City council debate island airport extension.

Toronto debate on island airport extension begins

Health and economic issues dominate discussion at city council

City councillors began on April 1 the debate on the future of Billy Bishop Island Airport.  After a proposal from Porter Airlines to allow jets in and out of the airport, councillors are still undecided on whether to allow this project, which would also require to lengthen the airport 200 metres at each end and other extensive infrastructure improvements.

Though the final vote may come in early 2015, the current debate will authorize officials to enter into negotiations with the Toronto Port Authority.

Tuesday’s debate centered on analyzing concerns regarding environmental risks and impacts on the community’s quality of life, based on a city staff report released last month.

During the morning session, councillors asked questions to Deputy City Manager John Livey, who said it is too early to proceed with the project before the city gets answers to some of their questions.

“This [report] is a way of providing council and the TPA and Transport Canada specific requirements that they need to fulfill before that consideration be put to you,” Livey said. “Otherwise this is premature.”

Mayor Rob Ford did not attend the morning session and arrived at council during the lunch break at 1 p.m.

Councillors including Adam Vaughan and Karen Stintz said council needs more time to assess health and environmental risks, as well as the impact it would have on Toronto’s waterfront.

Other members of council, however, argue the economic benefits for the city of Toronto would outweigh the risks. Counc. Giorgio Mammoliti did not hesitate to show his support to the plan.

“Not approving the airport extension would be one of the stupidest decisions that the city of Toronto has ever made,” Counc. Mammoliti said outside the council chamber.

To approve the project, city council would need to amend the Tripartite Agreements between the city of Toronto, Port Authority and the federal government that restricted jets at the island airport and any extension improvements.

A vote to authorize city staff to begin negotiations with Port Authority will likely occur on Wednesday.