By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
It took two votes, first to turn the proposal down, then again to approve it, but the eventual outcome could allow the Oshawa Port Authority to move ahead with extending Harbour Road to the eastern side of its waterfront headquarters.
For months, the proposal for a private driveway for the OPA, running east from the end of Harbour Road, has drawn criticism from members of the public who have cited everything from environmental concerns, to noise and traffic, to future concerns around what the road may allow the port authority to build on the land as reasons to why council should deny the project.
However, for the most part, council’s hands have been tied on the matter, as a signed 1976 agreement stipulates that upon the port’s request, the city must move ahead with the construction of a full service road, one which stretches further toward the environmentally significant Second Marsh than the existing driveway proposal and would cost the city over $1 million.
For that reason, city staff put forward the driveway proposal, while at the same time, attempting to leverage a piece of land from the port authority in order to expand the buffer between the marsh and the industrial activities of the port.
Since the initial discussions began last year, the port has pointed to growing truck traffic with the new McGinnis Cement operation and the upcoming installation of a grain storage facility as the reasons for needing another access to their site.
At the most recent meeting of council, which lasted until nearly midnight, councillors once again heard from members of the public, who noted that council should be concerned with entering into any kind of deal with the OPA.
“Given the conduct of the personnel down there, both manager and the board in this matter, I think it would be reckless to entertain any kind of agreement with the OPA,” said resident Tom Mitchell, pointing to the failed ethanol facility, which has left the OPA on the hook for a $4.1 million arbitration award.
There was also concern that the city has held no public consultation on the proposal, and as part of their motion, was voting to waive the usual notification and advertising requirements.
“This is a matter that cries out for public consultation,” Mitchell said.
The same was said by vocal waterfront activist Larry Ladd.
“I think it’s raised a lot of questions in the city…it’s only proper that you take the opinions of your residents,” he said.
At first, it appeared a majority of councillors agreed.
“Under no circumstances can I vote in favour of this recommendation,” said Councillor Gail Bates. “I do not have any faith in the port authority going ahead with anything that will benefit the city in any way.”
“I believe that we shouldn’t be saying yes to this,” said Councillor Amy McQuaid-England. “We should go out to get public input and I think this is something that has really changed the minds of a lot of people in Oshawa about whether or not they trust in the decisions we make as a council.”
Councillor Rick Kerr, initially questioned whether the road extension was even necessary.
“There’s a lot of land down there, there’s a lot of room for trucks to turn around,” he said. “I just don’t see that as an issue.”
Following the initial discussion, the proposal was quashed on a 5-4 vote with Councillors Bates, Kerr, McQuaid-England, John Neal and Doug Sanders voting against, and Mayor John Henry, Councillors Dan Carter, John Shields, and John Aker voting in favour.
However, following a brief recess, councillors returned to the table with a different mindset.
Strong words from staff members noted that without the driveway proposal, which had been created as a form of compromise with the OPA, the city would need to move ahead with the construction of the full service road should the OPA trigger the 1976 agreement.
“There really wouldn’t be anything that would stop us from building that road,” said city manager Jag Sharma. “If they triggered the agreement, then we would have to fulfill our obligation.”
The proposal approved in the 1976 agreement stipulates that the road would be 1,983 feet long, ending much closer to the Second Marsh, with asphalt pavement and complete concrete curb and gutter work, storm sewers and sidewalks. The agreement states that the construction must begin upon six months of the written notice from the OPA and costs would be split 50/50 between the city and port.
Paul Ralph, the city’s commissioner of development services also told council that by turning down the driveway proposal, they were effectively approving the full-service road, and on top of that, they would lose the extra land buffer between the port and Second Marsh that the city was after.
“The proposal from the port is one that is win-win for us in terms of the financial and asset management perspective and also from an environmental perspective in retaining more land to protect the buffer for the marsh,” Ralph says. “The important thing was to protect and maintain that 120 metre buffer for the Second Marsh.”
And following words from staff, not 20 minutes after the initial vote, councillors voted to reconsider the previous motion, and this time, the vote for the driveway proposal carried 6-3 with Councillors Bates, Neal and McQuaid-England remaining on the dissenting side, and Councillors Kerr and Sanders changing their minds.
With that done, the proposal will go back to the OPA, with the last stumbling block being the buffer of land the city is looking for to protect the marsh. According to Ralph, the driveway proposal hinges on that aspect, and if the OPA is unwilling to comply, then the entire thing will end up back before councillors.
Despite the buffer, the proposal has drawn concern from the city’s environmentally-conscious residents, including the former director of the Friends of Second Marsh Brian Braiser.
“The proposed increase in the existing (already inadequate) buffer zone will have little to no effect in mitigating potential inappropriate uses on the Gifford lands,” he writes in a letter to council. “A roadway in this area can be used by the OPA as a selling point for an industrial clients that the port authority may want to see establish facilities on the Gifford lands. In fact, it would seem that once the city acquiesces to the establishment of an OPA access to Harbour Road through any part of the Gifford Farmlands, it has opened Pandora’s Box with regard to potential land uses that are not acceptable to the community.”
With that said, Ralph notes there shouldn’t be any surprises in terms of development occurring on the Gifford Hill, as the land has been zoned to allow industrial development for some time.
“There shouldn’t be this unexpected expectation that the Gifford Hill wouldn’t be developed,” Ralph says. However, he does admit the city has not control over what that development could be.