Kingston buys prime waterfront from federal government for token sum of $2

A view of frozen Confederation Basin marina in winter. The City of Kingston has purchased the federal water lot for $2. CKWS TV

The City of Kingston is the proud new owner of a basin — as in, Confederation Basin.

City councillors voted unanimously at their Feb. 1 meeting to approve the purchase of the prime water lot in front of City Hall for a nominal sum from the federal government, which has been on a course of divesting itself of waterfront areas. The deal, expected to be finalized at the end of March 2022, concludes nearly two decades of negotiations between the city and the federal department of Fisheries and Oceans.

The water lot purchase covers a large swath of the Kingston Harbour and breakwall, stretching from battery Park to Crawford Wharf. It will all be owned by the city.
The water lot purchase covers a large swath of the Kingston Harbour and breakwall, stretching from Battery Park to Crawford Wharf. It will all be owned by the city. City of Kingston

“I think it’s time. It’s a good time to do it. It’s been in the works since 2004,” says Councillor Rob Hutchison.

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It’s a sentiment echoed by Mark Gerretsen, Liberal MP for Kingston and The Islands.

“It’s a good move for the federal government. It’s a good move for the city and it’s long overdue,” he says.

The water lot purchase covers a wide swath of Kingston’s harbour from Battery Park (formerly known as Block D) to the city-owned Crawford Wharf. It includes Flora Macdonald Confederation Basin marina, which the city has leased from Ottawa since 1977, and the Confederation Basin breakwall that protects the marina. The historic Shoal Tower and the immediate water around it, however, will remain in federal hands.

The historic Shoal Tower, one of the Kingston fortifications built by the British in the early 1800’s, will remain in federal hands as part of the water lot deal. CKWS TV

“Under the terms of the proposed transfer, the city will acquire Confederation Basin in an as-is condition for $2.00 and agree to maintain it as a public harbour for at least five years,” according to a staff report from Peter Huigenbos, city commissioner of business, environment and projects.

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The divestiture of federal properties is normally done at fair market value. In this case, the water lot is valued at $6.5 million. However, city officials say they managed to secure the bargain basement purchase for $2 based on a federal stipulation that the site be retained as a public harbour and, presumably, not sold to the private sector for a minimum of five years.

“Having the water lots themselves I think we can do some really interesting and creative things to create some renewal there,” says Mayor Bryan Paterson.

These jagged rocks that stretch nearly one kilometre into Lake Ontario are a breakwall that’s included in the city’s purchase of a water lot from the federal government.

The deal also means the city won’t have to pay Ottawa an annual sum to lease the marina space. Under terms of the lease, the city had to pay the government an annual rent of 20 per cent of the marina’s gross revenues. That amounted to $159,000 in 2019 but dropped significantly to $73,000 last year due to the impact of COVID-19 public safety restrictions — money the city won’t have to pay anymore.

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“The acquisition of the water lot and elimination of the annual rent expense represents a significant operating budget savings, which will allow staff to assess and implement potential changes to the marina operations going forward,” Huigenbos says.

Talks to acquire the water along Confederation Park first began in 2004 but lagged for many years. City officials renewed the talks in 2018 which included appraisals and the evaluation of the environmental condition of the water lot and risks associated with its transfer.

Under terms of the $2 water lot purchase, the city must maintain Confederation Basin as a public harbour for at least five years. CKWS TV

The harbour area was the focus of heavy industrial use decades ago including locomotive works and the water lot does have contamination. A 2018 study identified that sediments within Confederation Basin are contaminated with low to moderate concentrations of metals and hydrocarbon compounds, according to Huigenbos.

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The same study “concluded that environmental risks to users of the harbour and the aquatic environment are low and that no urgent or immediate management actions (i.e. remediation) are required.”

The water lot acquisition also makes it easier for the city to proceed with its plan to turn nearly 500 metres of the breakwall into a pedestrian pathway. The $2.7-million project already approved by council is currently in the final stages of public consultation with construction anticipated for 2023 and 2024.

“While the promenade project was supported by the federal government, the transfer of ownership of the break wall to the City will simplify the project by removing the federal government as an approving authority,” Huigenbos’ report says.

-With files from Aryn Strickland

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