COLUMN: The oddities in South Dundas

by Phillip Blancher

SOUTH DUNDAS — Rural Ontario, small towns and villages, farm communities, all have their idiosyncrasies. South Dundas, the forced amalgam of two villages and the two townships that surrounded them, is no different from others, but a few things stand out.

The Battle of the Grain Bins

Who would have thought two bins for storing grain would cause such a stink in a small locale of the community? The issue has been in many news sources including Cornwall Newswatch for many months, was an election issue of sorts in the 2014 Municipal Election, and no one outside of the NIMBY group, Concerned Citizens of South Dundas(CCSD), wants to touch it.

The issue as it boils down is that a set of investors, one of whom owns the Universal Terminals port, the only port between Johnstown and Montreal, wants to expand operations on their port land to store grain and other cash crop commodities. They see a business case for it, and are willing to invest in the property that has been a port since 1958. The plan is to have the developer build two large bins, possibly expand to four if there is a business case for it. The CCSD does not want it, and now is trying to appeal the building permit for it.

Good luck to them. The point has been made before, but it bears need repeating, that the port was built in 1958. When the port was built, it had large oil storage tanks on the property, gasoline, heating oil and other hazardous chemicals. Over the years most of the tanks have been decommissioned, but the port is still used. If a property owner bought their house after 1958, and chose to buy next to a port, I fail to understand their protest.

If I bought a house which backed on to a busy railroad track, with the tracks having been there since the mid 1850’s, do I have the right to complain when the trains go by making noise? No. I chose to live there, to buy that house, in that location. Same goes for the CCSD members. Don’t like a port in your backyard, or 3/4 of a mile up the road, don’t buy the house.

Public Washrooms?

South Dundas enjoys many parks and playgrounds in the community. Two shopping plazas, a dog park, two public beaches, lots of sports facilities, and a few attractions outside of the obligatory Upper Canada Village. But try using the facilities.

The previous council accepted the donation of a unit in the Morrisburg Shopping Plaza, to be turned into an office for the Morrisburg BIA (Business Improvement Area) and a public washroom, however no washroom has been built. In Iroquois, despite lots of vacancies, no facility exists either. Go to any of the many parks in South Dundas and good luck finding the facilities. Where there are facilities, some are locked except at certain times of the day in certain seasons. No Rosetta Stone is given to find out the schedule.

As someone who has children, the ability to find an open and functioning washroom can mean hours spent in the park playing, or going home. For a community that wants to attract tourists so badly, and have their own residents active, a strategy on public washrooms seems like a no-brainer. Something so simple as a place to go, can do so much for people’s views of an area. Not that a visitor or a resident will say, “Yes, thank you for the washroom here.” However, the expletive-laced thoughts or comments when your child needs to run, and there’s no where to go, so you have pack up the kids and find the nearest Tim Hortons or McDonalds, can leave a lasting negative impression.

So much for community engagement

The best laid plans are the ones consultants or experts haven’t touched yet. During the 2014 Municipal Election, one topic that came up frequently was community engagement in the municipal government. Residents being heard, and being asked. One candidate ran with an idea that during a council meeting, there could be a Question & Answer period. Now in office, that is a big no. The experts have shot that down.

Other municipalities do have Q&A periods, with most never participating in the process. But they exist.

During the campaign, the last question during the Morrisburg All-Candidates meeting came from a younger voter, asking how to get younger people, younger families, involved in the process. Most of the candidate answers were the usual “vote for me” pap, “I will listen to the people.” My own answer was to stream council meetings online so people could watch from home to see what was going on, and schedule meeting times so that they did not occur during family time. A few other candidates had similar ideas and at least one of them were elected, however none of those plans have been put into place either.

But hey, we have a great new website, that wasn’t tendered out through competitive bidding process. Maybe there’s hope, yet?

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