90,000 people a day judge us by looks of our harbour

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Feb 15, 2004
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The Beach Strip
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Posted with permission from the Hamilton Spectator
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The Spectator - Hamilton, Ont.
Author: James Howlett
Date: Feb 25, 2003



Every day we exist, we have an opportunity to change our destiny. It exists between our rising each day and when we drift off to sleep. What we do during those hours determines our destiny.

Likewise each day of our city's life is a chance to reshape its destiny. But the people who shape our city's future are sometimes not the blue-collar lunch boxers or white-collar office staffers Hamilton is famed for. Sometimes its future is solely in the hands of the elected and the powerful.

A simple yea or nay in a closed vote may have enough power to affect the image, economy and even the health of a city of half a million souls.

Seven people have that power. They are the board members of the Hamilton Port Authority.

Montreal-based Bitumar Inc. wants to lease 9.2 hectares on Pier 26, at the authority's Eastport development on the bay side of the Queen Elizabeth Way.

It wants to build a heated pipeline to transfer liquid asphalt from ships to storage tanks and a plant to process asphalt for use in the paving and roofing industries.

It appears the stakes are a multi-million-dollar deal between an asphalt firm and the authority, but if you scratch below the surface, you may see that a chance exists to change Hamilton's destiny. We have a tremendous opportunity to change the way we do things.

Call it the old school or habit, but Hamilton has done things a certain way for a long time. What I'm talking about here is parochialism or, more simply put, looking out for yourself. This thinking holds us all back. Let me explain how it works here.

Every few months the port authority fills in a little more of the eastern harbour. Over time this creates a fairly large quantity of new land, which is then leased to industries who need it for shipping.

To qualify for tenancy, industries must have a clear need for shipping.

The harbour is very busy and needs more pier space, the port authority says, yet nearly 80 per cent of the ships visiting and leaving use the only piers the port authority does not own -- Stelco's and Dofasco's.

So the authority is nowhere near as busy as it looks or says. And the demand for pier space is equally less.

Indeed, if the demand for pier space was great, the world would have beaten a path to the authority's door and filled all available pier space with tenants and ships.

But that hasn't happened. It's quite easy to find an empty pier and some that are taken aren't always what they seem. The Fort St. Louis, a large derelict freighter, sat at Pier 23 for over six years. Nearby, the Provmar, an oiler, has not moved since the 1980s and lies at the mouth of the Windermere Basin with its anchors buried onshore. It sank briefly two years ago and was refloated but still occupies that pier.

And most of the authority's pet project, Eastport, has been empty since it was built in the 1980s. Even some of the occupied lands have no relationship to shipping. An RV dealership, a truck wash and for many years a we1ding supply company.

Farther away on Pier 12, a massive half-acre pile of steel scrap has been untouched for well over a decade.

A good landlord takes care of his tenants and also ensures his tenants do not hurt the neighbours.

If his property is in a neighbourhood with golf green lawns, he does not let tenants leave old cars in the front yard. You can perhaps see the analogy extended to the authority and Eastport.

Some 90,000 people a day see this as Hamilton's front lawn. They may hear of Confederation Park, the Waterfront Trail or Fisherman's Pier, but what they see is an old car on the front lawn.

They say Hamilton talks of a revitalized waterfront but puts in industry where others would build a showcase recreational facility.

What then should we do? Hamiltonians know a word few other cities recognize -- brownfields.

Brownfields are properties with long-gone industrial tenants. Hamilton has more than 200. It even has a brownfield committee at City Hall to deal with the problem.

The city wisely recognizes that if you continue to expand the boundaries of industry while there are empty properties in the core, you will soon have an industrial ghetto.

Businesses, like most of us, take the path of least resistance. They want a "best case scenario." So does the authority. They both appear to have just that now: A new prosperous-looking tenant for the authority and Bitumar gets a prestige industrial site and shorter pipeline.

But now we get to the heart of the matter -- what is best for all of us, the people of Hamilton -- and the earth for that matter?

There are many brownfields along the south shore from Wentworth Street to Parkdale Avenue. Some are city-owned and some are federal (port authority).

There are nine port authority piers and many private ones (Stelco's and Dofasco's). If Bitumar was to lease pier space, the problem of marine access would be solved. After that the construction of a pipeline (nothing new to Hamilton or the port authority) to a nearby brownfield and all would be in order.

The authority would be servicing a marine customer -- which is its mandate. Bitumar would have a site and port facilities. Hamilton would be rid of a brownfield and ahead by a new taxpayer and several new jobs.

What will keep this all from happening is if we do things the way we used to. If the authority insists this is the only site or tries to hang on to Bitumar so they can make more money off site leases, then the city and all of us will lose.

If Bitumar insists on its "best case" site of Pier 26, we still lose.

But if the seven people on the authority board decide to partner with Hamilton and Bitumar, then there is a strong chance the brownfield scenario could work and all of us could be winners.

If those things came to pass, then, when the seven board members go to sleep at night, they can turn out the lights and know that they took part in changing Hamilton's destiny, for the good.

Jim Howlett is a Beach Strip resident and board member of the Hamilton Conservation Authority.
 
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