Happy City St. John’s says project merits public consultation
The proposed fence for the St. John’s harbourfront.
— Image courtesy of the St. John’s Port Authority
The St. John’s Port Authority is not on the fence when it comes to building a security structure on the harbourfront — it either abides by security standards or it shuts down a $250-million industry, says its CEO.
“Since Sept. 11, 2001 there’s been a more restricted security regime in place, one we have always tried to maintain, but at the same time afford as much public access to the harbour as we can. That’s not always possible, and we’ve gone as far as we can with that,” said Sean Hanrahan, the authority’s president.
“The vessels that visit our port demand certain security and Transport Canada demands certain security levels, so we’ve got to meet a standard or we shut down the port of St. John’s,” he said Thursday in response to a news release by Happy City St. John’s, a non-profit organization which advocates for public dialogue on civic issues.
“Now shutting down the port of St. John’s, having vessel traffic go elsewhere, would mean the loss of a quarter of a billion dollars and the loss of close to 3,000 jobs,” Hanrahan said.
He said what the authority decided to do was meet the standard by having controlled access to 60 per cent of the wharf, leaving 40 per cent with public access, by building a fence along the harbour apron.
He said even in the controlled-access area, special events will be welcome, with security measures put in place.
Happy City suggests the city made a mistake in not holding a public consultation on the matter. The news release said the City of
St. John’s is due to hold another vote at Monday’s council meeting on the proposal.
“We’d like to see them defer the vote and then call a public meeting around (the fence) to explain the details to the people who are interested, and also ask what our thoughts are,” said Dave Lane, chairman of Happy City St. John’s, who spoke with The Telegram Thursday afternoon.
However, Mayor Dennis O’Keefe said there is no such vote happening on the matter, noting that council gave unanimous approval to the proposal for the fence in August.
“The decision has been made — end of story,” said the mayor. “There’s nothing coming to council on Monday.”
Hanrahan said the concerns raised by Happy City seem to be about engagement, but the authority met with the city three times since June, with the latest meeting being held Tuesday. City representatives gave their unanimous support for the project each time.
“We couldn’t discuss the matter with 120,000 people, so what we did was discuss it with their representatives and we did it on three separate occasions, and this is crucial, in my view, in terms of engagement. We didn’t do it once or twice, we did it three times. … If you read Happy City’s release it seems to say we allegedly hid under a rock, but that’s not the case.”
The fence will cost about $900,000, with the city’s portion being capped at $425,000. Hanrahan said if it costs any more than that the authority will pay the balance.
The fence will be erected on the waterfront on Harbour Drive near the parking garage over to the Royal Trust Building. The open-access area will be from the Keg Restaurant to the edge of Atlantic Place.
While Lane said the city has generally done a great job of “opening up” and engaging the public on development matters, a decision such as the one concerning the harbour fence requires “explicit engagement” from residents.
During the last two years, Lane said, Happy City St. John’s has consulted with many residents about their vision for the city and how they would like to see it grow.
“The harbour comes up a lot,” he said. “The harbourfront is an important part of our city.”
He said the decision to create a fence concerns a lot of residents, particularly given the fact public access to much of the harbour will be restricted as a result of its erection.
“We think that if the city engaged a bit more openly on this issue, they could make a better decision,” said Lane. “People really value having direct access to the water in that way. A lot of people will stroll down with their families or their children.”
Given the area is under the jurisdiction of the port authority, O’Keefe said, it could have elected to build whatever it wanted, but showed good faith in approaching the city on the matter.
“They could put whatever they wanted there, but being the good citizen that they are, they approached the city to tear down the dirty-looking chain-link fence that currently exists and put up a heritage-style colonial fence with viewing areas, and of course their intent was to enhance and beautify the downtown, which this fence will do.”
Hanrahan said residents have to realize there are two more wide-open publicly accessible spaces at Harbourside Park and the Terry Fox Monument site.
“So when you put those in the mix we’re about 50 per cent open and 50 per cent access controlled. So we think that’s prudent. The Marginal Wharf is a working harbour and this is not dissimilar from the airport, where you can go in and watch the planes through the viewing area, but you can’t walk on the tarmac. So that’s the parallel, in our view,” said Hanrahan.
O’Keefe said it is erroneous to suggest the new fence will deny people access to the harbour.
“For anybody to say that is totally incorrect and totally irresponsible,” said the mayor.