At a special Committee of Whole meeting, Council approved in principle the land lease for The Cedar Crescent Village (CCV) proposed by a group of investors for the Port Elgin waterfront.
Approximately 240 people came out for the meeting held at Rotary Hall in Port Elgin on Monday evening where 11 voiced their views in the Open Forum followed by three delegations of 10 minutes each.
The first delegation by Patricia Corrigan-Frank of the Port Elgin Beach Preservers said that there was a multitude of people concerned over the environment and changes being faced due to climate change. She said that people from “around the world” had signed the petition set out by the Preservers regarding the proposed beach development. Corrigan-Frank referred to a life-long summer resident, Melissa Hughes, who holds a Masters of Science degree in Environmental Sustainability. Hughes said that she hoped Council would not approve the CCV ” …. based on the ecological integrity of the Port Elgin beach front” which she feels will be compromised.
In a message to Corrigan-Frank, Hughes stated that she was “… absolutely against the proposed development as recently presented to the Saugeen Shores public. This is not to say that development of any kind is not welcome as there is certainly a need for revitalization. However, revitalization must be undertaken carefully and only after due diligence to fully understand the potential impacts of a man-made development in such an ecologically sensitive area and how the impacts can be mitigated. There is a myriad of evidence that this development as it currently stands egregiously disregards the adverse impact it will likely have on the ecological integrity of the Port Elgin beach front and the Great Lake Huron. ”
Also, according to Hughes, Council has a fiduciary duty to act by definition “solely in the interest of the public which it serves”. Lake Huron has been characterized as being an ecological system of global significance. Historically, it has been home to many diverse species … however, stresses have put the biodiversity of this diverse ecosystem at risk. Environment and Climate Change Canada has ranked threats in order of importance including non-native invasive aquatic species, housing and urban development and shoreline alteration, climate change, dams and barriers and agricultural, forestry and urban run-off.
Corrigan-Frank also pointed out that the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has recommended that use of road salt be dramatically reduced due to the chloride run-off into the Great Lakes. “WWF recommends three per cent (3%) road salt, while Saugeen Shores usage is at eight per cent (8%). The concentration used poses an imminent threat to species that call Lake Huron home. The fact that this development will become a year-round facility will exacerbate this problem as the beach front usage will change from seasonal to year-round, increasing the human impact. The footprint of the development should be limited to the original footprint of the Train Station that is comfortably set at a reasonable distance from the ecologically sensitive shoreline. Sidewalks and infrastructure must be designed to mitigate ecological risks.”
According to the Lake Huron Coastal Conservation Centre, Port Elgin has been defined as a low-energy beach and is subject to increased sand removal due to wind and wave action and that is not replenished naturally over time. Protecting the sand on low-energy beaches is essential as they are slower to recover. “Environmental assessments (EA) should be done by an independent, objective and reputable firm and this development should be put on hold until this is done,” said Corrigan-Frank. “Any development done will be permanent and irreversible on the Great Lake shoreline.”
On a point raised by Corrigan-Frank regarding the Saugeen Valley Conservation Authority (SVCA), Vice-Deputy Mayor Mike Myatt clarified that Board members of the SVCA only provide governance. “It is the staff that stringently follows guidelines. If this development moves forward, the developer will have to apply for a permit through the SVCA under those stringent guidelines.”
Corrigan-Frank however, disagreed pointing out that the development had been moved from outside the Environmental Hazard (EH) lands and, therefore, Town Council can approve it without SVCA approval. Mayor Luke Charbonneau however, reaffirmed that “The SVCA must approve all construction projects and they must comply with regulations.”
The next speaker, Mike McDowall said he was in full support of the development. He and his wife had moved to the community three years ago. “Cedar Crescent Village will appeal to those who live here and those who visit. We play with the volleyball league. The village makes us excited. This project is an enhancement to the beach. The idea of a year-round space is exciting as the current infrastructure does not support winter activity. This is not just a retirement community and the waterfront should reflect that. This will make Port Elgin better, making the waterfront more of a destination.”
The final delegation was by Melanie Reist who said that most communities have been moving to protect natural resources while this plan (development) does the opposite with its significant footprint and potential cost and disruption to the sensitive ecosystem.
“The public has raised reasonable and intelligent questions and concerns but there has been no consideration of these concerns or attempts to modify the plan,” said Reist. “This concept was first made public on July 22nd at the meeting of the Committee of the Whole where the CAO and Mr. Donnini committed to a process of public consultation and engagement with members of the public to get their views and work together. That has not happened. Also, at that meeting, Mr. Smith announced a survey would be posted to get the public’s input to the plan. Despite this being the biggest commercial development project ever on the beach, the survey was only posted for two weeks. Mr. Smith said however, that he felt it would be enough time to provide a sufficient response to gauge the community’s interest on the various aspects of the proposal.”
