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Residents slam port authority board as tempers flare at AGM

Gary Valcour, chair of the Oshawa Port Authority board of directors, speaks during the OPA’s annual general meeting on Sept. 14. Several angry residents called for Valcour’s resignation during the meeting due to the port’s financial situation. (Photo by Joel Wittnebel)

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

A group of approximately 50 residents gathered at the annual meeting of the Oshawa Port Authority on Sept. 14, many of them airing grievances about the port’s current financial situation and some calling for the resignation of board chair Gary Valcour.

Ahead of the port’s AGM, it was announced that following a lengthy arbitration case with FarmTech Energy, the port was on the hook for an award of $4.1 million. The impact of that decision was brought into stark reality when the port’s auditor released the federal entity’s financial statements for 2016, within which the auditor raised serious concerns about the impact the payout will have on the port’s future, noting the settlement and associated legal fees “casts significant doubt upon the Port Authority’s ability to continue as a going concern.”

However, during the AGM, Valcour repeatedly attempted to alleviate residents’ concerns about the port’s future, noting that while the arbitration award was a “tremendous surprise”, it was a one-time issue to which the port is currently working to find a positive solution. Aside from that, it is “business as usual at the port,” he said.

Valcour added that the port is still involved in litigation regarding the arbitration award, and due to that, he couldn’t share too many details about the situation.

“I’m not really at liberty to comment on ongoing litigation,” he said.

Valcour did explain that the original arbitration was triggered when the port authority attempted to terminate the lease with FarmTech Energy. As part of the signed agreement, this action immediately triggered the option for FarmTech to take the issue to arbitration.

The initial lease agreement has never been made public, and while Valcour noted that the documents pertaining to the arbitration award were public documents, the port authority would not be taking steps to share them with the public.

Following the statements from Valcour, residents took to the microphone, many of them chastising the poor decision making of the board with some requesting an apology for the current situation and others calling for Valcour to resign his seat as chair of the board.

For Oshawa resident and longtime waterfront user and activist Larry Ladd, the port’s progress under Valcour has been one of the “biggest financial failures on the public purse.” He not only pointed to the ethanol plant fiasco, but also the installation of the rail spur which came in at approximately $4 million over budget.  Resident Suzie Boyle called for a public apology from the board for getting Oshawa into such a situation, while resident Hugh Peacock insisted that as the port moves ahead with development, that no industrial projects be undertaken on the historic Gifford Hill, which sits adjacent to the port.

The port’s proximity to the environmentally significant Second Marsh also raised issues with the potential for any future development to impact the wetland.

Executive director of the Friends of Second Marsh Brian Brasier reminded residents of the words spoken by OPA harbourmaster and CEO Donna Taylor who, in 2012, was quoted in the press saying if it wasn’t the ethanol plant then something similar would come in its place next time.

“Some of you seem to forget that we live here too,” Valcour said in response to the criticisms. “I really do kind of take exception to the idea that we’re here to shut down things.”

However, Brasier noted that the port authority’s past history of not listening to the city, or the protests of its residents, makes it hard to put any trust in the OPA’s words.

“Your track record doesn’t seem to support your sentiments,” he said.

The meeting was also well attended by members of Oshawa city council, including Mayor John Henry along with councillors Gail Bates, Nester Pidwerbecki, Amy McQuaid-England, Rick Kerr and Doug Sanders, many of whom expressed concern for the future of the port.

“We are on the doorstep of very exciting times,” said Councillor Pidwerbecki, who previously expressed concern for unwanted industry swooping in to take advantage of the OPA’s financial distress. “I don’t want to see any fire sales or lease of property.”

The same was said by Councillor Bates, who noted she believes, “there is no place for heavy industry at the port.” Bates also took her chance at the microphone to call for the release of the arbitration documents via the port’s website. However, her requests were ignored.

Further information related to the legal status of the ongoing litigation between the port and FarmTech have not been released at this time.