DARRYL KNIGHT The Standard
NORTH DURHAM: Uxbridge Secondary School tied for the top rank amongst Durham Region high schools in the latest Fraser Institute rankings released earlier this month.
Uxbridge tied with Whitby's Sinclair Secondary School for top marks amongst area schools with matching 7.6 academic performance rankings, ranking 121 out of 725 Ontario High Schools.
Port Perry tied with Whitby's All Saints Catholic Secondary School for third place amongst Durham Schools, with an academic performance ranking of 7.1, 193 out of 725 province-wide.
Although Brock High School place near the bottom of Durham schools with a 4.8 academic performance ranking, it was still well above the Institute's red zone for schools with rankings of 2.4 and under. Oshawa's GL Roberts CVI ranked lowest in Durham with an academic performance ranking of 2.9, scoring 687 out of 725 schools.
Low scores don't necessarily mean bad news, as Fraser Institute director of school performance studies Peter Cowley explained.
"Every school is capable of improvement, regardless of its geographic or socioeconomic challenges," said Mr. Cowley. "With individual school results going back five years, the annual school rankings help parents and educators measure improvement in specific subject areas and prioritize improvement plans for the year ahead."
Uxbridge's St. Joseph Catholic School placed fifth amongst Durham schools in The Institute's elementary school rankings, which were released in February.
Among Scugog Township elementary schools, Prince Albert and Greenbank/Epsom shared top honours, with both schools scoring a 7.8 academic performance ranking.
The Institute's Report Card on Ontario's Secondary Schools rates public, private, and Catholic secondary schools based on seven academic indicators using data from the annual province-wide tests of literacy and math managed by Ontario's Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO).
The report card also includes important information about each school's make-up, including parents' average income, the percentage of ESL students, and the percentage of special needs students.
The complete results for all 725 secondary schools are available at www.compareschoolrankings.org.
DARRYL KNIGHT The Standard
NORTH DURHAM: Moving forward with their goal of reducing the country's $25.9 billion federal deficit by 2015, the Harper Conservatives presented a frugal federal budget last week.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty presented the latest budget on Friday, March 21, featuring support for Ontario's struggling manufacturing sector, modest spending, cuts to government departments as well as a clampdown on tax evasion.
The most promising news for municipal leaders was likely the commitment from the Harper government to renew the Building Canada Fund, which will provide almost $14 billion to municipalities for the repair of transit systems, bridges and other infrastructure projects over the next ten years.
As well, with over one million Canadians currently unemployed, an expanded skills training initiative will rely on assistance from the province and employers.
Through the Canada Jobs Grant, the federal government will provide up to $5,000 for job training with the province and employers making matching contributions in an effort to upgrade the job skills of Canadians.
The program is not slated to begin until 2014, and will depend on successful negotiations between Ottawa and the provinces.
With Ontario's manufacturing industry still lagging, the new budget features spending aimed at easing the tough times faced by the industry in recent years, hopefully spurring new investment in industry.
The budget includes $920 million over the course of five years for the renewal of the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario. Since 2009, almost 350 projects in Southern Ontario have received funding through the agency. There will also be $200 million allocated over the next five years through the Advanced Manufacturing Fund which aims to promote innovative product development or production methods in Ontario.
There is also $1.4 billion in tax relief for manufacturers for the purchase of new equipment and machinery.
Durham MP Erin O'Toole lauded the budget's commitment to job creation as well as a balance between spending cuts and higher taxes.
"Despite a challenging global economy, Canada has the best job creation record among all G-7 countries and with this budget we are renewing our focus on job creation to build upon the 950,000 net new jobs since the end of the recession" O'Toole said in a press release. "This budget strikes a careful balance to create jobs and eliminate our deficit without raising taxes for families or seniors."
As well, the budget could mean some items may be available for less with international tariffs removed from items including baby clothing and sports equipment.
The government will look to close tax loopholes in an effort to boost government coffers. The new measure includes paying tipsters who report tax cheats.
Disabled, ill and aging veterans will benefit from a $1.9 billion investment in the Funeral and Burial Program, which is also known as the "Last Post Fund."
