By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
The idea of handing land over to the Oshawa Port Authority had some councillors pulling out all the rhetorical stops and sharing warnings on just how bad the situation could turn if such a deal were to move ahead.
“I won’t hesitate to chain myself to a fence to protect the lands,” said Councillor Gail Bates.
“I think this is a very dangerous game we’re playing,” said Councillor Amy McQuaid-England. “You’re playing Russian roulette right now.”
The concern came in response to a report from staff that suggested moving forward with the public process and gathering information surrounding the idea of declaring portions of land at the end of Harbour Road surplus.
By doing so, it would free up the land for potential sale to the OPA who are looking to construct a second access to their property at the waterfront.
The new road would extend Harbour Road across Farewell Street toward the Oshawa Second Marsh. However, it’s unclear to what extent the road will be built.
“The Port Authority has clarified that the proposal would, in part, involve the city closing the road allowance and conveying part of the road allowance to the federal government to provide a future driveway access to the federal government lands operated by the port authority,” the city report reads.
The need to move discussions forward was undercut by the fact that, if the OPA so chose, they could approach the city and upon request, trigger the process to have a full scale road constructed to extend Harbour Road right onto the doorstep of the Oshawa Second Marsh.
According to the agreement signed in 1976, it stipulates that the road would be 1,983 feet, asphalt pavement with 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.
“You have to understand here folks, this council of the day made a commitment to put a road in there,” said Councillor Nester Pidwerbecki. “The reality of it is, if we don’t proceed and get answers, the port can come after us to start that road tomorrow.”
However, some councillors scoffed at the idea that the OPA would come forward now to force the agreement on the city, as it also states the cost of the road must be split 50/50, and right now, councillors believe the OPA just doesn’t have the money.
“They’re not in a financial position to trigger that portion of the agreement,” says Councillor McQuaid-England. “The port authority doesn’t have the money, they are not going to be able to build their portion of the road.”
The request for the extension, received by the city in June, comes at a time when the OPA is currently reviewing its options for repaying a $4.1 million arbitration award to FarmTech Energy, the company previously slated to build an ethanol plant on the Oshawa waterfront before the project was cancelled in 2016.
With that said, based on the letter from the OPA, a full scale road may not be required.
It was previously reported that the port is looking to carry out discussions with the city as to the extent of the road’s construction. While the agreement stipulates a full service roadway, Donna Taylor, the CEO and harbourmaster of the OPA, previously noted that perhaps that part of the agreement could be revised.
“Since it’s going to be a joint venture when it is developed, it doesn’t need to be developed in such an expensive manner, which would be beneficial to the city and beneficial to us as well,” she previously told The Oshawa Express, noting that downscaling the road to a type of “laneway” could be more appropriate.
However, councillors were not the only ones sharing words of warning about getting into any new agreement or land swap with the port authority.
“Obviously financially, the port authority doesn’t know what they’re doing,” said resident Larry Ladd. “You’re going to have long term pain and they’re going to be the one who gains.”
A similar sentiment was shared by resident Tom Mitchell, who noted any such agreement with the OPA “represents an unacceptable risk.”
Mitchell also pointed out that it appears the port authority currently has no way of repaying the arbitration award to FarmTech, and if the city were to enter into some kind of agreement with them to construct a road, there’s no way of knowing the port would be able to hold up their end of the bargain.
Behind all the rhetoric, Paul Ralph, the commissioner of development services, noted that if the motion were approved, the city would simply be moving forward with advertising the land as potentially surplus. He described the move as a “baby step”, and a way to gather further information from stakeholders and landowners in the area.
“There are a number of factors to consider for council,” he said.
After the discussion council voted to send the item back to staff to allow for further information to be gathered from the port authority before council makes any decision.