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Council letting feds know they have interest in buying up port lands

The Gifford Hill lands, if acquired by the city in the future, could form a permanent buffer between port operations and the environmentally sensitive Second Marsh. (Photo by Joel Wittnebel)

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

Oshawa city council is sending a message to the federal government and the Oshawa Port Authority that they have their eyes on a significant piece of land along the Oshawa waterfront.

The land in question, the Gifford Hill, has been a question mark for years, with new threats and plans seeming to come around every corner, most notably under threat from the now-defunct FarmTech ethanol plant proposal.

Now, the city is looking to make it clear, and official, that should this chunk of land ever be deemed surplus to the needs of the port authority, they should be first in line to put in an offer. The motion, brought forward at the Jan. 15 meeting of the Development Services committee by Mayor John Henry, once approved by council, will have the mayor sending a letter to both the Minister of Transportation and the OPA to inform them of their desire.

“This is a significant piece of land on our waterfront and what this motion does is, it will inform the federal government and the port authority that we’re interested in the event that it’s ever deemed surplus, that we’ll be the first on the list and have first right of refusal to acquire this land,” Mayor Henry says.

This is not the first time council has expressed interest in the land. In 2010, staff were directed to contact the Oshawa Harbour Commission (now the OPA) and the feds to investigate the possibility of Oshawa purchasing the land. They were told at the time that the lands were not for sale.

Environmental advocates have long requested that the lands be transferred to the city, as the Gifford Hill lands remain as one of the last remaining locations for development. If the city were to acquire the land, it could create a permanent barrier between the port operations and the environmentally significant Oshawa Second Marsh and McLaughlin Bay.

“This is a different piece of land compared to other significant ports in the country where you look at what’s attached to it,” Henry says.  “Our waterfront is incredibly important to the residents of our community, but people throughout the Region of Durham and from all over Canada they come and use the Darlington park as well and our waterfront and I think this gives us the opportunity to start a dialogue with the federal government.”

The motion follows on the heels of a presentation from Second Marsh advocate Hugh Peacock, who appeared before council to once again plead the case for acquiring the lands.

“Please consider, right away, the only possibility to live with a working, compatible and sensitive port authority is to turn to the Minister of Transport,” he said.

It appears, council has listened.

The motion will go to council for final approval on Jan. 29.