City council has agreed to take the first step, as required by Transport Canada, towards re-igniting discussions on taking over the federally owned Owen Sound Harbour.
“Council hasn’t made any final or binding decisions on anything. They’ve just put the precursors in place that will allow that negotiation to take place,” city clerk Kristen Van Alphen said Friday in an interview.
“It doesn’t mean (council is) necessarily interested in taking a second step but they can’t even consider taking the second step unless they get these preconditions in place.”
After meeting behind closed doors Thursday night, council passed a bylaw to authorize the mayor and clerk to sign two documents, which Van Alphen described as “preconditions to negotiating” with Transport Canada regarding the transfer of the federal port “to the municipality or others.”
The documents — a letter of intent and disclosure of information agreement — set the ground rules for the negotiation process, she said.
The documents have been signed and sent to Transport Canada for their authorization, she said. City officials are unsure of the next step after the feds sign, she said.
In 2012, the federal government committed $27.3 million over two years to support the divestiture of regional port facilities and continued operation and maintenance of federally owned ports. The program is slated to end in March 2014.
Transport Canada set Friday as the deadline for parties to declare an interest in discussing divestiture as part of the program, Van Alphen said.
A special city council meeting was called and discussions were held in-camera because they related to the potential acquisition of land, she said. The bylaws were passed in open session.
The two documents signed by city officials will be used to help “establish eligibility and support the selection process” for the program, according to Transport Canada.
Divestiture talks between Owen Sound and Transport Canada last broke off in February 2012 due to the exhaustion of a federal divestiture fund. An extension of the program to 2014, with more money, was announced a month later.
City officials have said the Owen Sound Harbour must be dredged by the federal government before it will take over ownership of the port. Transport Canada has said all dredging work must be part of divestiture negotiations.
About 488 of the 549 ports identified by Transport Canada for divestiture when its first program began in 1995 have been transferred, the agency says.
“Port divestiture improves the efficiency of Canadian marine transportation by rationalizing the port system and placing decision making and operations in the hands of users and local interests,” it says.
“Applicants may receive negotiated lump-sum payments to facilitate the transfer of a port or a collection of ports and related assets and to achieve compliance with regulatory or insurance requirements and cover the cost of feasibility studies prior to transfer.”
Transport Canada has announced plans to spend $1.5 million on improving the Owen Sound Harbour this summer. The work, which is underway and may have nothing to do with divestiture, includes replacing part of the west wall as well as timbers on both sides of the port.
The feds invested more than $1 million to repair the west wall of the harbour in 2011. It also drafted an environmental risk assessment that year of the harbour’s condition, which concluded there were no “significant causes for concern.”