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July 18, 2024
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Council's latest about-face defies belief. It already tried to reach a settlement. Just last year. There was, shall we say, a sticking point.
<p>(Jed Tallo/Gazette Staff)</p>
(Jed Tallo/Gazette Staff)

Here we go again. 

Almost exactly a year ago, the Gazette published an article, “Protestors await decision on Picton Terminals” (June 28, 2023).

I remember the issue because it had a great shot on the cover, of Mayor Steve Ferguson facing down a large crowd at Shire Hall. About 60 denizens of Picton, many retired, with picket signs. “No Containers.” “Say No to Picton Terminals.” “No Secret Deals.”

The issue that day was not just Picton Terminals’ defiance of County zoning by-laws, or its efforts to expand its port on Picton Bay into a major container shipping hub and cruise ship destination.

It was that Council had, first, directed its CAO, Marcia Wallace, to work with its lawyers to try to settle with Picton Terminals rather than pursue the company in court. And second, that the outcome of those negotiations, which had concluded a month earlier, had been discussed by Council only in a series of secret, or closed, meetings. 

No motion or resolution had yet come into an open session of Council. Nobody knew what was going on.

So, last June, protesters assembled at the Armoury plaza at noon, and walked Main Street accompanied by a police escort, blaring fog horns, banging water drums, and carrying their signs. They gathered outside Shire Hall, where passing cars honked their support. 

Their target was yet another closed session, due to start at 1pm. The protesters, by design, made a racket loud enough to call out the Mayor, who faced questions about “closed door decision-making” and lack of transparency.

“It’s not uncommon to take legal counsel in a closed session,” Steve Ferguson said, adding that the day’s meeting “could be about any number of things.”

Closed sessions do occur all the time. Under the Municipal Act, a closed session of council can be convened to take legal advice and discuss confidential matters. Council’s latest about-face on Picton Terminals occurred last week in a closed session. This one took place at the very end of a regular Council meeting. That adjourned, councillors then headed into an unannounced closed session. Doubly closed you might say. There was nothing on the agenda to even give a hint. 

Our representatives emerged from that session with a motion, read aloud sometime after 10pm. It signals an abrupt change of course in the long-gathering matter of the County vs. Picton Terminals. 

Last August, after trying mightily to reach a settlement with Picton Terminals, and after the aforementioned months of closed-session deliberations, Council decided it had no choice but to enforce its laws in Court. 

That case is just getting started. The next court date is October 24. Picton Terminals has just filed its arguments. 

Yet Council just decided, behind closed doors, to try to pursue, once again, a settlement with Picton Terminals. 

The move defies belief. The County already tried to reach a settlement. Just last year. There was, shall we say, a sticking point. Doornekamp Lines, which owns the Terminals, wants to turn its port on Picton Bay into a major international shipping hub. It wants to be allowed to transship containers. At the moment it is zoned for the temporary offloading and storage of bulk cargo, like bauxite, gypsum, steel, salt, or sugar. As most international, long-distance cargo shipping is in containers, opening the port to container shipping represents a clear opportunity for Doornekamp Lines to exponentially grow its business. Picton Terminals could start to receive goods coming from ships sailing all over the world. From Halifax, short-sea ships bring cargo inland, through the St. Lawrence Seaway, along Lake Ontario, and, perhaps, all the way into Picton Bay. Doornekamp Lines already advertises 24/7 unloading, 30 acres of container storage, and unlimited trucks to take containers anywhere they need to go, starting with straight up Highway 49. 

It’s just a shame that none of these activities are legal here. The currrent zoning of Picton Terminals is for bulk cargo storage and transshipment alone. 

A move to settle must mean deciding to give Doornekamp Lines what it wants. Nobody can seriously think the company is going to give up its dream of container shipping on Picton Bay because it is asked to. It refused last year. It will refuse again.

Council must bring this matter out into the open. Enough is enough. The decision to try, yet again, to settle this case out of court has not yet been taken. The current motion directs the CAO to work with the County’s lawyers to, once again, draft an offer. The decision to bring that offer to Picton Terminals is the next step. 

Before that decision is taken, the residents of Prince Edward County must be consulted, which means they must be informed of all the facts and all the options. If the cost of proceeding with the legal case is the issue, they must be told what that might be. As well as what has already been spent. And be given the means to consider the cost of not proceeding. 

All those who reside in Picton and Bloomfield, whose sole source of drinking water is Picton Bay. Those who reside along Glenora and Highway 49, whose wells tap into the waters of Picton Bay. All those who find themselves living next door or across from what seems to have become an unofficial, and illegal, rock quarry. All those living on the Bay of Quinte who wanted clean water, to drink, to fish, to swim, to enjoy. It’s time for some real disclosure: why this decision? why now? what are the facts that have led Council to this fruitless juncture yet again? 

Any consultation must also include the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, who are totally opposed both to the escalating activities at Picton Terminals and to the poisoning of the waters on which we all rely. 

Whether it’s the slow ooze of salt, or gypsum or limestone dust into the groundwater, a barge sinking in the bay, a fuel spill, the deep draughts of huge cargo ships stirring up the sediment, or all the above, the case is already clear. Industrial-scale activity on Picton Bay is not compatible with the intense residential development all around it. The historic, grandfathered privileges given Picton Terminals have run their course. 

This text is from the Volume 194 No. 25 edition of The Picton Gazette
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