What to do next about the harbour fence

The Harbour Fence - What can we do to solve this?

The past few days have seen a flurry of discussion over a proposed fence along the St. John's harbour apron. Media outlets are reporting the issue, a twitter campaign was started by well-known locals, a petition has been circulating, and a protest is set to occur on Monday afternoon.

The Port Authority and City Hall are defending their actions and citizens are asking a number of questions. We are in a situation where lots of people are frustrated, looking for answers, and in some cases pointing fingers.

How did this happen, how could things have been different, and what can we do next?

The Port Authority decided to build a permanent fence to meet requirements for tighter security and to replace the existing temporary one. The proposal was brought to a special meeting of council with a request to cost share the $900,000 project. It was then tabled at a council meeting where all councillors voted for the City to contribute the funds.

The vote was reported by CBC and an opinion piece was written in the Scope.  Happy City shared this information on our facebook page (here, here, and here) and twitter feed. However, while those who saw the news expressed concern, we felt the proposal was not well known or understood. So when we learned more details we decided to bring broader attention to the issue.

The story struck a chord, and now it's difficult to find anyone in St. John's who is not aware of the "Harbour Fence Issue". But with that awareness, at a point so late in the process, comes a difficult challenge of finding a solution that doesn't involve some sort of sacrifice by the parties involved.

Much of the tension and controversy could have been avoided had the Port Authority, City Hall, and citizen representatives been able to sit down and craft an approach to securing and beautifying the harbourfront before even commissioning the design of the fence.

The CEO of the Port Authority noted that they "couldn't discuss the matter with 120,000 people." On the face of it, that statement makes sense - how do you get an entire population into a room to have a sensible chat? But Happy City believes that it is indeed possible, and in fact necessary, to somehow engage with the majority of citizens about issues that matter to everyone.

Engagement requires time and at this stage of the game it appears to many that decisions have already been made. So, what can be done now to calm nerves and move forward?

First, the Port Authority can post a statement outlining comprehensive details of the proposal and the rationale behind the decision. There is still a great deal of uncertainty out there about what specific new rules or regulations this fence is meant to address - and without an exact picture of what these requirements are, it's difficult to have a meaningful conversation about options. If there were options considered and disregarded, that would be great information to pass along to citizens (along, of course, with the rationale for doing so).

Second, City Hall could help by expressing an openness to ideas regarding the fence and harbour rather than simply defending their decision and saying nothing can be done.

Third, we propose that these two parties work with Happy City to plan a public "Harbour Charette." This event would bring experts, decision makers, and citizens together in constructive dialogue on how to best develop the harbour to maximize its potential for all stakeholders. These events have been proven to work well, particularly when the primary players sanction them.

Following this process might seem daunting, but it may be our best shot at truly building a city that everyone has a say in. If we're hoping to have a discussion with 120,000 people, now's our chance - they're already talking.

