has his dream hit a brick wall? Will Burlington force him to comply with city by-laws?

  • antony

    I believe the trucks are now/also dumping at a farm on Hwy 6 on the east side just before hitting the Puslinch core. See a ton of trucks and ashphalt being dumped daily.

  • Monte

    Roosi’s only dream is to make more money from dumping.
    He has no plan for an airport of any kind.
    This is obvious from his sloppy amateur business practices.

    • stephanie cooper-smyth

      A few neighbours of the Burlington Airpark and Land Dump, are reporting that the southern entrance was opened illegally on Friday afternoon and used to engage in dumping activities.

      Rossi better be charged and fined – and the City should have enough evidence now to stop their ‘friendly negotiations’ and issue an immediate injunction.

  • Anita Sauve

    I find it amazing that Blair Lancaster continues to deny any knowledge of this landfill problem. I live across from the airport and I and many of my neighbors have repeatedly brought it to her attention over the last couple of years. The standard answer we have gotten is “Thank you, I will pass that on to city staff”. We have even sent her court rulings in other municipalities against small air parks dumping landfill. She continues to this day to be the lone voice on counsel who supports the airports right to dump. North Burlington needs to wake up next election time.

  • Stephanie Cooper-Smyth

    Well Andrew, you almost had me until you said: “roads, and sewers, and CBC Radio, and national health care, and the government departments that do weather forecasting…”.

    All of those “institutions”, as you coined them, receive government funding. It has come to the public’s attention that Mr. Rossi has attempted and failed at getting this because he refuses to be held accountable, for many reasons, not the least is on public record that he refuses to be a good corporate citizen.

    Did you watch the specific webcasts from both City Council and Regional Council as I suggested to you earlier? All those people can’t be wrong, Andrew.

    To paraphrase you, if you could try (harder) to inform yourself of both sides of the issue, you’d find it easier to accept what’s going down now.

    Mr. Rossi has brought this entirely onto himself. This never had to happen. The only thing out of control has been Mr. Rossi.

    What’s happening now is a way IS being found to get Mr. Rossi under control and to do the right thing for his neighbors and for the City of Burlington.

    Burlington isn’t called Rossiville. It’s called a democracy, Andrew. And there is no dictator in democracy.


  • Roger

    When will the Burlington Airpark approach the City of Burlington, the Halton Region, the Province, the Federal government for money? Our money.
    Small airports lose money…Buttonville Airport receives $ millions in GTAA subsidies, yet is closing due to it being a poor investment. What is wrong with this picture?
    A few benefit from local airports, the rest of us pay the price in environmental damage, in property damage, in property devaluation, and in loss in quality of life.

    • Andrew Forber

      Roger, I have to disagee with a couple of your statements.
      Many people, and the population at large, benefit from local airports. There have been many studies done, including a bunch in Ontario, which show the economic impacts. On top of that communities with airports also subsidize each other by providing more connections between communities. I wish I had a link to the Brantford study, but I can point you at the following:
      which links to a number of studies across the country. Add to the benefits of what I’ve written before – all of the things that aviation in general does for us, including your last vacation in warmer climes (assuming you’re that fortunate) – and the case for having an airport is compelling.
      If small airports lose money, then so do roads. And sewers, and CBC Radio, and national health care, and the government departments that do weather forecasting, and a great many other institutions that we all love and depend on. Airports are infrastructure. They are under federal jurisdiction for many reasons, not least of which is that their benefits transcend the boundaries of the communities in which they’re located. They’re regulated that way for the same reason that policy around the CPP isn’t controlled exclusively by independently wealthy people, or rural development policy exclusively by people who live in cities. Objections to airports are generally motivated by local self-interest, whether those objections are justified or not. And don’t get me wrong, sometimes specific objections to specific aspects of an airport are justified. We have to find a way, in those cases, to work at doing the right thing, not just supporting “the right people”, or the loudest.

      This whole matter has spiraled out of control, in my opinion, and much of it has been needless. It would terrific if we could all try to inform ourselves of both sides of the issue, and find ways to accomodate each other, rather than fighting.

      • Diane

        A 2006 Sypher Consulting study done for Transport Canada contains some interesting information:

        “. . . study highlighted that small Ontario municipal airports face challenges in aging/deteriorating or inappropriately sized infrastructure, and difficulty raising capital, increased regulatory burden (following 9/11), lack of community support and declining aviation traffic.”

        “There is widespread lack of support for small municipal airports amongst municipalities. They are often seen as an undesirable drain on scarce resources rather than as an asset to the community”.

        “small airports have exhausted the opportunities for efficiencies and are in need of external financial support if they are to continue to operate.”

        “Municipal airports in Ontario have found creative ways to increase non-aeronautical

  • James Smith

    Interesting how any safety margin for overshooting the runways happens to be on other people’s property.

    Rather than legal niceties perhaps the city &/or region should do some “EMERGENCY” road work on several of the roads leading to this facility. Repairs due to some of the damage caused by all the trucks. A flagman, and closing lanes for hours at a time might get someone’s attention. So might a bill for the work.