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The Globe and Mail

Advocates, opponents of expanded Toronto Island airport to land at City Hall

A Porter Airlines flight takes off from Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport on Monday, March 24 2014. Toronto councillors remain divided over whether to allow an airport expansion.

Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Toronto's City Hall is set for a heated marathon meeting Tuesday over a proposal to expand the Toronto Island airport and pave the way for jets along the city's waterfront.

As of Monday afternoon, about 200 deputants had registered to speak at Tuesday's executive committee meeting over a staff proposal to allow negotiations that could lead to jets at the airport. The issue has for many months divided councillors and attracted the attention of both big-name supporters and opponents – the latter arguing that the proposal would threaten revitalization along the waterfront.

On Monday, advocacy group Transport Action Ontario – which includes in its list of supporters former city planner Paul Bedford and former president of the Conference Board of Canada Anne Golden – released a report maintaining that allowing jets would require blocking off about three times as much of the harbour to boaters as is currently excluded.

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"This is about choice and consequences," Mr. Bedford said, adding that he views the airport issue to be "a 100-year decision."

If talks over the expansion proceed, one requirement would be that expansion have "no material effect" on the so-called marine exclusion zones (MEZs), which keep boaters away from the airport.

Transport Canada has consistently said it cannot "speculate" on possible changes without getting more information from the Toronto Port Authority, which owns and operates the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport.

The TPA insisted again Monday that the exclusion zones will not have to move. Opponents of expansion counter that stretching the runway by 400 metres would logically necessitate a corresponding shift in the MEZs.

But the TAO warned that the change would be even greater. Currently, each of these areas, which are marked off by buoys beyond the ends of the runway, is 305 metres long, but TAO said that each would have to stretch to 830 or 1,190 metres, depending on how Transport Canada interprets the situation.

And even on the eve of the airport meeting, councillors remained divided over the issue.

"What this group has shown us is, using existing regulations, you must extend runway infrastructure from Dufferin to Bay Street, there's no two ways about it," said Councillor Adam Vaughan, a vocal opponent of expansion. "And that's unacceptable."

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Mr. Vaughan predicted that the city's executive committee, which he described as "very supportive of the idea" of expansion, will approve the proposal, and said that the real fight will happen in front of council next month. "I think council is beginning to realize the scope of this project, and I think they're getting very nervous about what they're being told."

Another group of councillors told The Globe and Mail last week that they are working to bring a motion before council in April to vote to continue the ban on jets – a bid to remove jets from the airport debate entirely.

Meanwhile, both the city's mayor and deputy mayor support the expansion.

"Let's move on and support these people," Mayor Rob Ford told reporters at City Hall. He said the expansion would create hundreds of jobs and bring "millions of dollars to our economy," while vowing to "fight the hardest I can to make sure it gets through council."

Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly said he's working on his own airport motion – this one to move up the decision on jets. He wants the jets approved, provided they meet certain conditions, by this council instead of going to a vote in 2015 with a new council as recommended by staff.

"You can study things ad nauseam," he said. "Sooner or later, you're going to have to make a decision."

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