Public safety lost in debate

Bonnie Belec
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St. John’s Port Authority now in full compliance with Transport Canada regulations

Activity on the harbourfront is one of the concerns that has been overlooked during the apron fence controversy, says the St. John’s Port Authority.
— Photos courtesy of the St. John’s Port Authority

If someone was injured or killed on the apron of the St. John’s harbourfront, the port authority would be held accountable, and this is one of the reasons access has been restricted, says the port authority’s CEO.

Through the whole backlash and community uproar over the St. John’s Port Authority’s decision to restrict access to the north side of the harbour under orders from Transport Canada, Sean Hanrahan says one of the key issues has been lost.

He said of equal importance to providing security and protection for vessels and personnel is providing a safe working environment for them and keeping citizens out of harm’s way.

“This is a very active area with all sorts of hazardous work going on, and there isn’t an industrial site in the province, or even the country, that would allow people to be mixing with industrial activity such as you see down there,” Hanrahan said this week.

Transport Canada told the port it was not in compliance with national standards and would not be recognized as an International Ship and Port Facility (ISPF) unless it beefed up security. It had to make changes and have them implemented by Feb. 10, or it could have put a $250-million industry in jeopardy, Hanrahan said.


The port’s security plan was amended, which included hiring security guards at the gate, on vessels and perimeter control.

A letter from Transport Canada dated Feb. 13 says the port is now in compliance.


Sharing the costs

The City of St. John’s and the port authority have formed a financial partnership to erect a heritage-style security fence on the apron. That plan came under fire by residents and community groups last summer when the plan became public.

People protested and complained they weren’t consulted about the project before it became a done deal, and said it would cut off public access to the harbour.

“I understand,” said Hanrahan of people’s feelings that they were being forced to relinquish access to the harbour — often considered the focal point of downtown St. John’s.

Hanrahan said that’s why the port authority approached the city to see if it wanted to cost-share a fence that would be more esthetically pleasing than the national port standard of an eight-foot chain-link fence with 100 per cent restricted access. He said the chain-link model fit the port authority’s budget.

“It’s one thing to be in compliance with security codes, but also important to recognize you are part of a community, and if you can do something to enhance the area at the same time, we believe we should do so,” said Hanrahan.

Regardless of what type of fencing was chosen to secure the area, a barrier has to be installed, he said.

“We don’t want to see some child on a sunny afternoon out walking on the apron only to be injured or killed and then have to address that matter. The outcry now would pale in comparison to the outcry if anyone got killed down there. ‘Where is the access control?’ would be the first question, and ‘Why wasn’t it fenced off?’” he said.


Communication breakdown

St. John’s Coun. Sheilagh O’Leary and Dave Lane from Happy City

St. John’s, a non-profit organization which advocates for public dialogue on civic issues, agree safety is a key concern, but say it was the lack of consultation about the issue that got the community so perturbed.

“I live downtown and watch it all the time. It is quite a busy place,”  Lane, the group’s chairman, said Friday.

“There’s always things hanging from cranes, and trucks loading and unloading. But our position is not whether we want the fence or not. Our position was that the people of the city didn’t know about it and it’s obviously an important part of our identity as a city, and so our concern is that we were not involved.”

O’Leary said poor communication can set back any project. She said there was no real dialogue to engage the community about the overall harbourfront design.

“Yes, safety is key, but proper planning at the start could have avoided all this nonsense,” O’Leary said.


Snowclearing affected

She said on Friday the city’s snowclearing efforts are now being hampered because of poor planning.

“Our trucks cannot even access the harbourfront now to dump snow without security checks with every load. It’s very problematic and certainly does not enhance snowclearing efforts, which is already under pressure,” she said.

Hanrahan said the situation has been caused by harbour congestion, not security measures.

“The city’s public works director, Paul Mackey, and I agreed that the overwhelming reason for the slow-down in dumping is the considerable congestion of vessels in port — for example, finding room between vessels to actually dump,” he said Friday.

