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.
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.
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.