Transport Canada is formalizing plans for the future of the Oshawa Harbour right now. Did you know that? We didn't.
You know the place: Industrial zone about an hour east of Toronto; ethanol and rail spur development on the way; currently featuring contaminated lands, a closed marina, a gaping underwater dumpsite. You know the politics: Blood feud between residents and city, federal government and Port Authority (er, "Harbour Commission"); defining characteristics include secrecy, indecision, and opportunities lost.
Yep, that Oshawa Harbour. This summer, we and the press and the government talked a lot about A Deal between municipal and federal governments. They were finally settling who owns what and which spots should get cleaned up for redevelopment. We talked a lot about that Deal because we were simultaneously excited about moving forward and frustrated with the lack of transparency.
Know what we didn't talk about? The Environmental Assessment(s). All this attention to the political document - The Deal - and total silence from the federal government about the scientific and technical documents dealing with the Oshawa Harbour lands.
An "Environmental Assessment" - with capital E and capital A - is a legal process required by federal law. One or more federal government departments take the lead to examine the potential environmental impacts of an undertaking such as transferring contaminated land to the City of Oshawa for redevelopment. There are three - count 'em three - Environmental Assessments for the Oshawa Harbour, all managed by Transport Canada.
One of the Assessments is already done. The West Wharf project was approved in August 2010. Details are online.
We knew that the environmental assessments would come once The Deal was finally made. We just thought that the public would be told about them. That we would be invited to comment. That there would be some consultation with the community. We thought that the closed door negotiations of the political agreement would be balanced by a public airing of scientific and technical issues via the - usually public - environmental assessment process.
Turns out, we were wrong. Public consultation is not required for these kinds of environmental assessments. It's up to the government decision-maker - in this case Transport Canada - to launch consultation when a project will have significant environmental impacts or when the public is really concerned about it. We thought that the overwhelming, undeniable, completely obvious public interest in the Oshawa Harbour would trigger a public consultation process without question. We have never seen a project (sorry, three projects) of this importance to the community go forward without public consultation. Never.
We didn't know the Environmental Assessments were so close to completion. When we found out, we thought you might like to know about them as well. Backgrounders that explain the process are available from the federal government. It's not too late for Transport Canada to consult the public, if environmental concerns or public interest warrant. Just visit the project websites (West Wharf, Marina Assessment, and Rail Spur Assessment) for contact information.