Time to let residents in on secret for grain terminals

This is my column in Friday’s edition of the E-B – and after reading the agenda for Monday’s council meeting, it’s even more appropriate given the town is now thinking of declaring the yacht club property surplus…

Ontario’s Municipal Act is pretty clear.
Municipal councils, under Sec. 239 (2) may close a meeting if the subject matter being considered pertains to one of several topics, such as labour negotiations, personnel issues, property discussions, and legal issues.
The operative word here is ‘may’.
Which is why I fail to understand the reasoning Collingwood council has for tucking itself under the Cone of Silence an inordinate amount of time lately to secretly deal with a couple of issues.
One of those has been the deferral of the development charges required of Pretty River Academy for the proposed sports dome; the reasoning for the topic to be discussed behind closed doors has been to do with ‘security of the property of the municipality or local board’, even though the private school land is neither municipal property, nor is the school run by a municipally-appointed board.
However, that’s not what has my goat at present.
Since August, town councillors have been discussing and deliberating on the future of the grain terminals, behind closed doors. Back in the summer, the town advertised for request for proposals for the property, after it had been declared surplus to the needs of the municipality.
That’s all well and good, as the municipality doesn’t want to be put in the position of pitting one bidder against another in a public forum. That’s fair.
However, here’s the thing: the public has never been asked what it wants to see happen with the building. And since August, the municipality has only been dealing with one proposal.
Another complication is whatever happens to the building may have a direct impact — potentially negative — on the user groups in the harbour (Full disclosure: I am a member of the canoe club, as well as the club’s representative on the town’s Harbourlands committee), though the future of the terminals has never been broached with either the user groups or the committee ostensibly tasked with providing council advice on all things harbour- (and waterfront-) related.
There has been discussion — all hush-hush — that the party interested in the terminals may also be interested in the area presently occupied by the yacht club. The yacht club is talking about moving its docks, regardless, as the current state of water levels imakes it dicey for some of the boats with deeper keels. Those docks would be moved to the piers south of the existing privately-owned docking that’s beside the launch ramps.
Here’s the thing: moving docks into that area of the harbour suddenly makes it useless for everyone else. It essentially becomes a parking lot for a single user group, while as it stands now, because it is the deepest, most protected water, it is in use by all harbour user groups.
The west side of the harbour is not appropriate for recreation uses, certainly from a canoe club perspective. It is shallow and weedy, and far less protected than the east side (the wave action tends to roll in from northeast to southwest, a direct line from the harbour mouth).
That’s what killed the last plan that came before the Harbourlands committee: the suggestion was the town would load the harbour up with docks, and it would become an instant mecca for boaters, even though a feasibility study had never been conducted.
A ‘build it and they will come’ scenario that, quite frankly, only works in movies.
Collingwood’s harbour, with respect to our esteemed columnist Richard Rohmer, is a vibrant multi-use facility, with paddlers, rowers, sailors, and anglers. Docks do not equal activity or vibrancy.
That’s not to say docks are bad; there is a need for facilities for transient boaters, and there has been discussion at the Harbourlands committee about just that. A plan has been sent up the municipal chain of command for councillors to consider when budget time rolls around.
And, the Collingwood Yacht Club is in a desperate position thanks to the water levels. Permitting the yacht club to move to deeper water is only fair, as long provisions are made to accommodate other harbour users — something I understand the yacht club is only more than willing to entertain.
But, everyone needs to determine their position based on everyone having equal access to the same information.
This isn’t like a municipal lot for sale on Findlay Drive. This is an iconic, historic property in the community. When you roll over the hill coming into Duntroon, it’s the first thing you see looking out over Georgian Bay.
From the water, it acts as a beacon, directing boaters back to the shelter of Collingwood Harbour.
But its future is being dealt with in secret, far from the prying eyes of the public. And the committee created to provide council with advice and and formulate a plan for the harbour that considers all user groups is put in the position of operating in a vacuum, without knowing what’s happening with a significant piece of the puzzle.
In October, Ontario ombudsman Andre Marin called on municipal councils in Ontario to hold fewer closed meetings, and to embrace the principles of openness, transparency and accountability.
It’s time for council to let Collingwood in on the secret of the future for the terminals.