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As winter breaks, deadline looms for Harbour Lands

A look at the progress and the dollars spent to get the harbour lands open ahead of federal deadline

The fences around the Oshawa Harbour Lands must come down and the land opened up for public use by the end of October according to a federal agreement.

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

With warm weather around the corner, the City of Oshawa will be praying for a dry and productive spring as they enter the home stretch of their rehabilitation of the Harbour Lands.

“That’s number one on the list right now and I think we’re okay there, I think we’ll meet everything,” says Councillor Nester Pidwerbecki.

Under an extended agreement with the federal government, which saw the city take back the large chunks of waterfront land around eight years ago, Oshawa now has until the end of October to complete the required work and reopen the land for “passive parkland uses.”

“If all goes well, and we don’t get set back by weather, we should be a-okay with that,” Pidwerbecki says.

Front of mind for Oshawa staff will be this time last year when Lake Ontario surged to record high levels causing flooding in various low-lying areas of the city, causing damage to the Oshawa pier, Lakeview Park beach and all along the shoreline.

However, the extreme weather doesn’t appear to be on the horizon for Oshawa, which will allow much of the needed tasks to move ahead as planned.

“Work has been on hold at the harbour over the winter and we are hoping the weather will break soon so we can continue,” says Ron Diskey, the commissioner of community services.

To date, the city has completed large portions of the remedial work required to make the lands clean and safe for use. This included the installation of erosion controls to ensure contaminants located on the site don’t migrate to other areas, as well as a soil cap to make sure those contaminants stay away from the surface.

The city has also been able to install a new pedestrian bridge over the Oshawa Creek, a metal replacement for the aging wood structure that had previously been in place. The bridge came along with support from both levels of government for its installation, including a $272,000 Ontario Trillium grant and $160,000 from the federal government for the $545,000 project. This is on top of the already $9.2 million the federal government spent to remediate the land before handing it back to the city, and the more than $10 million used to transfer the port operations from the west wharf across to the east wharf.

However, the city has also poured in considerable cash over the last eight years, much of which went into getting the land up to snuff to satisfy provincial requirements for a Record of Site Condition and a Certificate of Property Use, two documents required in order for the city to reopen the land for public use.

This included an initial budget of $438,000 for XCG, a consultant group, in 2014 to come in and manage the clean-up. However, that number quickly jumped an additional $160,000 due to delays blamed on harsh winter weather, which council approved in 2015.

In addition, a 2016 city report outlined additional costs in relation to obtaining the RSC, and recommended combining a number of city funds related to the waterfront into a single account for the Harbour Lands rehabilitation. These funds included previous dedicated allotments for the “Port Oshawa Marina”, “Oshawa Harbour Studies, “Boat Launch Oshawa Harbour” and a series of other funds set aside for the Harbour Lands redevelopment.

The environmental work and social capping connected to the RSC cost approximately $1,150,300, tasks needed to convert the land for recreational uses, including extending trails on the Southeast Corner Lands and 1609 Simcoe Street South cost approximately $404,500. The budget also stipulates an additional $200,000 for trail work and a preliminary estimate of $509,500 for engineering costs to implement risk management measures for the entirety of the property.

The Express was not provided with updated information on the project’s budget to date.

“I have no updates to offer other than the project is on time and on budget,” Diskey says. “Final numbers will be available later in the year as the project comes to completion.”

And while confidence remains high in the council chambers that the work will be completed on time, new talk of a boat launch has thrown a potential wrench into the gears.

Earlier this year, during a closed meeting of council, city council voted in favour of cancelling the hunt for a private sector proponent to develop a marina at the Oshawa Harbour. It was only the latest in a line of attempts to find an interested developer for a marina at Oshawa’s waterfront.

The most recent failed attempt at finding a marina operator followed a rocky road that included two RFPs and a $25,000 marketing campaign, something that looks like money wasted now that nothing has resulted from the efforts.

The city was previously in possession of proposals from the Oshawa Farewell Marina Consortium, a conglomerate of local business owners who had retained the Biglieri Group to create a detailed proposal, and a company by the name of Charming Panda Technology Inc.

Both companies expressed interest to develop the marina originally, along with two other companies who previously backed out of the process.

However, following council’s decision both of those proposals were thrown out. Council also continues to keep in the dark the full reasons for that decision, inside a confidential city report.

“I think the short version is the ask was too big, I think our waterfront would sell itself,” Mayor Henry previously said.

Paul Ralph, the city’s commissioner of development services, and Jag Sharma, the city manager, later told The Oshawa Express that both proposals were looking for millions of dollars in assistance from the city.

Following that, Councillor Gail Bates introduced a motion to have staff look into the possibility of the city creating their own boat launch at the harbour. It’s currently before staff who are working on a report.

However, if earlier investigations are any evidence, the possibility of a boat launch at the harbour could come with a monstrous price tag.

A 2013 city report detailing the transfer of land back to the city, it explains that things could get costly if the city is looking at installing a boat launch and marina.

“If the City is considering the development of a new marina and/or boat launch, then contaminated sediment would need to be dredged and managed in accordance with provincial requirements,” the document reads. “While some sediment could be managed on-site, there would be significant cost implications associated with the off-site disposal of the most contaminated sediment.”

What those cost implications could be remains uncertain, but 2009 estimates pegged it at around $22 million.

“These costs relate to additional environmental remediation costs to deal with contaminated marina basin dredgeate and removal of other contaminated soil if the existing marina basin is to be enlarged; construction of a marina and/or public boat launch, parking, extra parkland,” the report reads.

Completion of the updated report on the potential for a boat launch is undetermined and the item remains on the outstanding  list for the Development Services department.