By Randy Busbridge
The Niagara Region has asked Queen’s Park for financial assistance to develop a new wastewater treatment plant for Niagara-on-the-Lake. Good news if you’re worried about our current odorous facility, which is outdated and rapidly approaching capacity.
Not so good news if you are a fan of due process and government transparency.
In the spring of 2009, the Region began a Municipal Class Environmental Assessment process in order to evaluate alternatives. The plan was to look at several options, most of which involved the construction of a new sewage treatment facility in a new location – conveniently making way for Project Niagara, the controversial music festival proposed for the existing site.
One option was to upgrade the existing facility in situ, which was identified as the preferred option in a 2008 Engineering report. The alternative was deemed to cost the least, and have the least impact on both residents and the environment.
In June 2009, the Region held a Public Information Centre set up as part of the Environmental Assessment process. Handouts from that session explained the process, and stated alternatives would be assessed based on: socio-economic impact; environmental impact; an archaeological assessment; and the application of formal evaluation criteria. The results of that analysis were to be brought to a second Public Information Centre in the fall of 2009, and to be reviewed with various government agencies, before final recommendations were taken to Regional Council.
The second Public Information Centre never happened. No report has been taken to regional council or the region’s public works committee.
Yet the Region is now asking for financial assistance to develop a new wastewater treatment facility – pursuing one of the options that vacates the current site and makes way for Project Niagara.
Is this the best option? How does it stack up against the other alternatives in terms of cost, environmental impact, and impact to residents?
We don’t know because the Region has not completed its own process, and is now pursuing a backroom deal that will enable a music festival hundreds of Niagara voters have said they don’t want.
Excuses will doubtless be made: that Parks Canada wanted the Region to vacate the current site (indeed they do, as they are in full support of Project Niagara); that they have acted to keep costs down for Niagara taxpayers (except of course that we all pay Provincial taxes, and are probably looking at a more expensive option); and that relocating will help to open up some waterfront to the public (nonsense, since neither Parks Canada nor Project Niagara have explained how – if at all – they will make the property accessible for anyone other than concert goers.
If the Region is serious about public access to the waterfront, it should be working with the provincial and federal governments to establish a park on this site.
Instead, Regional Council’s support “in principle” for Project Niagara has turned into explicit action that could enable the festival – without public consultation, and without debate at Council.
So much for democracy.
(Randy Busbridge is a resident of Niagara-on-the-Lake and member of the Harmony Residents Group, an organization of citizens in that community pressing to have the federal lands that include the lagoons transformed into an public ‘eco park’.)
(Click on www.niagaraatlarge.com for Niagara At Large for more news and commentary on matters of interest and concern to our greater binational Niagara region.)