by Neil Carleton

GunAll seats were filled on Wednesday night, May 8, at the Cedar Hill School House.  Area residents gathered to learn more about the March 26 application for a zoning by-law amendment which would permit the development of a 300 acre firearms training facility in their countryside neighbourhood.  With a public meeting scheduled to review the application, at 7:00 p.m. on May 21, in the Mississippi Mills Council Chambers, everyone in attendance was looking for answers.

The property in question is officially known as part lots 8 and 9, concession 5, parts 1 and 2 RP 26R-2068, Pakenham, Town of Mississippi Mills.  Neighbours described the Cedar Hill area, and their particular piece of heaven, in terms of its peace and quiet, the tranquility of the landscape, and the rich diversity of wildlife they see and hear every day.  They’re worried all this could be destroyed by a development where the sound of persistent gunfire would instead rule the rural landscape.

The office of Stephen Stirling, the Town Planner, has been especially busy with recent visits from residents asking about this zoning application.  The public information they obtained was an important component of the May 8 community meeting.  The proposal, from “Rural (RU) Zone” to “Rural Commercial Special Exception (C5-X) Zone” C5, includes an indoor and an outdoor range.  The property has provincially significant wetlands with a 120 m setback.  Road access would have to be negotiated over the private property of neighbours, although it was reported that none have been approached.

Here is a pdf of the proposed Firearms Training Facility0001

Official Plan Issues

As reviewed at the meeting, the proposed use of the land for a firearms training facility does not conform to the Town’s official plan for non-residential uses of C5 zoning.  It was questioned too how the operation of such a facility could possibly conform to the official plan as being compatible with surrounding land use.

Also noted was the requirement of the official plan for any development to be without danger of minimal obnoxious sound, etc.  An RCMP report was cited to point out the significant decibel level of gunfire even at a distance.  The report’s recommendations of locations to avoid for outdoor training include near water and bare rock conditions.  These landscape components are common in the area that Cedar Hillians call home.

 Military, Police, and Security Training

 Accompanying the application from owners Jean-Francois Roy and Chantal Pelletier, residents of Stittsville, is a supporting letter of March 13, from F. Paquette, C.E.O. Millbrook Group in Stittsville.  Millbrook Tactical Inc., which is promoted on its website as former members of the Canadian Special Operations, provides training to members of the Canadian military, law enforcement officers, and other security stakeholders.  This includes firearms (pistol to machinegun), tactical preparedness, and tactical training (rural operations to counter attack).

The company is working to expand its tactical shooting program.  Mr. Paquette notes in his letter that the proposed venue (known municipally as 1090 6th Concession) “is perfectly suited to generating increased revenue because of its proximity to the National Capital Region and the various tactical teams that operate within the area.  The layout and design of the range area will allow for advanced training options that are unmatched in comparison to other local ranges.

 Behind the Scene Suspicion

 Cedar Hill neighbours questioned what’s really behind a firearms facility on the 6th line With the Connaught Range only 30 minutes from downtown Ottawa, and the training facilities of Joint Task Force 2 (JTF2) not far south at the corner of the Franktown and on Dwyer Hill roads, what’s the need for a new facility in Mississippi Mills?  What would the advanced training options include?  Some suspect this simple zoning application could be part of something much, much bigger.

Everyone remembers the news coverage of complaints from JTF2 neighbours over low-flying military helicopters, gunfire, and explosions.  It’s no secret, someone at the meeting pointed out, that JTF2 wants more space.  Another suggested that maybe the unit thinks Cedar Hill is way out in the boonies and a good place to move to once the door is opened a crack with this application.

More than one person thought our MPP and MP should know about this application.  The former Conservative defence critic, Gordon O’Connor, our current MP, had a strong view of JTF2 during his election campaign.  His meeting with the paper’s editorial board was reported by the Ottawa Citizen on December 22, 2005.

“They’re very highly trained people who are trained in anti-social skills, I would call it — they’re trained to kill people in various ways,” Mr. O’Connor, a former army general, told the Citizen’s editorial board yesterday. “I would prefer them to be under iron-tight discipline inside a military base.”

 Not Just Neighbourhood Impact

 The initial concern of Cedar Hill neighbours was the potential noise of loud gunfire.  Imagine, someone said at the meeting, the sound of 400 rounds a minute all day, or maybe all night.  What if this operation led to training with explosives, low flying aircraft, and other military or police vehicles?  How would our concession roads stand up to all the traffic coming in and out?  Our way of life would be destroyed, and how would we survive here?  There were many unanswered questions.

During the discussions, it was pointed out that not just the immediate neighbours would experience the potential impact of a firearms training facility, and whatever might develop later.  With a volunteer fire service in the municipality, what about the risk of a fire escaping from the property during hazardous activities and spreading across the rugged, forested countryside?

The prospect of plummeting property values in the area was discussed too, as was the potential economic impact on the rural business community.  Would Fulton’s, for example, continue to draw 20,000 to 30,000 visitors each year from the Ottawa area, for the peace and quiet of a rural experience, if this site was developed for military, police, and security training?

Next Steps

Interested residents are encouraged to attend the public meeting on May 21, scheduled for 7:00 p.m. in the Mississippi Mills Council Chambers, where the application will be considered.  Any person may attend the meeting and/or make written or verbal representation either in support of or in opposition of the proposed zoning by-law amendment.  To be notified after a decision has been made, residents must make a written request to the Town.

If a concerned citizen or organization wants to file an appeal of the Town’s decision, the Ontario Municipal Board may dismiss the appeal if the person or public body did not make (i) an oral submission at the public meeting, or (ii) make a written submission to the Town before the zoning by-law amendment was approved or refused.

Residents who wish to contact the Mayor and councillors before the public meeting on May 21 can reach them by e-mail.  To e-mail all councillors, contact the Town Clerk and request to have your email forwarded to all members.  Our MP and MPP can also be reached by e-mail.

Robert Tremblay, Acting Town Clerk  rtremblay@mississippimills.ca

Mayor John Levi

Councillor Bernard Cameron – Almonte Ward

Councillor Garry Dalgity – Almonte Ward

Councillor Alex Gillis – Almonte Ward

Councillor Rick Minnille – Almonte Ward

Counillor John Edwards – Ramsay Ward

Councillor Shaun McLaughlin – Ramsay Ward

Councillor Paul Waters – Ramsay Ward

Councillor Val Wilkinson – Ramsay Ward

Councillor Duncan Abbott – Pakenham Ward

Councillor Denzil Ferguson – Pakenham Ward

Gordon O’Connor, MP, Carleton – Mississippi Mills  gordon.oconnor@parl.gc.ca

Jack MacLaren, MPP, Carleton – Mississippi Mills  jack.maclarenco@pc.ola.org