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City receives extension on harbour land improvements

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The city has been granted an extension on developing the harbour lands it acquired from the federal government in 2010. Now, the city has until October 2018 to fulfil its obligations with Ottawa on the property.

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

Following a month of anxious anticipation, Oshawa has received an extension on its obligations with the federal government to develop the harbour lands, dodging a potential $5-million penalty for not meeting the initial deadline.

After the city acquired the harbour lands from the federal government in a settlement agreement signed in 2010, the city has been obligated to develop the land for public purposes by January 2017.

When the outlook for such work and its completion looked dim late last year, with obtaining provincial environmental approvals being tougher than imagined, the city applied for an extension from the feds until October 2018.

During the first round of budget deliberations, it was noted that extension had been granted.

“I was really excited that they actually realized the importance of the waterfront and the need to do the proper environmental work,” said Mayor John Henry.

However, the work won’t come cheap.

In total, the city has a little more than $1 million in reserves aimed at different initiatives at the harbour. However, a recent report from Paul Ralph, the city’s commissioner of development services, states that more than twice that amount will be needed to develop the land.

Part of this reason, the report notes, is that the city is looking to develop all four parcels of land acquired from the government in the settlement agreement, instead of just the two actually slated for parks and marina purposes.

Councillor Bob Chapman says it makes sense to develop the entire space at the same time, and the city should start putting the money aside for that now.

“We’ve got some breathing space, but that doesn’t mean we should say, ‘OK, let’s wait until 2018 to put some money aside.’ We need to put some money aside now, and start some of the work,” he says.

Also, as head of the community services committee, Chapman notes part of the department’s business plan is to complete some of that work by the end of this year.

For Mayor Henry, he says he’s hopeful the city will get some help from the federal government to obtain the other half of the needed funds.

“I’m really hoping that we’re able to take advantage of some of those projects that will allow us to reallocate money,” he says, speaking of recent announcements for infrastructure funding by the federal government.

However, Henry says the elephant in the room still hasn’t been addressed and that’s the issue of the proposed ethanol plant approved by the Port Authority.

“It’s not gone yet,” he says.

Although there hasn’t been word of any progress on the project, he says the threat of the plant is hanging over the harbour and stymieing development.

“There’s a lot of interest around those lands. I’ve had a number of conversations, but it all comes back to what’s the issue with ethanol, because nobody is willing to invest lots of money on the waterfront,” he says.

A Freedom of Information request by The Oshawa Express to the Port Authority for any correspondence between the organization and FarmTech, the company responsible for developing the plant, over the last year came back with the response that no such correspondence exists.