Innisfil may attempt to protect Cookstown Aerodrome

By Chris Simon  Innisfil Scope

Municipal staff can bark, but they have very little bite when protecting the Cookstown Aerodrome from provincial and federal regulations, according to town planning manager Ross Cotton.

A town committee has endorsed plans to consider giving the Cookstown Aerodrome an airport land use designation, under the municipality’s Official Plan and zoning bylaw. The plan, which must still be approved by council, would set standards for future land use on the airport property, and other nearby areas. Under the plan, the town would also amend its telecommunications protocol, to impose height restrictions for towers and other buildings on neighbouring properties.

The plans are an attempt to prevent interference in the daily operation of the aerodrome. However, the town does not have jurisdiction over many of the buildings — specifically wind farms and cell phone towers — that could potentially impact the site, says Cotton.

“Representatives have expressed concerns regarding development activity in the town, and its potential effect on the functionality of (local) aerodromes,” he said, noting the town would formally stress concern to higher governments on behalf of

the aerodrome, if towers or other tall buildings were permitted within close proximity. “Since airports and aerodromes fall under federal jurisdiction, municipal governments cannot impose regulations. There are examples of upper-tier municipalities that have developed land use policies regarding lands adjacent to aerodromes and airports. However, there is still an issue with wind farms, telecommunication towers and other federally or provincially regulated projects. It’s not something we can stop from going in, but we would advise them.”

If tall towers or buildings are erected in the area, it could force airplanes to change their flight paths. They could also pose a potential danger to skydivers and pilots.

“I concur with almost all of the recommendations that were put forward, especially with points raised for height restrictions … and for heights for any structure that may interfere with the health and safety operations of the airport,” said aerodrome owner Joe Chow. “The airport has a positive role to play in the future development of the town.”

Airspace has been an issue for the Cookstown aerodrome, since a nearby wind farm was proposed by Schneider Power in 2008. Aerodrome owners have suggested the proposal, which would include the erection of five 120-metre high turbines on a property located between the 5th and 6th lines, would lie too close to their current airstrip. The turbines would essentially kill the business, or force airplanes to change their flight path, to a route over more highly populated areas, he said.

Schneider has since withdrawn its application for municipal approval of the turbines, with plans to ask for permission from the provincial government instead. The province became the official approval authority for wind turbines, when it passed the Green Energy Act last year.

Others agree with Cotton, suggesting the town will likely have to bow to higher governments.

“When I read the report, I didn’t share the optimism of Chow,” said councillor Lynn Dollin. “We’re not going to have as much effect as we were hoping. If this is all commenting, in the end, we still have very little control over our own land. In my mind, it’s the Green Energy Act fighting with Transport Canada; we’re going to be caught in the middle of it.”

The aerodrome injects about $3 million into the local economy, and brings about 10,000 skydivers to the area each year, said Cotton.

“As Innisfil develops, there may be future opportunities for (the aerodrome) to develop as a facility catering to local businesses, similar to Buttonville Airport in Markham,” he said.

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