When CN applied for a licence to build a rail connection to the Oshawa Harbour in early April, many people were caught off guard. People have been talking about remediation and development for years, and the idea of a rail spur has been raised now and again by those in favour of industrial development. When Oshawa's city council rejected Gerdau Ameristeel's proposal to build a rail line to the harbour a few months ago, most thought the spur would be abandoned. Now, Oshawa's mayor John Gray is calling CN's application to the Canadian Transportation Agency a "bombshell."
The controversial proposal is the latest in a long line of gaffes at one of Lake Ontario's most woebegone harbours. The last generation used the harbour as a dumpsite. Three years ago, the Oshawa Harbour Commission closed the marina and yacht club blaming contamination. Today, the lands around the harbour house mostly industry: steel, asphalt, chemical, and nuclear interests, etc.
Until the first week of April, ongoing talks between the city and the federal government seemed to be leading towards remediation and more mixed-use development. Now Mayor John Gray says CN's $1.8-million rail spur will derail their progress. Local citizens fear it will entrench solely industrial uses in the harbour area for years to come. Supporters of the rail spur, however, are lobbying hard:
"Rail will now allow McAsphalt to better compete against our competition whom already enjoy rail, along with truck and marine options in the Millhaven and Hamilton port lands." - McAsphalt Industries
"As markets change it is necessary for us to be able to distribute certain import cargoes by rail and without a rail spur we may need to re-evaluate our continued use of ... the Port of Oshawa." - NovoSteel
"It is our belief that not going forward with the extension of the spur ... will handcuff local businesses and be detrimental to the local community, as well as undermine the local economy." - Gerdau Ameristeel
Since 2001, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper has supported the various citizen and municipal stakeholders in their bids to win back the Oshawa Harbour. We first became active in the area after learning that an old landfill site was leaking into the harbour. We supported marina users who were stripped of access to the harbour three years ago. We discussed remediation options for the harbour and supported the City of Oshawa's vision for a clean, green and people-friendly waterfront with a healthy mixture of uses and employment opportunities. Our support for these groups and their commitment to waterfront revitalization continues to this day.
CN's application looks like an environmental assessment, but it was written in a vacuum, without true public consultation, and too rushed for its own good. As a result, it underestimates the environmental, social, and economic impacts of the project. It leaves out key facts - like the movement of nuclear materials in and out of the Oshawa Harbour, the presence of an old landfill, and the competing visions for redevelopment.
In our formal submission to the Canadian Transportation Agency, Waterkeeper asks the Canadian Transportation Agency to reject CN's application. In the alternative, Waterkeeper asks the CTA to launch a fair, more meaningful environmental assessment that fulfils the objectives of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
When the stakes are this high - years of negotiation, access to a public resource, the economy of a community - the Canadian Transportation Agency should do right by the public. Especially when CN, the Oshawa Harbour Commission, and industry have not.
View Lake Ontario Waterkeeper's submission to the CTA on our web site.