And, in a measure to provide better weather forecasting, Environment Canada will receive $248 million over the next five years to improve weather monitoring equipment across the country in an effort to provide more accurate and timely weather forecasts and warnings.
Since 2010, Conservatives have cut federal spending by $15 billion, with an eye towards a balanced budget by 2015, which should coincide with the next federal election.
BLAKE WOLFE The Standard
NORTH DURHAM: Although the Lakeridge Rd. property at the centre of the commercial fill debate in Durham Region remains dormant, talk of the site's clean-up and possible reactivation returned to Scugog Council, nearly three years after the issue was initially brought into the spotlight.
According to a presentation to Scugog Council by community group Lakeridge Citizens for Clean Water (LCCW), work is progressing on a bid by Green For Life Environmental Corporation (GFL) to acquire the Earthworx Industries property at 13471 Lakeridge Rd. (located within the Oak Ridges Moraine) to re-open it as a fill receiving site. GFL is the Pickering-based waste remediation company which has been involved in numerous developments along Toronto's waterfront, treating excavated soil for contaminants before its shipped to receiving sites. According to a document in the LCCW presentation – dated Jan. 18, 2013, and addressed to the Ministry of the Environment - the proposal by GFL to acquire the property was originally discussed in June 2011.
At the township's Large-Scale Fill Symposium on Jan. 25, GFL CEO Patrick Dovigi told the audience that if a proposal - he declined to name the interested party - to acquire the property from Earthworx Industries went through, GFL has agreed to help clean up the property. However, what the clean-up would entail was not explained at the meeting, nor did he mention at the time that it was GFL that was planning to acquire the property to re-activate it as a fill receiving site.
Mr. Dovigi declined to comment on GFL's bid to purchase the Lakeridge Rd. property.
GFL/Direct Line's Pickering location is where trucks, hauling from former industrial sites on the Toronto waterfront, were sent for soil treatment prior to hauling the dirt to the same fill site on Lakeridge Rd. when it was operated by Earthworx Industries. According to a statement by the Ministry of the Environment dated April 12, 2011, 'Direct Line began accepting soils in June 2010 and shipped treated soils to Earthworx beginning in September 2010.'
The Lakeridge Rd. site was shut down in 2011 following a lengthy court battle between Earthworx and Scugog, in which a provincial tribunal ruled in the township's favour by declaring that the operation was subject to municipal bylaws. Earthworx continued dumping after its municipal site alteration permit was revoked by the township in October 2010, after soil samples from the site tested positive for excessive amounts of certain contaminants.
It's unknown whether or not GFL/Direct Line would have received any of the soil placed at the Earthworx site that tested positive for those chemicals in 2010. However, Pickering resident Gord Hamilton has been dealing with problems on his Sideline 14 property, after he received soil, shipped to his property by Earthworx Industries in 2011, which he was told had been treated at GFL. He later found the soil to be contaminated with gasoline several times the accepted provincial limit.
Yet another fill project supplied by GFL, this one in Oakwood, Ontario, was shut down by City of Kawartha Lakes Council in July 2012, after soil tests revealed excessive levels of chemical contamination, including hydrocarbons and heavy metals.
GFL is also one of the sources of soil for the expansion plans at the Greenbank Airport, owned by Green For Life's Bob Munshaw. To date, no adverse findings have been recorded at that site.
The GFL proposal has drawn criticism from the LCCW, which formed shortly after the Lakeridge Rd. site was first in operation in 2010. According to LCCW spokesperson Carmela Marshall, the group contends that a reactivation of the permit would contravene the township's site alteration bylaw, which prohibits site alteration within the Oak Ridges Moraine unless an applicant can demonstrate that the work is permitted by the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan (ORMCP). Ms. Marshall said that in addition to municipal legislation, the ORMCP dictates that 'the portion of the net developable area of the site that is disturbed to be not more than 50 per cent of the total area of the site,' which may exclude the site from re-activation.
