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COLUMN: Current Midland Bay Landing plan looks nothing like original

Columnist suggests eliminating MBL board, putting savings into developing an actual park

I’d been putting off a visit to our new waterfront attraction.

I thought the picture in MidlandToday told the story all on its own but I finally decided, in the interests of full research, that it deserved a visit in person. It is, of course, worse than I expected.

The press release put out by the Midland Bay Landing Development Corporation’s Board on October 25 trots out the same hackneyed promise of transforming 40 acres of waterfront property into a vibrant mixed-use neighbourhood.

The 100 metres of waterfront promenade they’ve built will be part of the effort to add 10 acres of open space in Midland. They never mention that this plan will actually subtract 30 acres of heavily wooded and easily accessible space, the last of its kind on our part of the Bay, from public use.

Bill Kernohan, the corporation’s board chair, is quoted in the release saying Midland has, historically, “had a strong relationship with its waterfront, including timber and shipbuilding, as well as a coal dock.”

Mr. Kernohan, like me, moved here in this century and neither of us experienced the type of waterfront he’s talking about, but there are pictures and access to the water in those days was limited.

People I’ve talked to who do remember cite noise, smell, pollution and safety hazards as major features. If this is his vision we’re in real trouble.

We now have 100 feet of concrete and six trees where once we had grass and shade. For $250,000. With a thousand feet to go! Two and a half million dollars. For concrete.

And it doesn’t even look like the plan. The profile in the plan, as published years ago and as displayed at public meetings, shows a wide green space with trees from the water’s edge to a multi-use trail to a sidewalk to parking to a road.

This promenade is concrete from the water’s edge to a clear-cut acreage of mud which will become buildings, I presume.

But the corporation’s budget, as reported in MidlandToday on October 28, will be lower in 2022 than this year although I had trouble getting the numbers as reported to add up.

They passed a draft for Council for a $384,000 budget of which consultant fees would take up the lion's share. Doesn’t leave a lot of room for the $54,000 the Board members are getting or the $25,000 for lawyers or the Executive Director budget at $50,000, etc.

Oh, wait. They are using $105,000.00 from the MBL reserve fund to keep costs down. Unfortunately, the reserve fund is currently $4.6 million in the hole because the mortgage hasn’t been paid. Taking from one sinkhole to fill another one.

They are submitting no request for capital next year which is a drop from the $425,550 they had in 2021. Bill Kernohan graciously recognizes that this money comes from taxes and says they are trying to maintain costs “since it affects the levy.”

What I found interesting, and heartening, is that at least one board member recognizes there is some resistance to all this expenditure and destruction of the environment.

He says, “there’s a lot of backlash against (the project)” and suggests not “throwing more capital expenses around.”

So that’s hopeful, but it turns out he thinks that once we see the promenade and “the benefits from that, it will be easier to push the capital expenses.”  I wish he would point the benefits out to me because I missed them during my visit.

Midland’s CAO David Denault thinks “it was an extremely wise decision of Council to acquire this property” and he gets no argument from me.

He goes on to say that “we all know what 40 acres on one of the best and most beautiful harbours in the world is worth” but then encourages the MBL Board to continue in its efforts to, at the least, diminish that value dramatically or, at the most, destroy it completely by suggesting that “this Board continues to take really practical and pragmatic steps.”

What is required now from the Board and Council is a recognition that the worth of this property is as it is now, not as it will be when it is paved over.  A leap of imagination and a commitment to community.  Not more pragmatism.

If we stopped funding the MLB Board and put a fraction of the money into developing an actual park and put the rest into paying off the mortgage we would not only be ahead, we’d be making a contribution.

We would not only have a space to be proud of, we’d be making a contribution to the greater good.