By Adam Brazeau
CORNWALL, Ontario - A controversial chemical tank project on the city's waterfront got a resounding thumbs down at a public forum Wednesday.
© Adam Brazeau
Doug Smith, Minister Lisa Raitt's chief of staff, speaks to a lively crowd during a public forum on controversial storage tanks by the city's waterfront.
Local residents, business owners, environmentalists and politicians blindsided by the federal government's unannounced lease agreement for the waterfront property lashed out against what they consider an unwanted eyesore.
Their concerns and frustrations over Transport Canada's lease with Trillium Distribution to erect a pair of calcium chloride tanks on Harbour Road were anything but few. Doug Smith, Transport Canada Minister Lisa Raitt's chief of staff, was in attendance and tasked with taking Cornwall's remarks back to parliament.
Chuck Charlebois, Groupe Renaissance Group president, spoke vehemently against the issue.
"Communication was the big thing and it was definitely lacking here," he said. "We find - it was maybe unintentionally - but a total disrespect for what the community over the years has said via the waterfront plan."
Cornwall city council recently passed a bylaw that requires work on the site on Harbour Road to cease.
The unanimous decision of all 150-plus in attendance was for the federal government to issue a stop-work order until all parties can come to an agreement which moves the tanks away from the harbour area.
MP Guy Lauzon told his side of the story before hearing what city residents had to say during a one-hour Q&A period.
"Thursday evening about 9 p.m., I received a call asking me what I knew about two storage tanks that were going in on the waterfront and I didn't know anything. No one told me about the construction that was going on down there," he said.
Lauzon dropped a vital piece of information on the crowd when he announced that the City of Cornwall had the chance to purchase the land when the government offered the area to be divested in 2006.
"For a variety of reasons, probably the cost, the city decided not to take it over," he said. "The ideal thing is if the City of Cornwall owned this port."
Lauzon said there is an opportunity for the city to still claim the land since a "seven-year program" with the Ministry of Transportation is still open until March 2014.
At one point, Lauzon tried to reassure the crowd that the lease was only for ten years and not set in stone. Many in the crowd scoffed at that suggestion. Once the public meeting was over, he felt he had positive feedback for Raitt that could spur a new decision no earlier than January.
"In the new year, I'm sure we're going to have a solution or be working towards one," said Lauzon.
He did admit that the city's bylaw to cease work activity and the proposed stop-work order may not be a realistic solution due to legalities.
"We want to find a solution. I don't know what that solution is but I am committed to facilitating Mr. Lauzon and finding one that satisfies the people of Cornwall," said Smith. "All of the information I received tonight will be pushed to Transport Canada."
Seaway News broke the story before most city politicians were ever informed. The tight-lipped approach from the federal government, lead to a peaceful protest at the project's construction site, just west of the Cornwall harbour on Dec. 9.