"LCCW (Lakeridge Citizens for Clean Water) believes that the significant contamination on this site must be cleaned up and believes that there are viable options to make this happen," said Ms. Marshall, who spoke to the matter at Scugog Council's March 25 meeting. "However, issuing a fill permit to import more dirt in order for the necessary remediation to happen is absolutely not one of these options. A site-alteration permit to further fill this site would be contrary to the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan and the Scugog by-law, as well as irresponsible and unethical."
"The proposed cleanup still leaves the site with contamination that exceeds today's soil standards for an industrial land use in an area where the groundwater isn't used for drinking," added LCCW spokesperson Ian McLaurin, "but this site is next to the Natural Core Area of the Oak Ridges Moraine and people drink from wells only one-third of a kilometre away. For example, the cleanup leaves in place soil where borehole samples had levels of free cyanide 100 times the standards set by MOE in 2011."
At the recent council meeting, Scugog CAO Bev Hendry told councillors that the township will meet with representatives from the MOE on April 16 regarding the status of the site.
Scugog Mayor Chuck Mercier added that while the township was previously informed of the intent for GFL to acquire the property - via the letter from GFL sent to the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) regarding the site - a formal application for a municipal site alteration bylaw, as well as the MOE's assessment of the clean-up, is yet to come forward. Until that time, Mayor Mercier said that the township is considering the site a "work in progress," albeit one watched closely, particularly regarding the clean-up.
"Without the MOE's input, the correspondence doesn't really mean anything," said the mayor. "We have a strong position on managing commercial fill and a strong position on cleaning up the (Earthworx) site... (But) we're still unaware of the scope of the clean-up, and until then, there's nothing happening."
DARRYL KNIGHT The Standard
UXBRIDGE: Residents got their first glimpse of Uxbridge's proposed new aquatic centre at council's meeting on the evening of Monday, March 25.
Following a short presentation from Amanda Ferraro, the township's Manager of Recreation, Culture and Tourism, architect Robert Allen gave a detailed look at the facility, which is slated to be installed at the Kennedy House lands, near the corner of Main St. N. and Ball Rd.
A wide range of pool users packed council chambers as they waited anxiously for details of the new pool.
According to Mr. Allen, the building will occupy nearly 26,000 square feet with 11,500 square feet reserved for the pool area. In addition to a six lane pool, the facility will also feature a leisure pool as well as a multi-use athletic area, which Mr. Allen explained could be used for a variety of purposes such as volleyball, floor hockey and badminton.
There would also be capacity for 500 people in fixed bleachers in the pool area.
Among the concerns raised by users was that a six-lane pool may not suit the needs of the municipality in the future, leading many to push for an eight lane pool.
"One of the things we heard from user groups, especially the Swim Club, was a desire for an eight-lane pool," Mr. Allen explained. "That can fit into the plans, but carries an extra cost of $1.3 to $1.5 million. But, plans indicate that we could do that with this pool."
Regional Councillor Jack Ballinger later endorsed plans for an eight lane pool, not wanting to undertake a costly expansion in the future.
"The arena was built on Brock St. W. in 1978, and less than 20 years later we had to expand it. It makes sense that the expansion be done now so you don't have to go back," commented Councillor Ballinger. "It's not like the extra lanes are going to go bad. If you're going to build it, build it right the first time so you don't have to go back."
Currently, construction costs for the new aquatic centre are estimated at $10 million, with another $2 million set aside for other expenses such as site servicing.
"Currently we only have $4 million, but we are looking for funding to get to the $12 million mark," Ms. Ferraro explained.
The lone change from the Kennedy House Master Plan to the current project relates to parking as plans now call for a shared lot to be placed between the aquatic centre and the skate park.
Ward 3 Councillor Pat Mikuse raised concerns over the amount of parking spaces - 90 spaces are currently proposed for the lot - and Mr. Allen agreed that parking often presents issues in projects of this nature.
"Parking is a big issue. You never want to build too much or too little," said Mr. Allen, adding that overflow lots could be added to enhance parking if large events are taking place at the aquatic centre.
Mr. Allen went on to add that operating expenses for similar sized facilities typically come in at around $600,000 annually, although that figure is dependant on other factors such as wages and programs offered.
More public discussions are expected to follow any grant approvals, with the pool expected to be operational by 2015.
