by Cecilia Naismith
Cobourg council has voted to defer accepting the Waterfront User Needs Assessment and Detailed Design Report July 3 in order to hear more public submissions on a matter that inspired a dozen presentations at Monday's committee-of-the-whole meeting.
Though council did not vote to accept the report at Monday's committee-of-the-whole meeting, councillors and consultants alike stressed to the audience in the crowded council chambers that doing so would commit the town to absolutely nothing.
Still, several points of the 600-plus-page document worried at least a dozen members of the community to request delegation status in order to address council.
And these worries were shared by enough people to pack the room 20 minutes before council started. Before it was over, there would be a crowd in the hall adjoining the room and many sitting on the floor.
All councillors sympathized with the final presenter in the queue, Cobourg resident Harold Wontorra, who came to the dais carrying inches-thick sheaves of paper and admitting he wasn't prepared to speak after all. The report had only come out Friday, he pointed out, and he hadn't had time to digest it all properly.
Councillor Forrest Rowden confessed to the same quandary, having been out of town over the weekend for his granddaughter's graduation,
Ironically, the complaints are arising following a process with unprecedented consultation and public input in its preparation.
Mike Tocher of Thinc Design and Mary Catherine Mehak of Mehak, Kelly and Associates Inc. confirmed this assertion, voiced by Cobourg's director of recreation and culture Dean Hustwick.
“It has been lengthy and extremely transparent and extremely objective, with very little direction either by council members, staff or, in fact, the steering committee provided to the consultant. We told them we were relying on their expertise, qualifications and experience to find out what the community wants and develop recommendations,” Hustwick said.
Tocher said it was the most extensive community consultation and input he'd seen as a consultant.
“The process has been extremely extensive, wide-ranging and in-depth, with lots of different opportunities for people to participate,” Mehak stated.
She listed 455 people who signed in at the public sessions, 30 groups and organizations represented at stakeholder meetings, 2,000 households responding to surveys, 15 user groups and service groups responding to their survey, and 71 businesses responding to the survey aimed at them.
“This level of response is unprecedented in our experience,” she stated.
Typically, Mehak has to go out and cajole to get enough responses to surveys. This time, she said, “we didn't have to go out and ask for it – it came to us.
“I think what we have as a result of that is a plan where we see a balanced approach to meeting the range of needs and interests that have a legitimate claim to the waterfront.”
Mayor Gil Brocanier made a point of asking the consultants if any of the 12 presentations had brought up any points they had not heard before during their very thorough consultations. They agreed they had heard nothing new that evening.
Because the 12 presenters took up two and a half hours of the six-hour council meeting, Brocanier was wary of spending any more council time on presentations that brought nothing new to light, so he made a motion – which was passed by council. It provides that anyone applying for delegation status on this issue must submit his or her presentation for approval prior to receiving that status.
“The consultant said everything brought forward tonight had no effect (on the report). If we are going to have more delegations come forward because we delayed the process, it must be new information,” the mayor insisted.
“Otherwise, listening to the same thing over and over again – it has no value.”
Brocanier said the town had been forced to deny such status to a group he'd never heard of – Preserve Our Heritage Harbour – simply because they'd asked too late. If they have anything new to add, he invites them to make a presentation next week.
Specifics of the objections voiced by the presenters seemed to fall into several contentious categories, and most of them dealt with the slips proposed for the west side of the centre pier and their impact on the passive recreational area of the west beach and its natural beauty.
Jeremy Fowlie (head coach of the Cobourg Dragon Boat and Canoe Club) said the openness of that part of the harbour is something to cherish. To put their young paddlers in the area being suggested by the consultants, the choppy mouth of the harbour, “is the equivalent of asking our youth to play hockey in the busy street.
“No one from Thinc Design ever attended any of our practices or events to get an idea of the needs of 36-ft. paddling boats.”
Past president Nancy Marshall of the Survivor Thrivers Dragon Breast Cancer Dragon Boat Team said she represents 32 team members, 30 team alumnae, 50 members of the affiliated breast-cancer support group and 28 former members who had lost their battle with cancer – all of whom take (or had taken) pride in this avenue of physical fitness and spirited sports competition in events around the world.
