Nfld. & Labrador

St. John's councillor fighting harbourfront fence

A city councillor is trying to stop the St. John's Port Authority from erecting a fence that will block most of the access to the harbourfront.
St. John's City Councillor Sheilagh O'Leary said when she voted in favour of the harbourfront fence in September, she didn't think it would be so big. (CBC )

A city councillor is trying to stop the St. John's Port Authority from erecting a fence that will block most of the access to the harbourfront.

The authority announced plans earlier this fall for a security fence along the harbourfront. In September, council unanimously agreed to pay half of the estimated $850,000 cost.

But following an update meeting this week, Coun. Sheilagh O'Leary changed her mind, saying she didn't think the fence would be so big.

"It's going to take up over 60 per cent of the harbourfront, which means that there will be no public access," she said.

"The other issue that came forward in lieu of this is that it will be locked down permanently, and only opened up on special occasions dictated by the port authority."

The fence would stretch from Prescott Street to The Keg restaurant along Harbour Drive. The design meets Industry Canada's post-9/11 security standards.

O'Leary said blocking access to the harbour isn't fair for the residents of St. John's.

"This is our city. This is our habourfront," she said.

"I know it's federal jurisdiction in terms of the working harbour, but there has to be a solution in terms of marrying a workable harbour with a liveable harbour, as we see all across the world."

O'Leary said she can respect safety concerns, but the authority hasn't considered what the changes will mean for the public.

"I think basically it's a design issue," she said. "Can't we have some sort of ongoing dialogue with the St. John's Port Authority so that we can all live and work and play side by side together, and help plan our city properly?"

Authority going ahead with plan

Port authority president and CEO Sean Hanrahan said the existing fence serves no purpose.

"The fence down there now is old, decrepit, rusty," he said. "It doesn't serve a security purpose, so it is time for a change."

The St. John's Port Authority's proposed plan for a security fence along the harbourfront. (CBC)

Hanrahan said vessels that use the port, including cargo and cruise ships, expect strong security when they dock.

"They need a secure facility or they're not going to come here," he said.

If the fence isn't replaced soon, Hanrahan said it could mean big losses for the city and the province.

"Security is paramount," he said. "We don't want to shut down an industry that generates about a quarter-of-a-billion dollars a year and creates 3,000 jobs."

Hanrahan said the project will go ahead whether the city helps pay for it or not.

"We as a port authority will have a choice: go ahead and build the full thing ourselves to the full cost, or will we come up with another model, or will we simply carry on with the one that's there, which is chain-linked and very unattractive."