"We have designed a pool that is well within the financial framework available, by no means is this going to be some sort of Taj Mahal," added Mr. Allen.
BLAKE WOLFE The Standard
NORTH DURHAM: In the wake of the latest redrawing of Ontario's federal election ridings, Durham's newest MP is seeking feedback from his constituents on the proposed changes and what they could mean for residents.
Durham riding MP Erin O'Toole recently launched a constituency survey regarding the proposed changes to the riding, which currently encompasses the municipalities of Scugog, Uxbridge and Clarington. The proposed changes, which would be in effect for the 2015 federal vote, would see Uxbridge paired with the City of Pickering in Pickering-Uxbridge, while Scugog, along with a sliver of Clarington, would be grouped with the northern reaches of the City of Oshawa into the Oshawa-Durham riding.
These latest changes were announced in late February, months after Durham politicians lobbied the riding redistribution commission in November to reconsider its original proposal for the Region, which would have seen half of Uxbridge, along with Scugog and Brock, lumped into a monster 'Haliburton-Uxbridge' riding that would have stretched to the southern limits of Algonquin Park.
The survey, which is open until March 22, can be found at www.erinotoolemp.ca/ridingsurvey. In addition to the web site, residents can also call the local constituency office at 905-697-1699 or drop by at 54 King St. E. in Bowmanville.
According to Mr. O'Toole, the majority of concern so far has come from residents of Uxbridge and Clarington, the latter of which will be subdivided even further, with the remainder of that municipality to be linked with Northumberland. Although he anticipates few, if any, changes to the new ridings as they are currently proposed, Mr. O'Toole said that through the survey, he hopes to gain a better opinion of the riding's residents prior to the commission's report going before Parliament this spring.
Mr. O'Toole added that come election time in 2015, he would run in the proposed Oshawa-Durham riding.
"It's clear that the commission did learn from the appeals (by Durham politicians and residents) in November, but there are still questions about the changes," said Mr. O'Toole, adding that concerns have ranged from the urban-rural divide posed by the Pickering-Uxbridge riding, to the absence of Scugog's name in the title of Oshawa-Durham.
"I think the commission tried to address all the concerns received and overall, they listened to what Durham had to say. They've done a decent job, however, it would have been nice to see Clarington remain whole."
BLAKE WOLFE The Standard
SCUGOG: A recent arbitration award for Scugog's full-time firefighters, including a pay increase and recommendation for a four-day work schedule, has prompted a 'complete operational and organization review' of the township's fire department.
A report by Fire Chief Richard Miller on the award, announced last month after more than a year of waiting for the township, was recently presented to Scugog councillors. According to the report, the award, which covers the period between 2009 and 2012, provides for a salary increase every six months retroactive to January 1, 2009. Scugog's full-time firefighters announced that they had become affiliated with the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) and Ontario Professional Firefighters Association in October 2008, creating the Scugog Professional Firefighters Association IAFF Local 4679.
Following a wage freeze in 2009 due to the bargaining process, the township provided firefighters with an interim pay increase of eight per cent (retroactive to 2009 wages) in May 2011, equal to just over $32,000. The remainder of the retroactive wages to be paid out will have an additional impact of $100,000 on the township's bottom line in 2013, in addition to expenses such as benefits and pension payments. The report states that the total wage increase would amount to a 26.7 per cent jump for a first-class firefighter - from $63,500 in 2008 to $80,440 in 2012.
Chief Fire Prevention Officer Gord Gettins would also receive an additional three per cent of salary in the form of 'recognition pay,' based on years of service, with two more firefighters set to receive the recognition pay beginning in October.
In addition to pay, the award also directs the department to implement a four-day work schedule for full-time firefighters.
Both considerations will 'significantly affect the fire department budget, both the full-time payroll accounts and the volunteer response account line,' said Chief Miller in his report, adding that a 'complete operational and organizational review' will be undertaken by the department to determine efficiencies.
The chief and councillors were also critical of the length of time it took for an award to be determined by the arbitrator.
