Here’s an update on one of our community projects, the Port Stanley Harbour. As part of a nation-wide policy, Transport Canada wants to download the badly contaminated harbour onto the local municipality. Many other harbours have already been downloaded. This status update, on the community struggle for a clean, sustainable harbour, is written by retired Admiral Dan McNeil:
Last November the Port Stanley Think Tank and the Lake Erie Beacon (LEB) sought community action to generate progress on the harbour divestiture issues. We began with an article on the front page of the LEB 7 November 2008: “Harbour Divestiture – Perhaps it’s time to do something?” This was followed by a well-attended public meeting at the Legion on the 4th of December. The subject of the discussion that evening was “Setting the Conditions for Success”.
Largely because of tremendous public interest and support I am pleased to report to you that some of the conditions for success are being put in place. The months following that December meeting have been extremely eventful with press coverage provided by Chip Martin and the London Free Press (LFP). The editorial staff at the LFP has agreed with us that the issues are much bigger than Central Elgin and the village of Port Stanley. The issues encompass important subjects such as regional development, transportation and tourism. The moral issues surrounding the contamination on the Transport Canada lands offend our values as Canadians and demand that our governments ‘do the right thing’.
First and foremost – good public policy does not come from secret negotiations. Central Elgin should now be commended for their more forthcoming attitude on all of the issues. They now have press conferences, press releases, public meetings and have set up a web site that provides some excellent information. Central Elgin is developing a business plan for a harbour renewal program that, if viable within a reasonable time frame, would represent an enormous step forward for this community and the region. You should pay attention to these developments. When you get the opportunity, you should also thank your Councillors and ask them to maintain and enhance the dialogue with residents as they proceed with the next and most difficult step: negotiations with Transport Canada. They need our help and support because Transport Canada is a formidable opponent.
Rather than rehash the many issues, I suggest that you go the LFP Port Stanley web-site — to read over fifty stories printed in the past months, and to obtain the relevant reports including an updated “analysis” (document 12). You can measure the progress that has been made against the Conclusions and Recommendations on the last page.
The Way Forward
Our MPP Steve Peters recently took the time to sit down with several of us to discuss the harbour situation. He listened carefully to the argument that: “the Province of Ontario can play a vital role in moving divestiture negotiations forward between the federal government and the Municipality of Central Elgin while also ensuring that key issues such as environmental protection for future generations are properly addressed.” He has written to the Premier, and the Ministers of the Environment, Natural Resources and Municipal Affairs stating that the arguments presented “have merit” and encouraging his colleagues to “consider and comment on them”. This is heartening, but further progress is unlikely unless all of us maintain the ground swell of support for “the right outcome”. Please urge MP Joe Preston to ensure that the necessary federal government departments, including Environment Canada, become involved and work in partnership with the Province. If the issues are left solely within Transport Canada, I am not optimistic that the outcome will be favourable..
On the front page of the LFP Wednesday January 14 there was a feature article by Chip Martin: “Lawyer warns cleanup costly”. One of Canada’s leading environmental lawyers, Dianne Saxe, was featured in that article and I am extremely pleased to report that she is now on our team. She has agreed to provide legal advice to us as a community service (pro bono) and has already delivered her preliminary views concerning the steps we may take if our governments do not clean up the harbour properties adequately and in a timely fashion. A small group is currently working with her law firm on strategies to address the serious environmental issues we now face. Because of the media coverage other prominent individuals, organizations and businesses have also come forward to help. Thanks to all of you there is progress and hope for a favourable outcome.
Progress will only continue with your informed support. Do not simply dismiss Central Elgin in their efforts to work with Transport Canada. I am impressed by their courage and I know they are trying to do the right thing in the best interests of the residents of Central Elgin. Unfortunately they cannot speak for the region, nor the Province.
Talk to, and write to, your MP and MPP. Pass this information along to your friends and neighbours. Get involved. Whether you agree, or disagree, enter the dialogue.
by Dan McNeil