All eyes will be focused on the Milton courthouse May 28 when lawyers for the City of Burlington and Burlington Executive Airport clash in a dispute over the dumping of fill at the location on Bell School Line in north Burlington.
In 2005 Barbara Sheldon bought an historic home, which was built in 1850, knowing full well she was bordered on three sides by the airport. In fact, she says she loves aircraft and would rather hear the sounds of them taking off and landing than the sirens of police vehicles and fire trucks in Toronto, where she used to work.
When she moved in, she said, the airport was owned by Kovachik family and its land was level with her property.
“My views of the sunsets over the Niagara Escarpment were magnificent,” she said. “Then I was awakened to trucks coming in, in the middle of the night loaded with fill.”
Eventually Vince Rossi, who purchased the airport from the Kovachiks in 2006, had what he calls berms built around the edge of her property, just 50 feet from her house. Sheldon refers to them as hills and says they are two stories high.
Water started to run off from the airport land and flooded Sheldon’s backyard, killing several 150-year-old lilac trees.
“You’ve seen the evidence, what you don’t see is the psychological impact,” she told this reporter following a visit to her Appleby Line home. “Real estate professionals have told me nobody will ever buy this property.”
CBC television claimed that over a three-year period between 2011 and 2013 the airport owner took in more than $800,000 allowing fill to be dumped on his land.
Rossi said he doesn’t have the exact figures, but points out the revenue was split between the airport and the contractors delivering the fill. He also says that between 2008 and 2010 he received absolutely no money at all for fill which came from a nearby construction project in Oakville.
Vanessa Warren, who lives on Bell School Line just north of the air park, was so concerned about how the landscape of the air park was being changed that she ran for council, opposing Ward 6 Councillor Blair Lancaster in a race that attracted 11 candidates, the largest in the recent history of Burlington. Lancaster was re-elected and Warren finished sixth.
The founding chair of The Rural Burlington Greenbelt Coalition, Warren said before Rossi bought the air park in 2006, it was very much a business run in harmony with its neighbors.
“My husband Cory used to have a plane there himself,” she said. “But for more than five years what was in the soil being brought in was pretty much unregulated.”
Rossi said it is his intention to attract more corporate clients, who fly fewer hours and in much less noisy aircraft.
“We don’t want our neighbors to be upset,” he said. “The amount of fill we have brought in is to develop the airport.
“We’ve cleaned windows and mailboxes for residents.”
Rossi said the transfer of fill absolutely was not done to fatten his bank account.
“We filed an application with the City of Burlington last fall, but it has not been processed,” he said.
James Ridge, who took over as City Manager only six weeks ago, said the site alteration application Rossi submitted was not even close to being complete, but since the matter is before the courts, he declined to specify what is lacking.
“We set a deadline for him and he didn’t meet it,” Ridge said. “That’s why we’re asking the courts to compel him to send in an application to amend the site.”
Warren, Monte Dennis, current co-chair of the Rural Burlington Greenbelt Coalition , and Pepper Parr, who publishes The Burlington Gazette, an online newspaper, are being sued by Rossi for libel for articles they wrote.
In a notice posted on the airport website, Rossi said the suggestion that he is suing people who have publicly opposed its expansion to try to shut them up is not true.
“The reason I am suing is because despite repeated attempts to reason with this small group of people, they continue to knowingly spread false information that is damaging both to the airpark and to me personally.”
The website says seven different reports by independent third-parties, including Halton Region, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Environment Canada, and Pinchin Environmental, have found no safety issues with the commercial fill at the air park and local well water was not negatively affected.
The air park opened in 1962. Since that time, it has served as a flight training centre, an aircraft maintenance base, a recreational flying facility, and a key transportation hub for the residents and businesses of Halton.