"We were supposed to have an award within six months – it took over a year for us," said Chief Miller. "It's a broken system and needs to be fixed.... (But) now we have to take that next step and look at what we do and how we do it. We need to look at what system serves us best and how to keep our residents safe."
Added Regional Councillor Bobbie Drew:
"I hold our full-time firefighters in the highest esteem, but AMO has been lobbying for years to look at the arbitration system and the municipal ability to pay," said the councillor. "I find it inexcusable that an arbitrator would take 13 months to come to a decision with no rationale. This will create a ripple effect for our system as well as in the other North Durham municipalities and beyond. It has great ramifications and this is causing great concerns."
Mayor Chuck Mercier added that he is critical of the arbitration process "inching" into the department's operational structure, as well as the lack of rationale provided for the award.
"This award will limit our ability to have full-time firefighters cover off for volunteers during the days – there are safety issues," said the mayor. "Situations like this cause us to take a step back and say 'can we be better?'"
DARRYL KNIGHT The Standard
UXBRIDGE: Township is advising residents to be aware of fill regulations, in light of a flyer recently distributed throughout the township soliciting fill sites.
According to township staff, a flyer was recently distributed to most rural mailboxes in Uxbridge Township seeking fill sites for a variety of uses.
The flyer advises residents that the company - Millennium Earth Works from Woodbridge - has an 'excess of clean, environmentally-certified soil' and requires suitable filling locations.
The company claims to offer services at no cost to the property owner, and that a per-load fee would be offered to the property owner depending on the volume of soil imported.
According to Millennium Earth Works, a minimum of 50 loads are needed to apply for this service.
Township CAO Ingrid Svelnis spoke to The Standard regarding what is required under the township's site alteration by-law.
"People will require a fill permit for the quantities they speak to and permits would need to be obtained from the Township of Uxbridge for land not regulated and from the Lake Simcoe Conservation Authority for lands in the regulated area," Ms. Svelnis explained.
Without the proper permits in place, property owners could unknowingly be exposing themselves to undue hardships should authorities become aware of improper filling activities on their property.
"Unfortunately, without a permit people will find themselves being caught and as the property owner they are responsible and it would be a shame if people think that getting a flyer means all is well." Ms. Svelnis added.
It was further explained by Ms. Svelnis that for township-controlled properties, anything over five loads of fill requires a permit from the municipality. Anything greater than 10 loads of fill will require approval from Council.
The issue of commercial fill was hotly debated during the 2010 municipal election, with the majority of councillors voicing their opposition to such sites springing up throughout the township without proper guidelines in place from provincial agencies, such as the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Natural Resources.
It's unknown whether a connection exists between Millennium Earth Works and Earthworx Industries, the company which operated the Lakeridge Rd. fill site in Scugog Township, which brought the issue of commercial fill to the attention of the province in 2010. That site was shut down in 2011 following a lengthy court battle between the business and Scugog, in which a provincial tribunal ruled in the township's favour by declaring that Earthworx was operating a fill site and not engaged in the construction of a rural airport as the owner had argued.
"To leave all of the monitoring of commercial fill sites on the backs of the lowest tier of government who does not have the expertise or the resources to properly monitor what is coming into these sites, is not something that I am interested in bringing to this township. I don't want to be a part of something that could potentially poison our water," said Mayor Gerri Lynn O'Connor. "No one wants another Walkerton, which would of course be the worst case scenario."
DARRYL KNIGHT The Standard
UXBRIDGE: This year's CMX motocross event will have a slightly different look following several recommendations put forth recently by council.
At their meeting on the morning of Monday, March 4, councillors agreed on a number of changes to the event, which is scheduled to be run on Sunday, July 21, at the Dillon farm in Zephyr.
While council has relaxed several of the conditions put forth surrounding last year's inaugural event, not all of Mr. Dillon's requests for this year's event were approved for this year's batch of races.
This year's motocross event will play out in front of a larger audience after councillors agreed to double last year's capacity, allowing 2,000 people to take in the event.
Also, race organizers will now have to carry the standard $5 million insurance policy, a drastic reduction from the $10 million the township requested last year.
According to Township Clerk Debbie Leroux, the previous $10 million policy - double what is required of the annual Indycar race in Toronto - came through a recommendation from the Durham Region Insurance Pool.
