"Remember, it was local labor organizers who won the labor movement, local preachers who won the civil rights movement, and it will be grassroots organizers who will win our environmental rights."
-- Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
Waterkeeper joined members of the public and city council in Oshawa last week to discuss the future of the Oshawa Harbour. A representative from Decommissioning Services was on hand to answer questions about its risk assessment prepared for Transport Canada.
The study described contamination from numerous industrial port operations, including coal deposits, PCBs, the old landfill site, and salt. It is the first comprehensive study of the entire harbour, and the meeting marked a unique attempt to involve the public in making important decisions about its future.
Waterkeeper presented three criteria for city council to consider when deciding what remediation plan to recommend: Is it accessible to the public? Is it safe for people and wildlife? Will there be choice for future land uses?
The risk assessment Transport Canada asked for only looked at what would be required to maintain the lands for current uses - meaning an industrial port facility with no public marina operations, residential, or commercial development. The conflict between the federal government?s desire to maintain the status quo and the municipality's desire to redevelop its waterfront was clear. After spending $120,000 on studies, the city still lacks an answer to its only question: How do we make our dreams come true?
The Oshawa experience teaches us a valuable lesson: The questions we ask our experts to answer will dictate our future options. A broad mandate to consider whether or not a project should proceed provides the public with key information. Consider:
In Toronto, the environmental assessment for the construction of a bridge to the island airport asked only, "Will the construction of a bridge have a negative impact on existing conditions in the Toronto Harbour?" Thus, the study did not address the community's real concerns about the potential impact of the airport on the future of the harbour.
In Port Hope, Cameco is asking, "How should we implement a process for making slightly enriched uranium?" Thus, its study will never address whether or not there should be a uranium refinery in downtown Port Hope.
When we limit ourselves to maintaining the status quo, we fail to learn from our past successes and failures. Our communities stagnate. This is an especially frightening prospect for Lake Ontario, which is the most developed area on the Canadian Great Lakes. Our abilities to swim, drink, and fish safely on Lake Ontario have been almost entirely sacrificed to pollution-based prosperity.
As Oshawa, Port Hope, and Toronto emerge from their pasts, we keep the Waterkeeper criteria in mind: is it accessible, safe for people and wildlife, and do we have choice? The hallmark of a new era on Lake Ontario will be a resounding, "yes."