“The delays caused by new vehicle entrance procedures have been monitored and average only 20–30 seconds per truck.”

Hanrahan said access is now restricted to about 50 per cent of the apron. The other half remains open. The length of the current fence is 380 metres, while the new fence will be 450 metres, encompassing Berths 9, 10 and 11, which are now secured by guards.  

Tenders for the fence went out last week. It will cost about $900,000, with the city’s portion capped at $425,000. Hanrahan said if it costs more, the port authority will pay for it.

Mayor Dennis O’Keefe and finance chairman Coun. Danny Breen agree it’s money well spent.

“We were told in no uncertain terms if we didn’t want to contribute, if the authority did it on its own, it would have put up a fence that fit in their budget, which was a chain-link fence,” said Breen.

“We don’t have any authority to tell them what to put up. They could put up a brick wall if they wanted to,” said O’Keefe, adding that the city’s financial contribution gave them a say in what gets built.

Breen said the city and developers are investing in the downtown  to beautify the area and incorporate the harbourfront and businesses as the centre of the downtown community.

The city is spending $64 million to expand the convention centre.

“If you’re going to develop the harbour, you have got to have something attractive on the harbourfront and not an unsightly chain-link fence,” said Breen.

 The fence will be erected on Harbour Drive from just west of Atlantic Place to just east of the Fortis Building. The open-access area will extend from The Keg restaurant to the edge of Atlantic Place.

Organizations: Transport Canada, Port Authority, Fortis Building

Geographic location: Port Facility, Happy, Atlantic Place.bbelec

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Recent comments

  • jockoontherocko
    March 04, 2013 - 18:44

    It's about time the harbour apron was closed to the public. This is and have always been a working port and I for one cannot figure for the life of me how some of the public feel they have the right to walk out on the apron amongst the ships doing their daily business. There is a sidewalk provided on the other side of the current fence. It should be used by the public. Why do you need to be out touching the ships, hanging your head over the pier or getting in the way. Having worked down there on various ships over the years, it is almost impossible to get anything done at times. People driving along apron rubber necking and getting in the way. Busy bodies walking in and out of working areas getting in the way. Others asking if they can come aboard for a tour, getting in the way. The public has no business out there. It's only a matter of time before someone gets hurt. Oh and that arguement by DWB as to be the most ignorant points I ever heard. No one as ever been hurt? Maybe so but tha doesn't mean it won't happen. I've seen a more than few close calls down there. I challenge anyone to find another port in Canada where you can walk up to the side of a working ship? There in not one in Canada. The arguement against this fence as been nothing but pure ignorance. It's time we closed this working port to nosy, budy bodies who feel they have the right to walk into a indutrial work place. Try that at the airport or any construction zone. There is no difference.

  • rhw
    March 04, 2013 - 17:03

    Is that why there was an armed personnel on the naval vessel by the waterfront on Sunday while they were doing some water or maybe waste removal ? I don't ever remember armed personnel while they are dock side .

    • Ross Craig
      March 05, 2013 - 16:57

      The Canadian Navy have armed security on the ship in every port they visit. The dock yard in Halifax is a secured area and not armed there. My question is how is the city of St. John's allowed to dump snow in the harbour as this is banned in other Canadian cities. During White Juan the city of Halifax had to get permission from the Federal Government.

  • Corporate Psycho
    March 04, 2013 - 15:36

    I do not want my tax dollars spent on a fence. Hanrahan sounds desperate to try and save some face. Doc will get his cruiseship fence but not another term.

  • peter
    March 04, 2013 - 15:17

    $250 million industry and here we are the tax payers paying 450 thousand dollars for a fence to keep us out!

  • crista
    March 04, 2013 - 15:02

    ken; get to know the law, not allowed.IT IS WRITTEN!!!!

