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Four years ago, the federal government summarily kicked Oshawa residents out of their harbour. "It's not safe here, it's time to clean up the old landfill," the boaters (mostly retired autoworkers) were told. Four years later, not a single shovel has gone into the ground. Not a single cubic metre of contaminated soil has been removed.
On June 25, 2007, institutions concerned about the future of the harbour (the Oshawa Marina Users Group, the Oshawa Yacht Club, the City of Oshawa, the Canadian Autoworkers Union, Friends of Second Marsh, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper among others) will have our last chance to comment on CN Rail's proposal to construct a rail link to Oshawa's waterfront.
It feels futile. A small handful of industrial port users want access to the railway (including Oshawa Stevedoring, Novosteel, McAsphalt Industries, and CCC Steel Canada). They asked the Oshawa Harbour Commission to make it happen. The Harbour Commission, in turn, asked CN Rail to build the link. CN Rail then asked the Canadian Transportation Agency for permission to do it. CTA's decision will influence development in the region for the next generation.
Building this railway changes the future of the Oshawa Harbour. The old landfill isn't being cleaned up; it's being left in place. The small group of industrial users will have a permanent home; they'll dominate the space between the Oshawa Harbour and the Second Marsh. Residential, commercial, natural, and recreational users will compete for the paltry parcels of still-contaminted land left behind.
Once, two rivers met at the Oshawa Harbour and created one of Lake Ontario's greatest spawning runs. Today, the Oshawa River is so withered it's called the Oshawa Creek. The Montgomery River is so polluted it's called a drainage pipe. Heavy metals, coal and clinker debris, and sewage threaten some 20 rare species. With harbours like this dotting our shoreline, it's no wonder a recent binational study named Lake Ontario's coastal wetlands the most threatened on all the Great Lakes.
After shutting down the marina and taking control of the old landfill, the Harbour Commmission could have cleaned things up and returned the land to the people and water to the fishes. Instead, the Commission posted "Keep Out" signs, bickered with the City, and teamed up with a handful of industrial lobbyists. The Harbour Commission had a chance to make things better; it chose not to.
That same choice is being made over and over again, all around the Great Lakes. We are paving valleys to make way for highways. We are digging holes to put our nuclear waste in. We are leaving our sewage on our own shores. When the State of the Great Lakes report came out last week, we learned that these choices have consequences: every single use of the Great Lakes is now impaired. We can't swim. We can't fish. Wildlife can't support itself. And here, the Oshawa Harbour Commission stands poised to make things worse.
Four years ago, we thought that Oshawa would be the line in the sand. The City wanted the land for the people and the federal government agreed to negotiate. Today, nothing has been cleaned up and the rail spur is a breath away from being reality. Meanwhile, the province remains silent. Ontario knows that the landfill is there but hasn't ordered a hearing under the Environmental Protection Act, hasn't launched an investigation under the Fisheries Act or the Ontario Water Resources Act. It hasn't even backed its municipality.
As it turns out, historic pollution, economic clout, and political influence matter more than science and democracy. That's got to change.