Transport Canada launches another study about an airport for Pickering, Ont.

It’s been an argument for decades in Pickering, Ont.: airport or agriculture?

And once again, Transport Canada has launched another study for the feasibility of the idea.

But not everyone thinks the concept should ever take flight, including Pickering resident Mary Delaney.

“If there is or ever was a business case, they would have built it,” she said, while pointing out the thousands of acres that would be part of the plan.

It’s not the first time there’s been a study, but for Delaney, who has been fighting the battle for years as part of Land Over Landings, she’s hoping this is the last time.

She says the lands are key for helping with the food crisis.

“This is an oasis in a sea of sprawl. And food land and especially the best farmland there is,” says Delaney. “Class one soil is critical, (a) non-renewable resource.”

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The federal property was set aside in 1972 by the government of Pierre Trudeau, along with land in Markham and Uxbridge.

The plan was to build an airport. But after backlash from the public and grassroots groups like Land over Landings, that plan was grounded.

Transport Canada issues RFP for study on the feasibility of an airport in Pickering. Transport Canada

The remaining lands in Markham were given to Parks Canada to help create Rouge National Park, the same for the Uxbridge property. But Pickering’s has been set aside since that time.

Delaney says the lands are part of significant farmland for the region.

Durham Regional Chair John Henry supports any decision, and says it’s time to make one once and for all.

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“I can’t think of another item that has taken 50 years to make a decision,” he says.

Henry says there is an argument on both sides, though. On one hand, to have an investment in aerospace would be valuable, but the lands could be multi-purpose.

“I believe those lands should be farmed all year round and that would include indoor farming,” Henry says.

“So there’s lots of things that we can do on those lands, that we can make a happy medium for everyone.” he says.

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“There’s a way to have the aerospace community flourish and the agriculture flourish,”

There’s 9,600 acres in Pickering — possibly 4,000 that could go to an airport.

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Fiaz Jadoon is the director of Economic Development and Strategic Projects with the city of Pickering.

He says the airport could service both industrial and commercial business — which could mean billions of dollars.

“You’re looking at anything between $5-10 billion of economic growth, once full build out of the site,” says Jadoon.

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This comes just three years after a report from KPMG International. The company was hired by the federal government in 2020 to do a thorough review.

However, the study, which looked at a variety of factors, found existing airports in southwestern Ontario could handle capacity until at least 2036.

Click to play video: 'Durham prioritizes Pickering Airport'

Durham prioritizes Pickering Airport

Now, Canada’s transport minister, Omar Alghabra, said in a tweet it’s his hope to make a final decision, saying:

“We do not intend to build an airport on the Pickering Lands in the short term. We are going to assess airport capacity in Southern Ontario to make a final decision and the process may result in a decision that will not require the lands in the long term.”

That’s something advocates like Delaney are hopeful will happen.

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“We have great hopes this will be the last study,” says Delaney.

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