The multi-faceted Picton Terminals proposal to expand their operations into transshipment and tour-boat (cruise ships) docking via two zoning bylaw amendment applications was denied unanimously by Prince Edward County Council during a Planning Meeting on Wednesday. The motion to deny this proposal was put forth as a Maynard/Margetson motion.
Municipal planning staff had recommended council receive their report and approve the recommended bylaw to be read a first and second time. Staff also recommended that reading of the bylaw a third time should only occur once an appropriate site plan was submitted by Picton Terminals with that final approval hinging on requirements that satisfied the municipality.
The applications in question would expand the list of permitted uses on site, such as allowing Great Lakes Cruise Ships to dock, along with recognizing legal non-conforming uses of the site such as transshipment which would include sea container shipping.
The port was built in the 1950’s by Bethlehem Steel to facilitate the transhipment of iron ore mined in Marmora and conveyed to Picton via rail and, after the Marmoraton mine shut down in 1978, activity at the port diminished drastically with annual loads of sodium chloride delivered by ship occurring most falls from the 1980’s until 2019.
Picton Terminals owner and operator Ben Doornekamp purchased the port upwards of a decade ago and has been ramping up operations since although the complex zoning of the site, salt water runoff pollution and rouge emissions of pet coke and bauxite that required Ministry of Environment investigations and subsequent charges as well as local opposition and concerns of risk to the nearby municipal water intake have hampered those ambitions in various respects.
Last spring, Doornekamp announced taking delivery of salt shipments was being paused in 2020.
As per the report, the the intent of the zoning bylaw amendments would be to restore previous transshipment use that is now considered legal non-conforming (this changed in 2006). The changes would also allow for the tour boat docking and for “accessory use” of outdoor storage.
Before handing over the microphone to Matt Coffey, Approvals Coordinator and author of the report, Mayor Steve Ferguson spoke briefly to the seriousness of the application.
“If there’s anything I’ve learned about this council and its members, it’s the fact that each member has poured over the material provided by this particular application, has read and considered hundreds of emails that we have each received as well as letters and phone calls,” said Ferguson. “Certainly, they’ve listened to residents and our constituents….What we’re dealing with is a very important decision concerning our community and what we want it or don’t want it to be in the future. A decision must be made on that basis as well as legislated parameters.”
In a staff overview, Coffey shed light on the purpose for the applications put forth by Picton Terminals (PT). He outlined them as follows:
- To recognize legal non-conforming uses that have been permitted for a number of years as recognized by a decision made by the Ontario Supreme Court.
- To add outdoor storage as a permitted use.
- To add cruise ship docking to the PT property.
The report also recommended the implementation of a temporary bylaw that would guide extractive practices toward being phased out over the next three years.
Councillor Brad Nieman took issue with this, and other aspects of the application.
“They’ve been blasting everyday for the last four years. How much rock have they taken out? I know under the Ministry of Natural Resources, there’s a clause that says if you’re doing construction on your site, that’s allowed,” said Nieman. “Well, if they carry on for the next three years on the Sophiasburgh side, how many more millions of dollars are they going to get? Can we not say that the extraction stops now. The municipality is supposed to be getting royalty from it…I understand they’re business people, but it just feels like we’re being taken advantage of.”
Nieman also stated he did not believe the proposal to shuttle tour buses off cruise ships and through the site was a safe one or a necessary one, considering the high amount of tourists who already visit the community.
“Right now, we don’t need any more tourists coming here. We’ve got lots and they’re coming anyways,” he said.
Among the reasons issued by staff for supporting the expanded/new uses of PT property was that it conforms to the municipality’s Official Plan, a document used to guide growth and development.
Furthermore, staff contended that the applications put forth by PT fulfills part four of the municipality’s Corporate Strategic Priority Alignment to help make the community livable.
This is defined as helping to foster an affordable, healthy, livable community for all. Staff supported this by saying the operation will “create opportunities for employment within the community.”
These assertions by staff were contested by several members of the audience, with a sizable number of residents voicing concerns that ranged from concern for the character of the community to the environment.
Others contested the alignment of the proposal with the current Official Plan. One such resident was Ryan Wallach.
“With regards to environmentally protected resources, the Official Plan states that important wetlands, fisheries and wildlife habitat, agricultural land, escarpments and woodlands will be managed and protected since these natural resources are an important part of what makes the county special and unique,” quoted Wallach.
