"We're going to do what we want with the marina for whatever are our reasons."
-- Donna Taylor, CEO Oshawa Harbour Commission
On March 12, 2004, the Oshawa Harbour Commission (OHC) terminated its lease with the Oshawa Yacht Club. The OHC stated that the yacht club had left a security gate open during a club function, violating its lease. The club has until midnight March 31 to vacate the premises.
Last week, both Oshawa City Council and Durham Region Council passed resolutions in support of the yacht club. City Council asked the Harbour Commission to reconsider its position, while Durham Region asked the Minister of Transport to instruct the OHC to allow the yacht club to remain open. In the last two weeks, delegations to council have been made. Articles have appeared in the press. Federal officials have been contacted.
Why all the fuss for one yacht club? Twenty years of community. More than one hundred thousand dollars of investment in the property. A belief that the city's appointee to the Harbour Commission violated the city?s position when he voted to evict the boaters. For members of the Oshawa Yacht Club, the actions of the Harbour Commission are "disheartening" and "disappointing." For members of city council, the OHC's actions are "ridiculous" and weaken their hope that the marina will open this summer.
The Oshawa Harbour Commission closed the marina in 2002, citing environmental and economic concerns. The ensuing two years have seen extensions on the lease to the yacht club, numerous negotiations for the return of the land to the city, hundreds of pages of consultants' reports, two elections, and a flurry of media coverage.
Different reports give varying opinions on the extent of the contamination in the Oshawa Harbour. Different clean up options have dramatically different price tags attached to them. Clean up to industrial site standards - without public access - is less expensive. It also allows the Harbour Commission to pursue its goal of becoming a commercial port. But the community sees the waterfront as belonging to the public, a part of the city, and they want to see development, recreation, and true remediation.
The crux of the issue is access. Should the public be given access to the waterfront during negotiations? And should public access be protected in the future? Waterkeeper argues, "yes.' Public access to our waterfront is vital to a healthy, democratic community. This is true for communities all around Lake Ontario.
When the public has access to the lake, we have "eyes and ears" to ensure our water is being protected. When we are denied access, we lose this transparency. Without access, water quality issues fade from the public agenda: out of sight, out of mind. With the yacht club members using the Oshawa Harbour, clean up is a priority. With the gates closed to the public, other expenditures can take precedence. Allowing the public to retain access to the harbour would be an act of good faith on the part of the Harbour Commission. It would demonstrate to the residents that the OHC understands how important the facility is to the community. Without this demonstration of good faith, the OHC gives the impression that it cares more about its own self interest than the community it is part of.
The story of the Oshawa Harbour Commission resembles the story of the rebellion against King John. Concerned by the potential for unjust demonstrations of power, the King's barons demanded a written safeguard against his arbitrary actions. They forced him to negotiate at Runnymede, by the River Thames. Their negotiations gave birth to the Magna Carta, which gave forests and riverbanks back to the people, enshrined the right of navigation of waterways, and limited for the first time the powers of the king.
King John was forced to respond under great pressure. At the time, the Magna Carta seemed like the simplest way to obtain peace with the barons. Nearly eight hundred years later, its historical impact is legendary.
Oshawa is not the only city dealing with the federal government to clean up its harbourfront. From Belleville, to Toronto, Hamilton, and Port Hope, the issue is always the same: Do we clean up the harbour for future uses, or do we restrict public access and save money? If Oshawa is successful, this could be our Runnymede.