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Allowing jets at Toronto's island airport would increase limit on boating, group says

Porter Airline flights taking off from Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport on March 24 2014.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Expanding Toronto's island airport to ‎allow jets would require blocking off about three times as much of the harbour to boaters, a transportation advocacy group warned Monday.

Transport Action Ontario released a report one day before the issue goes to ‎city council's executive committee, which will consider a staff recommendation to allow negotiations that could lead to a vote on jets at the airport.

The talks would proceed under multiple conditions and one requirement is that expansion have "no material effect" on the so-called marine exclusion zones (MEZs), which keep boaters away from the airport.

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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.

Transport Action Ontario warned Monday that the change would be even greater, saying it was basing its conclusion on Transport Canada rules applied to other airports. The group concedes that exemptions could be granted, but fears the possible safety risk were Ottawa to do so.

‎At the core of its report are extrapolations of where the marine exclusion zones would lie after the runway was extended. Each of these areas, which are marked off by buoys beyond the ends of the runway, is currently 305 metres long. The group ‎says that each would have to stretch to 830 or 1,190 metres, depending on how Transport Canada interprets the situation.

"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 airport expansion. "And that's unacceptable."

Given the city's insistence on not moving the exclusion zones, the advocacy group says it would be a waste of time to continue pursuing the debate about expansion. It argued on Monday that the effects on the harbour are so great that the proposed expansion should be killed immediately.

"We feel that these impacts are large enough that the city should say no now," Mr. Miasek said.

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But the port authority quickly reiterated its position that the exclusion zone would not need to grow under the proposed expansion.

"A longer runway will not mean a longer MEZ," spokeswoman Deborah Wilson said in an e-mail. "More specifically and most important, the proposed runway extension does not extend the length of the MEZ into the harbour or into the lake. There are minor changes to the sides of the MEZ under consideration, but these changes will be immaterial."

And both the city's mayor and deputy mayor voiced support Monday to move ahead with the proposed 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," and vowed to "fight the hardest I can to make sure it gets through council."

Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly also addressed the concerns, saying that "any serious objection has to be looked at," but that "sooner or later, you're going to have to make a decision."

Mr. Kelly added that, when the city debated whether to build the island airport to begin with, "the imminent destruction of the waterfront was forecast at that time," he said. "And of course, that hasn't happened."

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