Reist said that the results of the survey did not support the plan overwhelmingly and demonstrated little interest in the convention centre. “The questions in that survey were geared to solicit support for that plan. The convention centre was ranked near the bottom of the list of amenities that the public would like to see.”
“So, why are we doing this?” Reist asked. “Why is the town ready to hand over its most valuable asset to individuals who have no development experience of any kind, let alone a sensitive beach development?” She drew a comparison to a homeowner who, in wanting to build a house, would want to know the track record of a builder. “I am suggesting that we do not have that track record with these investors. Further, there is no data to suggest tourism has been decreasing. In fact, a traffic study is questioning the lack of parking spaces for all the people that are coming to the beach.”
“So, why are we doing this?” asked Reist again. “My fear is – expediency. Rather than seeing the beach as a valuable asset worth protecting, it’s being seen as a problem. The town has let it deteriorate over the past few years and now wants someone else to clean it up and is looking to a private-public partnership as an easy way to solve the problem rather than making a hard decision to invest in this most unique asset. In most public-private partnerships, the partners are reputable with proven experience with large builds. In most, we deal with large firms we know such as Ellis-Don and Aecon. That is not the case here. What happens if Mr. Donnini leaves for another opportunity? He is the focal piece. The town is leaving itself open and vulnerable which means we, the taxpayers are vulnerable. At the July 22nd meeting, Mr. Donnini said he could build the Whitefish Grill and have a nice restaurant on the beach. So, why aren’t we doing this?”
“As elected members of Council, you were elected to serve this community and you took an oath,” said Reist. “You are being asked to make what will likely be the most important decision in this municipality’s history. You hold this precious resource in trust for the public good. It makes no logical sense to accept a project of this scale which is completely disproportionate to the space and that will not enhance the enjoyment but will significantly detract from it. It’s the breathtaking beauty, the wide open spaces and the shoreline that keeps people coming back here and that has made Port Elgin a destination for tourist dollars, making tourism a significant part of the economy. Sit back and really think about this. How does a banquet facility enhance the natural beach? It doesn’t. The town’s own data said that people don’t want it. I suspect that the investors’ position is that, if there is no convention centre, ‘we will walk’. Is the beach really being held for ransom by these investors? Is there not another way? Is this the kind of partner we want to be tied to for 50 years?”
She went on to question if Council has been listening to the larger conversations around the community. “This is not a heartily embraced plan and there are real legitimate questions about an unheard-of 50 lease handing a monopoly to a handful of people. This is the only plan submitted but, because it’s the only plan, do we have to accept a bad plan and the risks? I’ve heard that these investors are business people and they will make it a success. Businesses can fail. The value-added services are appealing but can be provided without a convention centre. This is not the right plan for this space. Senior town administrators have been pushing this plan and they might not even be here in two years, but you as elected officials will and you are going to own this decision. I do not envy you but please do not settle for what is easy and what is expedient. They are usually not the best decisions and do not pass the test of time. Think of your fiduciary responsibility as trustees of this natural resource. It is undeniable that this plan of a convention centre will adversely affect the natural enjoyment of this and possibly the ecosystem for generations to come … and to what end? To profit a handful of people.
You are caretakers if this beach … be on the right side of history … don’t give in to commercial profit-driven interests for something that the people of this community, through the survey, clearly do not want. The beach is worth taking the time.”
Reist ended with saying, “There have been rumours of potential gaming or gambling licenses on the beach. I have not seen any provision that restricts any kind of gaming or gambling activity and I ask that it be put in the lease.”
In a town media release it says the lease includes a term of approximately 50 years as well as the location to be used by the project. The lease also lays out the proponent’s responsibilities, which include (among others): paying all costs for the servicing, construction, ongoing maintenance and operation of the project; obtaining all necessary permits and adhering to all regulations; paying rent as set out, or delivering agreed upon community benefit services in kind; and paying property taxes and development charges.
“Council has thoroughly reviewed this proposal and the public input we have received,” said Mayor Luke Charbonneau. “We still have a lot of work ahead of us to ensure that this project works well for the Town, our residents and visitors, but this is an important step in that process.”
The lease will return for Council’s approval early in 2020. The public can continue to send written or emailed feedback to or Town of Saugeen Shores, 600 Tomlinson Drive, Box 820, Port Elgin, ON, N0H 2C0 or email@example.com. All correspondence becomes part of the public record and available for Council and staff to view.
The next article will lay out proponent’s proposal and lease details