  • Steve
    March 04, 2013 - 13:46

    Give the real reason, real estate for the oil companies. This has nothing to do about compliance with Transport Canada regulations. This why St. John's Council moved the New Years fireworks and Canada Day fireworks away from the Harbour front a few years back. This has been in the works since this happened well before any mention or discussion of compliance with Transport Canada regulations. Don't kid yourself about any other statements they are 100% BS.

  • Jay
    March 04, 2013 - 11:52

    What debate? There was no debate. The Port Authority and Council snuck this decision through without letting anybody know about it. The safety issue is a red herring and had nothing at all to do with this move. Hanrahan didn't mention safety until almost a year after the original agreement to build this expensive monument to him and the idiot mayor.

  • girly girl
    March 04, 2013 - 11:26

    Does this mean that if I slip on an icy sidewalk that I can sue the City or the property owner? The City is doing nothing to protect pedestrians anywhere else but at the harbour.

  • Carrie
    March 04, 2013 - 10:28

    Wow DWB. What an insightful response to this article. You are right - we should just wait until someone is seriously injured or god forbid killed before we take action. Seriously? Think about how ridiculous your reaction is. Sure everyone may not like the fence, but I for one would much prefer a secure area to protect my children who like to walk down there. And they can still walk and play on more than 50 percent of the harbour. Please stop with the lame political bashing and step back and realize how important it is to protect workers and citizens. ENOUGH with some councillors trying to make political hay for their own benefit. Compromising safety is not worth a vote at the polls.

  • tkdboy
    March 04, 2013 - 09:40

    DWB , your comment is insensitive. My close friend lost a brother due to drowning in the harbor. "Death by drowning due to misadventure" was the summary cause of death. Perhaps a barrier could have prevented his untimely passing. It will be a monument indeed.

  • stephen woodruff
    March 04, 2013 - 09:25

    It could be called "The Mayor O'keefe Fence" in memory of the man who gave away part of the city's heritage, and one of the main tourist attractions, to make sure anyone manoeuvring a truck or crane didn't have to pay for their own man to watch for dangers to passersby.

  • BC
    March 04, 2013 - 09:17

    Happy to see an article framed with the facts of the matter. A fence was going up regardless. It could be ugly or it could be attractive. To think that people should be allowed to run around a busy industrial port, when more and more attention is being paid to worker safety, is insane. While public engagement could have been higher, I think that a mountain has been made out of a mole-hill. O'Keefe and Co. bought a seat at the table so we don't get stuck with a chain-link fence. That is a move I fully support.

  • Steve
    March 04, 2013 - 08:34

    Give the real reason, real estate for the oil companies. This has nothing to do about compliance with Transport Canada regulations. This why St. John's Council moved the New Years fireworks and Canada Day fireworks away from the Harbour front a few years back. This has been in the works since this happened well before any mention or discussion of compliance with Transport Canada regulations. Don't kid yourself about any other statements they are 100% BS.

  • FrogLips
    March 04, 2013 - 08:22

    Listen up people....Do you hear there? Just imagine if O"keefe and Hanrahan were faced with a major problem...and it makes me wonder....

  • Ken Collis
    March 04, 2013 - 07:32

    It's about time that the town of CBS build a facility that can allow a container pier, offshore supply base, bulk cargo area, warehouses, tank farm, etc... in a truely secure area. St. John's port doesn't have the room to allow growth. Mr. French should visit the Province and the Federal govt. with a plan. Start with an easy one, the supply base, and grow from there.

  • DWB
    March 04, 2013 - 07:25

    God love the Harbour Authority and the Mayor for saving us from ourselves. The number of injuries or accidental deaths that have happened on the waterfront for the past century are horrendously high! Thank you both for saving us poor ignorant souls from drowning in the harbour or from having heavy objects fall on our heads. Thank you Mayor O'keefe for approving the funds to erect forever, a monument, reminding us of how you didn't fight for the rights of the citizens of our city. That fence will serve as a permanent reminder of how you failed us. Well done sir.