The CEO of the St. John’s Port Authority may have been feeling a little corralled Thursday as the song “Don’t Fence Me In” enveloped the room before he addressed the Rotary Club of St. John’s.
Sean Hanrahan, who has been in quoted in the media for several months defending the port’s decision to erect a fence along 50 per cent of Harbour Drive, had free rein during the luncheon to explain the reasons behind the initiative.
“This fence is being built for two equal reasons — safety and security,” he said. “With regard to safety, it has to be recognized that piers 9, 10 and 11 are very active working piers upon which much hazardous works are undertaken. … This is an industrial area and has been since it was built in the early 1960s.”
Hanrahan told the gathering that from an occupational health and safety viewpoint, there can’t be any intermingling of pedestrian traffic with the industrial activities on the piers.
“The port wants to be proactive, not reactive, when it comes to safety. We can’t wait for an accident to happen before we establish preventative measures,” he said.
Equally important is security on the harbourfront, Hanrahan said. In order to maintain the port’s International Ship and Port Facility Certification, the port must be compliant with the Marine Transportation Security Regulations.
“Failure to do so would mean the decertification of our port property which would mean that no offshore supply vessels — which are the vast majority of the vessels using the area — no foreign-flagged vessels and no cruise ships would be allowed to berth at our facilities. This would mean significant economic and employment losses to our port and city,” he said.
Hanrahan told Rotarians the fence will be built to accomplish the port’s objectives of safety and security, but this could have been achieved by using a chain-link fence within the port’s own budget.
“But it would be ugly,” he said. “Not fitting for the downtown of the capital city. A heritage-style fence with wrought iron and stone would better suit the city’s objectives of a beautified downtown so the city was approached to cost-share the project,” he said.
Two organizations benefitting from one project, meeting each other’s objectives, and both groups paying for it, Hanrahan said, makes common sense and is good public policy.
That was part of the reason for the community uproar last year when people found out about the expenditure by the city — $425,000 towards the $1-million fence. Groups said taxpayers should have been consulted before the decision was made.
People were upset over the decision to restrict access to the north side of the harbour under orders from Transport Canada and let the port authority and the city know it through public protests. One demonstration even shut down a council meeting at city hall when people in the gallery wouldn’t be quiet as councillors attempted to debate issues surrounding the fence.
But in the end, Hanrahan said without co-operation from the City of St. John’s, there would be no widening of The Narrows, no development of a beautiful monument to Terry Fox and no development of the Harbourside Park.
Hanrahan said with a $6-million capital budget this year, the authority will undertake two other major initiatives.
A large part of the expenditure, he said, will go towards the redesign and rebuild of Pier 20, on the south side of the port which is used extensively by the fishing industry. He said the facility is about 50 years old and “was constructed of a hodge-podge of building materials and methodologies and has outlived its useful life.”
He said the fishing industry founded the St. John’s port and it will not be left unserviced by the authority.
“Very shortly we will commence construction of a multimillion-dollar, state-of-the-art wharf facility which will serve the fishing industry for decades to come,” Hanrahan said.
As well he said the port has leased land to The Keg restaurant for it to expand operations by developing two new restaurants immediately adjacent to The Keg in a separate building.
“We look forward to 2014 which will see quite an exciting atmosphere in this area of the port, given its soon-to-be three restaurants,” Hanrahan said.