Furthermore, councillors denied Mr. Dillon's request to have camping on his property on Friday night to accommodate out-of-town riders. Instead, camping will only be permitted on Saturday night (July 20).
As well, the practice session for the weekend will be limited to between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Saturday.
"I don't see the need for camping on Friday night. Practice starts on Saturday afternoon, giving them plenty of time for practice," said Ward 3 Councillor Pat Mikuse.
Councillors also took Mr. Dillon up on his pledge to once again not have any weekend motocross riding at his property in the months of July and August in exchange for being able to host the lone motocross event in Uxbridge Township.
Part of Mr. Dillon's reason for bringing this event to Zephyr was to aid in local initiatives.
After donating revenues from last year's race to the Uxbridge Cottage Hospital, Mr. Dillon has indicated that proceeds from this year's race will be going towards improvements at the Zephyr Community Hall and Park.
BLAKE WOLFE The Standard
SCUGOG: Following a recent assault incident involving a minor hockey referee and the parent of a player at the Scugog Arena, the Port Perry Minor Hockey Association has suspended the 17-year-old official as well as another parent who confronted the youth earlier that night.
PPMHA president Clair Cornish confirmed that the league had suspended the youth after receiving complaints about "the ref's conduct" on the evening of the incident. In addition to the young referee, Mr. Cornish said that the league has also suspended the other parent involved in the verbal confrontation which preceded the assault.
"This is normal procedure in such an incident," said Mr. Cornish, adding that the Ontario Minor Hockey Association may become involved in handling the ref's suspension. "However, we haven't had much precedent to go by."
The assault took place on Feb. 19, at a Port Perry Predators Novice AE playoff game against an Oshawa team at the local arena.
According to police, a verbal exchange between the referee and two parents of Port Perry players began inside the arena, regarding calls made by the ref during the game. Police said that one of those parents later threatened the ref and kicked his legs in the parking lot. The assault took place in front of several people, including children, said police.
Last week, police charged Scugog resident Brad Fenney in connection with the Feb. 19 assault.
Mr. Cornish also confirmed for The Standard that some of the parents of this particular team – none of which were involved in the Feb. 19 incidents – were previously cautioned in December for their conduct during games, following a number of complaints made by arena users last fall. However, he added that those particular complaints were related to matters such as the volume of cheering as opposed to any physical or verbal confrontations.
"It's up to interpretation," said Mr. Cornish of those complaints made against the team's parents in 2012. "Some might be surprised, but others may say it's just hockey."
DARRYL KNIGHT The Standard
UXBRIDGE: The first steps in the possible sale of a pair of township-owned community halls were taken this week, with council approving appraisals of the properties.
At their meeting on the morning of Monday, March 4, township staff were given the go-ahead by councillors to proceed with appraisals of both the Siloam Hall and the Goodwood Lions Hall.
The total expenditure for the project is not to exceed $5,000.
During discussion surrounding the project, Ward 3 Councillor Pat Mikuse brought forward a possible future use for the properties.
"This is an opportunity for a non-for-profit user group to possibly look at taking it over, if they wish," said Councillor Mikuse. "Celebration of the Arts has been looking for a home for some time and they could utilize the space for a gallery, or possibly rehearsal space."
However, Regional Councillor Jack Ballinger suggested that all Uxbridge groups be given the opportunity to explore moving into one of the buildings the township may be selling in the future.
"We have to be careful here, and if we offer it to one user group, we should offer it to all of them," commented Councillor Ballinger.
Plans to sell the Goodwood Lions Hall may be slowed due to the outstanding issue of a crash wall possibly being installed on the north side of the property, which sits mere feet from railroad tracks. Township staff have been in contact with Metrolinx/GO Transit, but, to date, have not received a reply from the provincial agency regarding the issue.
Township CAO Ingrid Svelnis added that user groups should be made aware of the annual maintenance costs that come with owning such a facility.
"These groups need to know that these halls could cost up to $20,000 a year for upkeep," said Ms. Svelnis.
According to township staff, the appraisal process typically takes two weeks to complete.