“Where does a container port fit into that policy? I hardly think that will make the County special and unique,” he posited.
Delving deeper into the Official Plan, Wallach noted the environmental health of the community was intended to be improved through the protection of shorelines and beaches as well as the prohibition of polluting industries.
“I have yet to see anyone explain how allowing the container port to achieves these goals. All evidence points to the contrary,” he said. “The staff report never even mentions these policies.”
In contrast, Mike Keene of Fotenn Planning + Design, the consulting company hired by the owners of PT, argued the matter does align with the Official Plan.
“Overall, I think the main reason this decision will be challenging for you to make is because ports are a provincial interest and the best way for you to address provincial interests through your Official Plan,” stated Keene. “Your Official Plan designates this an industrial zone for transportation terminals. So the application before you is a zoning bylaw amendment that conforms to your Official Plan.”
However, citing an independent peer review by IBI Group-hired to conduct an impartial analysis by the municipality-Wallach reminded council and staff that the opinions expressed by a consultant hired by the proponent may be impartial.
“Experts hired by PT are not impartial. Not to say they aren’t experts, but they’re partial. That’s the side of the story PT has paid to have told,” iterated Wallach. “The County’s independent peer review group identified numerous deficiencies in the terminal plan and left no doubt about what they thought the County needed to do.”
Of obvious concern regarding this application are the environmental ramifications of the PT proposal.
Resident Ken Stewart spoke briefly to this concern.
“We had an experience a few years ago with petroleum coke (pet coke). It blew across to neighbouring properties and into Picton Bay,” stated Stewart. “That was a disaster and now we’re contemplating open storage with sea containers. How do we monitor what’s in those containers?”
Stewart also pointed to the close proximity of the site to Picton’s water supply and the probability that shipping traffic would disrupt wildlife and aquatic habitats.
“This is where most of the residents get their water and yet we’re prepared to contemplate an increase in shipping traffic with international ships coming in, with who knows what in their bilges,” decried Stewart. “And yes, there are regulations, but we all know there are ships that violate those regulations on a regular basis.”
Penny Morris spoke against the proposal from the vantage point of a local business owner who owns a small shop in downtown Picton.
“Although I am on the Business Improvement Association Board of Directors, I am here to speak mostly on behalf of myself personally as well as being the owner of a small business. However, I have the support of at least ten downtown businesses, both commercial and retail. No one is in support of the proposal,” stated Morris. “ As a business in downtown Picton, the docking of cruise ships would mean 300-500 people possibly coming downtown. It would add even more congestion to our sidewalks that are already full in the summer months and, as we know, it was a huge issue during this pandemic.”
Morris added that the pandemic is unlikely to be over by next summer, when PT had hopes of bringing in Great Lakes Cruise Ships.
“The increase (in tourists) cannot be accommodated,” she commented.
Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte (MBQ) Chief R. Donald Maracle cited several environmental concerns, from contaminant disturbance to the effects of dredging and groundwater contamination.
Maracle also noted that transshipping has been linked to an increase in human trafficking.
“There have been linkages drawn between international shipping, human trafficking and missing and murdered Indigenous women,” wrote Maracle. “This port utilized for shipping and our territories utilized as a transportation corridor increases the vulnerability of our women and children.”
Councillor Janice Maynard noted there has been a lack of response to Maracle’s concerns and cited this, among other reasons, for putting forward the motion to deny PT’s proposal in it’s entirety.
Mayanrd asserted this application should be denied on the basis that it is incompatible with the vision statement in the County’s Official Plan, as well as the lack of consideration or response to the comments from the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte.
“We have, over the past months, weeks and then this evening, heard loud and clear what the public sentiment is on this,” she said. “If public comments mean anything, then we have some direction.
On Monday, Picton Terminals owner Ben Doornekamp confirmed what was wide spread speculation that his organization would indeed appeal Council’s denial of the application to Ontario’s Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT).
In an email to the Gazette, Doornekamp said Picton Terminals will, as they had prior to the planning meeting, “Continue our port operations within Federal, Provincial and Municipal regulations.”
“The main zoning amendment was supported by Prince Edward County municipal staff and the peer reviewer,” Doornekamp said. “We will be taking this decision to the LPAT. We are confident the LPAT will rule in favour of Picton Terminals because our planning team and legal team agree with County Staff and the Prince Edward County peer reviewer.”
-With files from Jason Parks