COLUMN: Whose waterfront is it?

Waterfront spaces in the communities along the St. Lawrence River has been a bone of contention since the building of the seaway. Private ownership ceased, along with people’s connection to the river. Since the 1950’s, government has struggled with what to do with our land. Planning, planning, and more planning — plans galore! Every year, every council, something new.

The continuous planning loop is the worst in South Dundas. In the last 10 years, there has been two initiatives for the waterfront. First a unified plan by the 2006-10 council, that covered both Iroquois and Morrisburg. That plan went down in flames thanks to special interest groups and the lack of public input. The 2011-14 council tried separate plans for each of the villages, where the residents could drive what they wanted to see. Those committees continue today.

Both Iroquois and Morrisburg committees started without any government involvement or representation. The committee included volunteers, and people from different community groups. Morrisburg’s included the local branch of the Royal Canadian Legion and the local Lions Club. Both groups have contributed to the public’s park. For disclosure, this columnist served on the Morrisburg committee until 2015.

The plan the committee created set clear goals for usage, always keeping top-of-mind that the waterfront was the public’s park.  The government may own the space, but we are all owners of government. We fund it, and elect people to represent us. It is everyone’s park. The plan had community input and heard nothing but positive support when released. The committee evolved to a committee of council with representation from council and administration. A consultant was tendered to take this citizen plan and turn it into a polished plan to move forward. That plan went to council in the fall of 2013, and while not adopted by council, was “received”. A technical governance term.

All along the way since 2011, the plan has been citizen and community driven. Now that it is time to implement the plan, it has gone awry.

The committee has come under fire for plans for a remembrance plaza in front of the Legion. The plan is to move the various monuments scattered around Morrisburg into once central place. Some members of the local Legion do not want this to happen. The plaza has been part of the plan from the beginning. Presented to the public. Designed with public input. Until now there has been no resistance to the plan.

In addition, the legion had a seat at the table from the beginning. Their appointed person left after a couple of meetings and their chair was never filled. It was always there for them.

What the municipal council members, administration and different service groups forget is this is the people’s land and people’s plan. A plan developed by citizens without government interference. Everyone who took part in the plan, the “go-getters” who worked for years on this, sought Legion input.

Instead, those who wish to never see anything happen to the Morrisburg waterfront get their way. The longer it goes on, energies will refocus to other groups and other parts of this amalgamated community where people are doing things. Iroquois for example, where their waterfront group is getting things done, municipal procurement exceptions aside.

Those involved in this dispute, the ones complaining and the ones fanning the flames, need to remember that the people are the ones who own the park. It does not belong to one group or another. It belongs to everyone. All parties involved need to grow up, and learn to move forward. Otherwise the planning circle will just keep going around.

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