Written by Dave Lane at 09:17

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Terrance said...
We have heard Mayor O’Keefe’s arguments in support of the harbor fence, and we understand its necessity in support of the Port Authorities activities and the jobs it creates. However, he is missing the bigger picture and what amounts to a critical juncture in the history and development of St. John’s. Remember when the City of Boston became concerned that their city was being overrun by giant highways? what did they do? they accepted the necessity of motor vehicle transportation but they had the good sense to put the highways underground and then they built parks on top of them. A long term project that was technically challenging and cost big bucks but they had the long term vision and commitment to see it through for the greater good. Here is my long-term vision for the harbour front in St. John's: Have the city or province give the Port Authority the land they need in Fresh Water Bay in exchange for the land that they currently occupy. Have them build a modern International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) code compliant port there. Build a breakwater if extra wharfage and or protection from the elements is required. It is close enough to St. John's that it can still be part of the city and thus remain part of the revenue stream. The hiking trails will have to be respected. At the same time change the existing industrialized water front into a park for the enjoyment of the people and tourists alike. Look at the Halifax water front where they have museums and celebrate their historic past while we bus our cruise ship tourists out. We should be inspired by the fine examples set by Boston and Halifax! Question is do we have the will political or otherwise? Major O’Keefe is signaling that the harbour’s future is one where industry will trump livability. The major was angry that Alan Hawco didn’t come to him before speaking out so accordingly I ask Mayor O’Keefe to ask the people by way of referendum, YES it’s that important! By the way, I understand that according to NL law, there is a mandatory shoreline reservation consisting of a 15-metre strip of public land around all bodies of water, whether marine, inland or riparian. All water - salt water, fresh water, lakes, ponds, rivers, brooks and the sea. The Lands Act clearly states that such waters will remain accessible to the public. A waterfront lot has open access to the water along part of its boundary but is separated from it by the public shoreline reservation. That is, the owner can use it but has no right to prevent others from using it. Why doesn't this apply to our harbour? We can accept that the fence has to stay ion the short term but in the long term this sacred right needs to prevail.
December 11, 2012 10:32
Andrew Draskoy said...
Today the (secure, non-public) offshore supply area is empty. All those vessels, and any others doing conspicuous repairs have been moved to the normally quiescent area in question. Will a manipulated image of harbour activity substitute for public communications?
December 10, 2012 12:43
LarLa said...
For those who wanted to know more about the regulations the port keeps referencing, look up International Ship and Port Facilities Security Code (ISPS): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Ship_and_Port_Facility_Security_Code and http://www.imo.org/About/Pages/FAQs.aspx are good places to start. Transport Canada also has some information about implementation in Canada: http://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/marinesecurity/regulations-212.htm. Someone was asking in a comment.
December 10, 2012 10:53
Joy Hecht said...
This morning I heard the mayor on CBC saying that this fence was required for security reasons related to shipping to the offshore. He claimed that the ships required would not (or could not?) land in St. John's without greater security, that if we didn't build the fence "thousands of jobs would be lost" without those ships. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt - the harbor area now used for the offshore IS secure, and with another rig being built they will have more boats and might want more space. I'm even open to the possibility that the few cruise boats that put in an appearance in the summer (bringing people but very little money) could feel some need for better security. But the mayor lost me when he said "thousands" of jobs were at stake, raising the boogeyman of unemployment to build sentiment against the fence. According to planning staff of the city, three thousand people in St. John's have oil-related jobs. Of those people, how many actually have jobs that depend on those ships coming into St. John's, and not another port? Maybe a hundred? Certainly not "thousands," if the total oil-related employment in the city is three thousand. A charrette isn't going to solve this. This is not a design issue. It's about willingness to take risks and about actual economic impacts, traded off against keeping this city the place that made many of us want to live downtown in the first place. I'd like the mayor to tell us exactly which jobs he thinks would move up the shore to another port because the ships won't land without the fence. I'd like the Port Authority to explain exactly what regulations are in effect that mean that ships won't land here without greater security. I'd like the shipping companies now serving the offshore to present the analysis that suggests that they must expand beyond the large area of the apron that they already use. Then we'll know what the real tradeoffs are. If we want to have a public discussion on the issue, let's talk about the real issues, not about exaggerated statistics from the mayor, threats to build a brick wall instead of this fence, or uninformed public outrage.
December 10, 2012 09:29
Andrew Draskoy said...
Thanks for this rational initiative. The port authority does a great job of managing most aspects of the Harbour. However, the northern waterfront is one of our most significant public spaces, and must managed accordingly. That implies public engagement on the part of the port authority. They need to recognize that and take responsibility for it.
December 10, 2012 09:18
Lori Heath said...
Landscape NL organized a wonderful design charrette several weeks ago, with broad participation, and using different city sites as examples. Maybe they could help?
December 10, 2012 08:57
Leo Tobin said...
Are you cracked? Over a flippin fence, that they have all legal rights and responsibility for? They could have put up a brick wall. If half of these people got as upset about urban sprawl, green spaces, and affordable housing we'd be getting somewhere with these issues! It's a working harbour, people! I was aware of the fence upon first notice, and ignorance is no excuse, be it public policy or the law. You didn't have to work very hard at paying attention to local news to know it was coming. Maybe they didn't have good wifi strolling along the apron, or something. How about try to get the industrial part of the harbour moved to CBS or such instead, I'm sure they'd be delighted to have all the money and jobs that come along with having a working harbour.
December 10, 2012 07:36
Chew said...
Well thought out proposal, I must say. It's too bad that all this had to come to a head so late in the process. If people had reacted to the news when it was first reported back in August, there may have been a real opportunity for change. A lot of the bandwagon jumpers are much less rational than their leadership though. Most just dismiss security needs out of hand and are viciously angry all of a sudden over a matter that didn't make a blip on the radar when it was first in the news and no one was urging them to be angry about it. Anyway,, I guess my main take-away is that having a group like Happy City engaged in the process is a positive and could have perhaps provided a more palatable solution had the group been engaged. The group should try to be engaged in future, and perhaps Dave Lane should consider running for council, he's proven himself well qualified.
December 10, 2012 07:35
Happy City (author) said...
Great suggestion, Lori! The charette was very positive and productive. The key is good facilitation and having the right people in the room. And if it were to be sanctioned by the City it would have weight and could lead to some real solutions. Here's a Scope article about a previous harbour charrette from 2007: http://thescope.ca/city/the-harbour-front
December 10, 2012 09:12


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