A new Op-Ed, released August 16, 2017: SAVE PICTON BAY, PLEASE!

We’re doing what our elected representatives should have done.”  – SPB Board.

Prince Edward County is a stunning collection of natural wonders and treasured beauty, as evidenced by the increasing numbers of people who visit and those who decide to live here.

The water that surrounds us is a common denominator in all our recreational, economic and personal lives. If we honour and respect it as did the First Nations, this treasure can be maintained; otherwise we will not only fail ourselves but also generations to come.

Save Picton Bay (SPB) was formed in the fall of 2016 as a not for profit corporation made up of ordinary citizens from all walks of life, to address a variety of complaints arising from the newly opened Picton Terminals (PT) port operation. But it’s more than just one old industrial site that gives us concern.

Our mission statement addresses a safe, clean environment; advocacy for Picton Bay water quality; elimination and prevention of harmful environmental impacts; and a safe and responsible operating port.

Water quality is a complex, long-term issue in Picton Harbour, with abuse caused  by decades of coal storage, mercury and arsenic deposits in Picton Harbour; contamination from former industrial sites, (e.g. the Proctor-Silex factory) storm water leaching from the site of an old municipal dump, now Delhi Park, into Marsh Creek and then Picton Bay. It’s not helped by the fact that the Town’s water intake is located in 10 feet of depth downstream of this outfall. We now face uncovered road salt leaching into the water table and Picton Bay, as well as petcoke contamination of  adjacent properties from Picton Terminals.

This past May, the MOECC district engineer reported that:

“the monitoring program indicates significant road salt impacts to groundwater at the site” and “ shallow and deep groundwater discharges (have occurred) to Picton Bay south of the site”.

The Picton oil spill which made the County famous across Canada on national TV for all the wrong reasons… was a direct result of the Picton Terminals operation being there.

Picton Terminals will have us believe that they are in full compliance with government regulations. Why then do their most recent salt piles remain uncovered and open to this past spring’s relentless rainfall, some of the heaviest in recent memory? In November 2016, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) took the rare step of citing PT for a variety of environmental miscues by issuing what they call a Provincial Officer’s Order, which required them to, among other things, tarp the salt piles to prevent spillage into the environment in a timely manner.

As of August 10th, 2017, MOECC continues to report that Picton Terminals have failed to meet these conditions. It remains to be seen what action our senior levels of government will take to protect our water. So far, it’s not encouraging. Would there be more of a public outcry if PT were more visible? Only those in passing boats or living on Glenora or White Chapel Rds. know what it sounds and looks like. Many residents have complained to both the County and MOECC of excessive noise.

This past spring’s oil spill near the County’s main water intake and PT’s stated ambition for more ocean-going shipping traffic are a wake up call and a sharp warning that more effective monitoring and enforcement of existing bylaws and regulations is essential.

After the calamitous emergency closing of Picton’s entire drinking water system following the oil spill at Picton Terminals’ dock, you would have thought Council would, at the very least, hit the pause button and seek some sort of  impartial interpretation by a Court on the disputed wording in the decades old Hallowell Zoning By-law, that would bring clarity to the public debate and assist County staff in any further negotiations.

In April 2017, SPB requested that County Council seek clarification between two conflicting legal opinions on PT’s current land use zoning; one from their County solicitor, the other from SPB’s lawyer, Eric Gillespie.

Council instead voted 10-5 to continue supporting the ‘revitalization’ of Picton terminals and has since directed staff:

“to enter into a discussion regarding terms and conditions of a site plan agreement for the use of land and operation of Picton Terminals.”

Basically, Council avoided any independent legal arbitration or review and has not addressed the bigger question: What uses are Picton Terminals legally allowed to carry on? Can they truck or ship in salt, bauxite, steel or even city garbage, as the owners once proposed?

Before one tweaks any site plans, giving tacit approval to act in a legal ‘non-conforming’ manner, one should know this answer. They’ve already scarfed away the hillside of Hallowell Bay, designated Environmental Protection in both the Official Plan and Zoning, with no reaction or penalty from County staff.

It was heartening to SPB to hear a recently retired Superior Court Judge publicly state at a local Rotary meeting, that in his opinion, after looking at both legal briefs, the Picton Terminals’ current use is illegal!

County Council has ignored the many requests by SPB to sort this out – even meeting behind closed doors (as is their right) to receive advice from their solicitor. But in the court of public opinion, this should be debated and aired in public!

Accordingly, and encouraged by our growing and concerned membership, this week SPB is now doing what County Council has refused to do – we have taken up the challenge and directed our solicitor to make application to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice for an interpretation of this dated Hallowell Zoning By-law. It is expected that this matter will be heard this Fall, 2017.

Once again, our objective here is not to shut down industry or deny hard-working people their livelihood, but merely ensure that this private industry is properly regulated for the safety and well being of the environment and citizens of this County. We’re doing what our elected representatives should have done.

Thank you to Mayor Quaiff, and Councillors Epstein, Ferguson, Graham and Dunlop who had the courage to vote to withdraw support for this type of ‘revitalization’ .

Submitted on behalf of Save Picton Bay, by its Board Members,

Brian Etherington,
Bob Bird,
Dave Sutherland,
Victor Lind,
Wendy Murphy.