Residents in Cornwall, Ont., held a protest Monday after learning two new storage tanks were being built and buried on the city's waterfront.

The land south of Harbour Road where the tanks are being built is owned by Transport Canada, but the federal government has leased the land to a private company.

The company is building tanks to hold calcium chloride for de-icing roads, at the same site as an old oil storage tank farm.

Cornwall mayor Bob Kilger

Cornwall Mayor Bob Kilger has said the community deserves more information from the federal government about what's happening in their city. (CBC)

Cornwall's political and business leaders say neither the private company nor the federal government told them what was happening.

City had plans for waterfront

Kevin Hargreaves, the president of Cornwall's Chamber of Commerce, said the appearance of an excavator at the riverbank last week was the first clue for many that something was afoot.

"People saw bulldozers roll in. And we all thought it was just levelling land. We had no idea what the federal government was planning," said Hargreaves.

Hargreaves said the city was working on plans to better develop the waterfront, and said the decision to place the tanks there hurts those plans.

"Clearly there is a better use for this land than burying calcium chloride tanks," said Hargreaves.

Mayor Bob Kilger said with the tanks half built and the company building them having signed a lease permitting it to go ahead, the project may be unstoppable.

But he said residents deserve more information.

"It's a very sensitive piece of land. A great deal more information needs to be shared to at least understand it, if not accept it, at least understand it," he said.

Federal minister of transport Lisa Raitt is expected in Cornwall on Wednesday for a public forum on the issue.