Jim Howlett in Biz Magazine

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Feb 15, 2004
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The Beach Strip
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This article from Biz(Spring 2005) starts out the way most stories on the Port Authority do, their vision, future goals, but it was just too large a story to post it all.


.....According to HPA marketing and trade development manager Robert Matthews, the HPA's view of the port is not entirely focused on industry, despite popular opinion. "In fact, we endorse and support a citizen's right to enjoy the waterfront and the bay," he says. "On Pier 8 and Fisherman's Pier, we are working with the city, other levels of government and the private sector to turn these areas of the harbour into people places. There is no reason why the public cannot share space with the commercial port. It happens in port cities all over the world."
Thing is, Matthews notes, there's still that whole three-ring circus aspect to managing the lands. "When contemplating any opportunity, in addition to the economic benefits we consider many other factors: environmental impact, the public good and a 'best uses' scenario particularly in respect to high-visibility port lands," he explains.
But in some quarters, there's a belief that the HPA is simply moving too fast for its own good. Jim Howlett, president of the Hamilton Beach Community Council, points to a series of so-called open-water containment cells that butt up against the backside of the beach strip. The cells, in place since the 1950s, are designed to hold the waste from the dredging operations that are necessary to keep the port open to those 700 ships that dock here annually. Howlett fears that with the rising and falling water levels in the area, those cells are actually spilling toxic waste into the surrounding water. One HBCC member, requesting anonymity, calls it a "Love Canal waiting to happen." For the HPA's part, it asserts that the cells, though likely toxic, are not leaking. It also says capping the cells, which have a projected 20 years of capacity remaining, is out of the question. Yet the HBCC insists capping is crucial, noting that on occasion sludge from the cells washes up on the beach strip streets.
Those polarized positions have put the HBCC and the HPA at odds. And it has led to public missives like Howlett's recent letter to the Hamilton Spectator, questioning the significance of the port's role in business development in the region. It read, in part: "The HPA also claims to be an economic catalyst. If this were so, it would seem that [between the former Hamilton Harbour Commission and the current HPA] it has had more than 90 years to prove itself fruitful — yet many harbour properties have remained empty for decades while Port Authority structural assets have decayed considerably. Even the marine terminal where it held the Port Days festival last year was in such poor shape that grass and weeds were growing out of its leaking, rotted asphalt roof. Likewise, the massive marine warehouse on Pier 23 has not received marine traffic since the 1980s, when a rusted steel freighter was moved to it for scrap. Similarly the federal marine terminals on piers 10-14 have not been kept in good repair for at least 15 years and many areas appear to be industrial ghettos."
The suggestions frustrate the HPA's Matthews. The letter also criticized the HPA for not involving the public on the decision to lease land to companies like Bitumar (an asphalt processor). "Comments have been made from certain quarters to the effect that scrap yards and slag piles are not the type of business we should be seeking out for bayfront lands," says Matthews. "First and foremost we are a port that is in the business of shipping and receiving bulk cargo and we will always accommodate this essential maritime trade while we encourage cutting edge companies to set up on former brownfield sites."
Part of the problem, to Matthew's way of thinking, is that Hamiltonians are a little uncomfortable with change and progress. And that despite being the leading port on the Great Lakes, we still shrivel in the shadow of the metropolis down the road. "This city's inferiority complex in respect to our neighbour Toronto, the self-styled 'mega city', is perplexing. Why, with all our inherent advantages, should we feel inferior to anyone? Ontario, because of its auto manufacturing capacity, remains this country's pre-eminent economy and that industry still relies on 'made in Hamilton' steel. During the power outage in 2003, the main concern wasn't getting Bay Street back online, it was getting industry back on its feet. And nothing says industry like Hamilton. We are the engine of the provincial economy, it is our reality and it's about time we leveraged it to our advantage."
Tough words—but isn't that what you'd expect on the waterfront? And it's that kind of surprisingly frank and fast thought that Robson is counting on as he dons the top hat and oversees the circus.
 
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