Blockhouse battle takeaways



The Battle of Blockhouse Island is over – at least for a year.

Cruise boat operator and bistro owner Andy Neeteson did not convince a majority, at last night's regular city council meeting, to go against a recommendation restricting access to Blockhouse Island during the late June hydroplane regatta.

By the time last night's debate – one of the more interesting of late – got underway, two discernible strains of irritation had emerged around the council horseshoe.

The first, expressed a week ago and simmering silently last night, is best summed up in one flippant question: “If Captain Andy can't make a profit from all those hydroplane race visitors, why is he bothering us?”

And the other, much more audible at last night's debate, can be phrased as follows: “Why can't the two sides just get along and leave us out of it?”

Capt. Andy did his best to respond to the first strain of irritation last night, with numbers.

To the second question, a few councillors gave the accurate but unsatisfactory answer: “It's our waterfront, so we have to decide who gets to close it off.”

Still, at least some of that irritation remained in the air as councillors approved the initial recommendation, all the while bracing themselves for more squabbles to come next year, if not sooner.

We should, however, draw a few broader lessons from this riverfront skirmish.

The first, a point that really wasn't raised in this debate, is the matter of setting precedents.

Capt. Andy is a long-established businessman on Blockhouse Island and a key figure in Brockville's tourism industry. He is also the only business operator on Blockhouse Island.

He remains, however, a business owner, and by sticking with the recommendation Tuesday council avoided setting a precedent whereby the needs of an individual business – however pressing or legitimate – set the parameters for policy regarding the use of a key public space.

The second takeaway is that Councillor David LeSueur was right to call for a broader vision of waterfront use, one laid out by the economic development advisory team and the future festivals and events coordinator.

LeSueur cited the ambitious goal of having one waterfront event every weekend.

 That's an outcome we would all like to see, for the sake of the economy, to be sure, but also because, as Councillor Jeff Earle said, we want events where we can take our kids.

That would be a most profitable discussion, one that would have to include the needs and interests of businesses operating on Blockhouse Island.

There will likely be more skirmishes before it is done.