News of slips being set up near their practice area had disturbed her, Marshall said – a 40-ft. dragon boat with an occupancy of mor than 20 reuires a 120-ft. turning radius.
“Our main disappointment is in the report's failure to recognize the huge importance of the open water of the west harbour with its priceless recreational opportunities and its ability to sustain an extraordinary range of wildlife diversity,” added Willow Beach Field Naturalists representative Margaret Bain.
“We're extremely disheartened. It shouldn't have happened. All the strongly expressed feelings of Cobourg residents were forgotten or at least ignored.”
Her concerns were echoed by Northumberland Land Trust past president John Geale, as well as Cobourg Ecology Garden Committee chair Dora Body.
“We feel there are elements in the detailed design plan that have the potential to open the door to commercialization of a tranquil area enjoyed by residents and visitors alike and a safe haven for migratory flora and fauna,” Body said, urging more time for feedback on the newly released plan.
Cobourg Taxpayer Association secretary Dennis Nabieszko agreed more time is needed to understand a plan that calls for a 24-year roll-out period and expenditures of more than than $26-million.
Nabieszko echoed the words of association president Lydia Smith, who accused the consultants of tailoring their recommendations to town staffers' wish for revenue generation rather than to the concerns of the public.
“We are recommending you leave the harbour alone,” Smith declared.
“We are not lacking money. We are lacking ideas, and we are lacking vision.”
Cobourg Yacht Club Commodore Mike Hubicki said he grew up in Cobourg, and has enjoyed sailing, paddling, fishing, swimming and even skating in the west harbour area.
“It's one of Cobourg's feel-good features,” Hubicki said.
“The study illustrates many concepts that could result in significant disruptions and alteration to our facility's premises and functions.”
While some consider club members elitist, he said, “We are not elistist. But we are privileged. I believe anyone who lives in Cobourg is privileged. This is one of the most amazing communities I have ever been to, and I have sailed almost all over the world.
“The facilities we have here and the community resources – having the downtown so close, the culture, the wildlife, the ecology – is really second to none. That's why we would like to see any enhancements happening within that basin and the rest of the waterfront kept as natural and ecologically responsible as possible.”
Hubicki was not entirely opposed to the proposal for a travelling lift to be purchased (at an estimated $850,000) to drop in and lift out the boats, as opposed to the current method of hiring equipment that ties up traffic and poses potential hazards in a more cumbersome process. Hubicki estimates 50 or more boaters have left Cobourg harbour because of this.
Learn To Sail program director Bob Fler said he retired in Cobourg mostly for the sailing.
“Of the 70 or so boating communities on Lake Ontario, I'd place Cobourg in the top 10,” Fler said.
Each year, his sailing program attracts more than 100 students aged seven to 70 from all over the province (and, last year, even from Germany).
His own opinion is that the current lift-in-lift-out methods are potentially dangerous. He also expressed his opinion that “a larger harbour basin is suited to provide safe and efficient boat handling at the west shoreline.”
Sustainable Cobourg president Gudrun Ludorf-Weaver and environmental intern Gavin McGuire impressed councillors with their own study of other marina facilities – for example, those with mooring fields as opposed to marina slips.
McGuire called for a rewilding of the west beach. He argued that, though both power boating and paddling are growing recrational pursuits, power boating is growing at a far slower rate than the paddling that Ludorf-Weaver referred to as active recreation (much in the same way that getting about by walking or biking is now known as active transportation).
Cobourg resident Vivian Vandenhazel said she'd attended the majority of the meetings the consultants organized, and still believes there is no need for more boat slips or an expensive travelling lift – the percentage of new power-boat owners under the age of 40 has plunged, and it's an aging population that is bound to decline.
If revenue is needed, she asked, “what about somehow getting the thousands of people who use our beach in the summer to pay additional money for free use of our beach?”
Vandenhazel also questioned the need to build new washrooms when renting port-a-potties would suffice for those four months of high demand.
“Please stop treating the Cobourg waterfront as an asset to be exploited,” she urged.