EDITORIAL: Stewards of the Environment

The big news is that the County has decided to meet Picton Terminals in court.

After its regular meeting had just about concluded last Tuesday, at close to 10 p.m., Councillors moved back into closed session to resume the deliberations on Picton Terminals they still had not completed when the meeting started. They emerged quickly though, just 30 minutes later, with two motions. They were well worth the wait.

The first directs staff to re-engage legal counsel and to pursue a permanent injunction against Picton Terminals through the courts.

The second directs the Mayor and CAO to convene a formal Council-to-Council meeting with the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, given their continued interest in the pending court decision.

Prince Edward County resides within the Traditional Territories of the Haudenosaunee. Specifically in this case, those of the Kanyen’kehá:ka, the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte. They have a crucial, and constitutionally protected interest, in these lands and waters.

The County’s planning act makes consultation with local First Nations groups a legal requirement. In practice this means a letter is sent requesting comments. And there the requirement generally ends. Responses from Indigenous groups to such requests are recorded. And more or less dismissed.

Certainly, that was the case when Chief R. David Maracle sent two detailed letters to County planning staff in 2020, then considering a re-zoning application from Picton Terminals. That was the application that council denied, at the Regent Theatre meeting.

Staff, however, recommended that application be approved. And they did so in part by dismissing the concerns of the 74 residents who recorded their opposition, as well as the concerns of the Mohawks who live here. Those concerns, unsurprisingly, overlapped. They were human concerns from people who live near Picton Bay, drink the water, and eat the fish —or, at least, would like to be able to drink the water and eat the fish. They detail worries about water pollution, disturbing existing contaminants, fish and fish habitat, noise and light, international shipping traffic, and truck traffic.

Chief Maracle noted that turning Picton Bay into an international port would create the potential for a host of long-term problems, including importing invasive species, and making Hwy 49, which runs through Mohawk territory, a major transportation corridor. He expressed concerns about the human trafficking which occurs around international ports. The staff report includes the responses to the Chief’s letter from the consultants who prepared the re-zoning application for the Terminals. These consist of a series of evasive and nonsensical statements, the kind one associates with ChatGPT.

In response to worries about Hwy 49, for example, “it is anticipated that Highway 49 will be used as one of the routes to access the site. Highway 49 is a Provincial Highway and use of this Highway is regulated by the Ministry of Transportation (MTO). The proposed use of this Highway as one of the routes to access the site is permitted, and no negative impacts are anticipated in this regard.” In response to the Chief’s worry about international shipping in the Bay, “the ships accessing the port will use traditional and long-standing shipping routes within the regulated waterway in accordance with the applicable policies of Transport Canada.

Therefore, no negative impacts are anticipated in this regard.” Needless to say, concerns about leaching chemicals are also dismissed, and not just by the Terminals’ consultants, but by our planners. Indeed, this staff report unfolds as a bizarre series of contradictory half-assertions and buck passing.

The report makes it impossible to tell if salt is being stored safely on the site, for example. An April 2020 letter from the Ministry of the Environment is cited over and over again to say Picton Terminals is storing salt safely and has resolved four outstanding environmental orders against it – except the letter itself states that the requirement for covered salt storage has not been met.

But back to the Chief. After County staff dismissed the concerns of his letter, he wrote again, and stated the Duty to Consult had not been met. This second letter concludes, “given Doornekamp Construction’s numerous MECP warnings and orders, [its] blatant disregard for the law, environment and public interest is indicative that Doornekamp Construction cannot be trusted to construct and/or conduct business that is consistent with the applicable policies, regulations, requirements, and provisions; let alone respect for the environment, public or MBQ interest and rights.”

“It is evident,” he concludes, “that Doornekamp Construction is not a good steward of the land and water for future generations.”

Now the County, in what seems a watershed moment for its own internal procedures and processes, never mind our municipal governance, has invited the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, not just to respond, but to share in the building of a legal case against Picton Terminals. That case must turn around stewardship of the environment.

As environmental and climate change concerns move to the forefront of the agenda of every municipality in Canada, along with those of the rest of the world, guess who finally gets offered a seat at the table? It’s about time.

-Karen Valihora