On Tuesday, council discussed and eventually accepted a report from the Community Services, Programs and Initiatives Department concerning the proposed private operation of both the Picton and Wellington Marinas and Harbours by Tenacity Capital. Having received and accepted the report, the municipality will now embark on negotiations with Tenacity.
The proposal was first brought before council last November by Picton native CJ Thompson, CEO of Tenacity. At the bequest of council, an expression of interest was sought wherein the only proposal submitted was that of Thompson’s company.
The report, penned by Emily Cowan, itemizes a five year lease agreement with a cost of $1.00 per year for private ownership. According to the report, the lease would contain pre-established provisions for the extension or renewal of the lease in accordance with the current agreement between the municipality and the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR).
The lease would also take-on the annual submission of 10 per cent of revenues to the MNR.
The proposed lease also involves rezoning of the Picton marina location to Tourism Commercial. Meanwhile, the municipality will continue to maintain garbage removal on public property.
Further details of Thompson’s proposal include over 70 berths at the Picton Marina, a U.S. Port of Entry on property owned by Tenacity, which is adjacent to the marina area, along with improving and maintaining docking facilities in the Wellington marina.
Considering outsourcing the operation of both marinas would eliminate the on-going annual deficit and eliminate the requirement to offset this with reserve transfers, staff recommended council accept the report and enter into negotiations with Tenacity.
Though he supported the endeavour, Councillor Mike Harper questioned whether or not the County was being undercut by the $1.00 per year offer.
“Is the $1.00 part of the negotiation, or is it just a symbolic way of making this happen? I don’t see anything that shows what the revenue upside would be here and I can’t believe he would pursue it if it wasn’t profitable,” said Harper. “I wonder if us getting $1.00 per year is good value for the taxpayer, knowing we have other expenses such as some infrastructure and enforcement that will be on our end still even if we have turned it over to him to manage.”
Todd Davis, Acting Director of Community Development and Strategic Initiatives asserted that negotiations regarding price are still possible, while he also noted that the municipality’s delivery of marina services has been sub-par.
“I don’t see the delivery of marina services as core to the delivery of services that we provide as a municipality. It doesn’t provide services across all our ratepayers, so it’s not something we focus on,” he said. “Our level of service is not stellar. It tends to cost more to do that work and to supply those services than we bring in with user fees or revenues.”
Speaking to the less tangible value of the Picton harbour was Councillor Kate MacNaughton, suggesting private management of the marina area could inhibit public access to the waterfront, thereby having deleterious social impacts on the community.
As well, MacNaughton pointed to the the environmental concerns associated with 70 new boat slips and the potential congestion caused by them.
“I see the benefits of not managing the marinas, but I question the amount of slips planned in this proposal as it stands. 70 slips seems to be quite a lot of congestion and it seems to be quite a lot of potential for pollution and potential for some different complications for that part of Picton,” expressed MacNaughton. “It also would have some social impacts. There has been talk for years about making the waterfront more accessible and this is going to put a cog in that plan. There are 70 slips. That’s a lot of docks and the conception of a meaningful, accessible waterfront will become largely privatized. Neighbourhood kids that go fishing there won’t be fishing there much anymore.”
Similarly, Councillor Andreas Bolik questioned the municipality’s involvement with the proposal that would seriously increase power boats, and pollution, within the Picton Bay. Posing the question rhetorically, he asked why the County would support this while also having declared a climate emergency.
“A year ago, we went through quite extensive debate to declare a climate emergency and do everything we can to reduce CO2 emissions,” he said. “Yet, here we are entertaining one of the dirtiest recreation industries, from a CO2 perspective. Why are we even considering this without contemplating the fact that this council declared a climate emergency a year ago?”
While the question itself was rhetorical it is not hypothetical. Speaking to this, Mayor Steve Ferguson suggested perhaps negotiations could take place with an eye to the climate emergency.
“We do have marina facilities in the County and that, as an activity here, is extremely popular. The way in which we manage those, how they are operated with an eye to dealing with the climate emergency, I’m sure can be part of the negotiations that take place between the municipality and the proponent to see what they’re proposing,” said Ferguson.
Councillor Phil St. Jean argued the proposal is not radical in that, when the motel and marina were both functioning entities, the harbour was full of boats and people.
“This isn’t new. That harbour was full of slips. It was full of sailboats. It was a booming place when it was a motel and functioning harbour and I want to see that happen again,” said St-Jean. “With that development will come economic prosperity, which we all know is sorely lacking. I encourage everybody to let this move forward. We’re not making a final decision tonight. We’re being asked to allow staff to negotiate and then the report will come back-if we don’t like it, we can turn it down.”
Councillor Janice Maynard also supported the proposal, but like several other councillors, voiced concern about the number of proposed boat slips and public access to the waterfront.
“I’ll support it but I would like to, in the negotiations, maybe look at the number of slips. 70 slips in such a tiny basin may be a little excessive. I want to make sure we maintain at least some-and it will be limited-public access. Some meaningful public access. And that we don’t have a little piece of boardwalk that goes nowhere because that’s not really a boardwalk then, that’s just a dock,” commented Maynard. “I think we have to recognize that power boats will never be environmentally friendly. Quite the contrary. So, if we’re willing to accept that for what the perceived benefit might be for the broader community, so be it. I’m a little uncomfortable with that.”
Davis reiterated that nothing is off the table in terms of negotiations and that 95 per cent of the boat slips in the proposal would be coming off Thompson’s personal property which runs adjacent to the marina.
“There’s nothing off the table. I know Thompson in his proposal suggested 70 slips in Picton. A large percentage, probably 95 per cent would be coming off of his own personal property which is neighbouring the marina. So, certainly we would seek an equitable number that would make fiscal sense for him and seek to mitigate or eliminate any costs to the municipality in order to maintain our portion of that partnership and seek a higher rate of pay if possible,” Davis stated.
Ultimately, the report from the Community Services, Programs and Initiatives Department was received in an unrecorded vote, allowing negotiations with Tenacity Capital to commence.