By Joy E. Hecht
I am writing to express my strong opposition to a harbour fence that will keep the citizens away from the water.
The working harbour is a key asset of downtown St. John’s, to which citizen access should not be restricted with out open public input, honest discussion and a careful weighing of considerations and options on all sides. The decision to build the proposed fence, and the city’s decision to provide financial support for its construction, have benefited from none of these standard features of ethical process for decisions in which the public is closely concerned.
It is, at this point, not at all clear why the St. John’s Port Authority has proposed to build this fence. Last spring they were talking about presenting a pleasing appearance to tourists arriving on cruise boats. Given that very few cruise boats dock at St. John’s, and it is well known to professionals in the tourism industry and tourism economics that cruise boat tourists spend very little money compared with other visitors, this could hardly be a reasonable justification for constructing the fence and blocking public access to the water.
This fall, the port authority has justified the fence with claims that Transport Canada is requiring it. However, Transport Canada has told the CBC that they have not required the fence. Moreover, while the letter from Transport Canada that the port authority has posted on its website (dated, somewhat oddly, Dec. 10, 2012, so this was not the basis for any port authority action last spring) does call for stronger security, it does not call for a fence that will keep the public permanently away from the water.
As Deputy Mayor Shannie Duff clearly pointed out at the council meeting on Dec. 17, there are many other security options that can be explored that would provide the needed space without excluding the citizens from areas that are now open to the public.
Moreover, it is not clear why Mayor Dennis O’Keefe and certain members of the council are adamantly supporting the fence. The mayor claimed on the CBC that “thousands of jobs” were at stake in building this fence. Given that the entire oil industry creates about 3,000 jobs in the city of St. John’s (according to Ken O’Brien, St. John’s city planner), the possibility that boats serving the offshore might have to land elsewhere, or might have to share the secure space that the Harvey Company already has for its offshore operations, might threaten a few hundred jobs, but could not possibly threaten “thousands.”
Additionally, while the construction of a new rig may generate more boat traffic on the waterfront (if additional boats are required to service it rather than more active use of the current fleet), the Harvey Company has not weighed in to say that they need additional secure space in order to meet those needs. Surely we should not be deciding to hand them additional restricted waterfront property without even knowing whether they need it.
I recognize that the final decision about this fence rests with the port authority and is not in the city’s hands. Nevertheless, I do not believe that the city lacks leverage they can use with the port authority to influence their decision, especially as they want us to use our tax dollars to help pay for something that threatens our access to something of great value to many citizens. The shocking behaviour of the men (yes, the men) on the city council last Monday indicates that they have no interest in using that leverage to protect this valuable asset; indeed, their opposition even to Deputy Mayor Duff’s proposed public meeting on the subject makes it clear that they have no interest in any of the concerns of those who have put them in office.
I am simply appalled.
Dr. Joy E. Hecht is a city planner and
She writes from St. John’s.