Amazon confirms it won’t be going to controversial Pickering wetlands development

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Amazon confirms they are pulling out of controversial wetlands development
Pickering's mayor says he is disappointed to hear that Amazon has decided not to build a warehouse in his city. The development has faced months of controversy as it would have been built on provincially significant wetlands. Frazer Snowdon has more. – Mar 12, 2021

A spokesperson for Amazon Canada confirms to Global News that the company has pulled out of a proposed deal involving a large swath of provincially significant wetlands in Pickering, Ont.

The news came amid concerns over the proposed, controversial development of a warehouse project located on the west side of Squires Beach Road, between Highway 401 and Bayly Street, that many said would affect the Duffins Creek wetlands.

Advocates have said the lands are important for water filtration and support other parts of the ecosystem, including migrating birds and invasive species.

However, in a statement to Global News, an Amazon spokesperson said the company was always exploring multiple sites for expansion of its new fulfillment centre and a lease for the Pickering property was never signed.

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“We were always considering multiple sites for our expansion and we take environmental issues very seriously,” Dave Bauer said Friday afternoon.

“The environmental impacts were absolutely part of our decision not to select the site.”

Pickering city council voted to request a zoning order from Ontario Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark in October, a process that avoids appeals and public consultations, for the site. The request was to facilitate the building of a four-million-square-foot warehouse on the property by the developer, Triple Group Properties.

Officials said the warehouse could provide more than 2,000 jobs alone along with the other projects on the Durham Live property.

Mayor Dave Ryan said on Friday the decision is upsetting news for the city as the deal could have meant thousands of jobs.

“Naturally I’m truly disappointed for the city of Pickering and it’s residents,” he said.

“With Amazon’s announcement. We’ve lost a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

“We understand it was a difficult decision to pursue development on these lands,” he said. “It was made with the promise of good jobs and investment.”

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As part of the development process, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) was in the process of reviewing a request to clear cut some of the lands for the development.

The TRCA process normally takes three to six weeks, but a recent order from Ontario Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry John Yakabuski directed it be approved by March 12. The agency’s board of directors approved the request, but with a number of conditions.

In a statement released by the TRCA board on Friday after a lengthy meeting, officials said they gave the go-ahead “under duress” to develop on the property.

“The permit will allow the developer to fill and site grade the property,” he statement said.

The TRCA applied 20 conditions to the permit, including financial recovery if there is costly damage and a cash payment of more than $4 million for ecosystem structure compensation.

Meanwhile, it’s not clear yet what happens next with the project as the developer now sits without a client.

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Ryan said although it was disappointing to learn of the news, Pickering city council will now have to make a tough decision.

“The appropriate next step is to pause any immediate destruction to the wetlands,” he said.

“After today’s announcement, I believe what’s needed at this time is reflection and consultation on what is the best path forward.”

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