Editor’s Note: Due to limited owl capacity at the Northern Hoot the partial transcripts of the closing summations will be delayed. However, many of the points made in final arguments have been discussed over the length of this hearing and can be found at the links below this editorial.
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On Friday, December 5th, 2014 Counsel for the opponents and proponent in the Ontario Municipal Board hearing on the matter of the proposed development named Pointe Estates presented their closing arguments.
So what’s left to say?
Counsel summarized their arguing points presented over the course of the hearing that ran the span of three weeks- fourteen days in total with one day lost to inclement weather, and as a result summations were pretty anti-climactic save for a couple of gems that went something like this: ‘the tributary that connects the wetland to the St. Marys River is like a straw so the ecological functions aren’t the greatest. It’s not much of a wetland” or “the developer’s reports are unsatisfactory and I also haven’t found any reports that demonstrated consultation with Aboriginal Communities”.
On Friday, Council Chambers was also the most empty that it had been during the entire hearing. At times there could be up to thirty members seated in the viewing area of the Sault Ste. Marie Council Chambers and the chatter in the stands varied.
Of the 1970’s stylized Torture Chamber viewing area, “These seats are so uncomfortable. Do you think they designed it that way on purpose to keep the public out?” and “I can’t hear a damn thing that anybody is saying in here” and of the ancient tile carpet, “I’ll have to bring some crazy glue to tamp these squares down. They’re a real tripping hazard” and “It’s freezing in here” and “It’s like a furnace in here”.
There was a noticed absence in the Chambers however. Given the series of events- specific to this point, City Council’s decision to deny the Avery’s a planning permit, with the exception of Frank Fata, Councillor for Ward Six, I did not observe any other members of City Council in attendance of the twelve and a half days I was present. However, City employees often trickled down to sit in on portions of the hearing during their coffee breaks and lunch hour.
What has become apparent to me is that the neighbours out in Pointes are friends. They are families that have lived in the area for decades, some of them inheriting their properties from a great-great grand-relative. Folks in their sixties and seventies reminisced of their youth running along the banks of the Alagash and of watching their own children and now grand-children rediscover the pristine waters of the St. Marys River.
Just as obvious was the division among friends created by the proposed development in the Pointe Louise wetland. In a casual conversation with one of the many neighbours who took up front row seats during the hearing the individual shared their sadness of the situation. “This has been going on so long now. We are all fighting about this- half support the development and the other half don’t. I have two neighbours on either side of me that don’t support it and two across the road that do. This has gone on for too long.”
Another fascinating point that media glazed over was that the OMB Chairman, Blair Taylor, bore a distracting resemblance to a 60’ish former US president Ronald Regan- but with glasses. The quality of the Chairman’s voice was also similar to that of Regan- low and smooth.
Mr. Taylor also cracked the whip though with great fairness. Each side of Counsel- that being Orlando Rosa -representing developers Jeff and Dr. Patricia Avery, and Helen Scott- representing Pointes Protection Association, were spanked without discrimination and as required. Klaas Oswald, was granted party status on behalf of the Bi-National Public Advisory Council did not completely escape his share of correction though the Chairman himself admitted that he did give wider girth to the inexperienced Mr. Oswald. Nuala Kenny, who was in the awkward position of defending City Council’s decision to not take the advice of City Staff, had little opportunity for mischief.
Mr. Taylor also held Counsel to a high expectation permitting very short breaks only for very good reason. It was not unusual to begin at 9:30 in the morning with only a five minute break or no break at all before the 1 p.m. lunch hour. During closing summations nobody had lunch. Closing arguments began at 9:45 a.m. and completed around 3 p.m. with perhaps three breaks that added up to 15 minutes in total.
Counsel were also surprised when on Thursday they were informed by Mr. Taylor that closing arguments were expected to be made the next day- Friday. At the top of the week lawyers and all parties involved were attempting to isolate a possible date in January for final summations.
“You’re all professionals. You knew that you were going to have present final summations. I expect that you have been preparing for that over the course of these last three weeks. Also there is a costly expense to taxpayers that should be considered.” With reference to his own obligations Mr. Taylor added, “And the Board has a life as well. I do have other municipal hearings to attend.”
There were occasional moments of humour as well but my favourite went unnoticed by all present. It was the first afternoon that Peter Gagnon, president of the Pointes Protection Association, was presenting his testimony. Mr. Gagnon had prepared a map – about 3 feet by 4 feet, to use as a prop to demonstrate his evidence.
It had already been a very long day.
In the morning we had all witnessed, what I refer to as the ‘Bear Fight’ between Mr. Rosa and Frank Breen- who you may recall was a potential expert witness for Pointes Protections but the Chairman eventually denied him that status designation.
The map that Mr. Gagnon brought forward became a real bone of contention later in the hearing but on that day he had just one copy of that specific map for his presentation. It is typical that exhibits- as the map was to become, are copied or replicated for all parties.
The atmosphere in Chambers was pretty thick and everyone was pretty tired. A couple of lawyers were checking their text messages, another was slightly reclined in their chair –head back looking up at the ceiling, another was slouched over their desk and certainly by this time those in the viewing area of Chambers had incredibly sore rear ends.
The Chairman had asked for the map to keep as a reference for his final decision. The Chairman had just reached down from his elevated seat to accept that very long map. Mr. Rosa, who was standing at the podium turned to the Chairman, and looked up at him and asked with what came across to me as a note of hopefulness, “Will we have a map too sir?”
“Yeees, Mr. Rosa,” assured Mr. Taylor somewhat exasperatedly as he awkwardly tried to find a place for the movie poster sized map. “But yours just won’t be as big as mine.”
And nobody reacted – except for me of course. I laughed about that for two days.
At this time it is unknown when the OMB will present his final decision on this matter.
Moments of levity are hard to come by when the seriousness of this decade long controversy are held to the forefront. On one side- a developer who has invested unknown amounts into a development that might never be and the other side –conservationists and environmentalist passionate about the wetland.
What side are you on?