12/10/2012 11:58 EST | Updated 02/09/2013 05:12 EST

Protesters call on St. John's council to nix new fence

More than 60 people who oppose a new security fence along the St. John's harbourfront have shown their opposition to the idea at City Hall this evening.

The group walked from the St. John's Port Authority building to the public city council meeting to protest a plan by the authority to restrict public access to some of the St. John's waterfront for most of the year.

"This harbour means so much to so many people, that we shouldn't build a fence around it," said Carol Adams, one of the protesters.

Adams added that she has lived in three different Canadian provinces, but for her living in St. John's is about the uniqueness of the place, of which she says public access to the harbour plays a big part.

Mayor says fence is neccessary

St. John's Mayor Dennis O'Keefe says a fence along a large section of the St. John's waterfront is necessary so the city's port authority can meet requirements to accommodate the security needs of various vessels.

O'Keefe said officials with the port authority have told him they need the fence to meet International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) certification.

The increased security, said O'Keefe, will be necessary to accommodate the increase in activity with vessels connected to the oil and gas industry in 2013.

"If they [the port authority] jeopardize that certification, the result to the oil and gas sector, the servicing [sector] would disappear," said the mayor. "And the cost to the city would be more than $200 million annually — directly and indirectly — 3,000 jobs."

Fencing necessary after audit, port CEO says

Sean Hanrahan, the port authority's president and CEO, said that post-9/11, the authority had been "staving off" more permanent security measures along the St. John's waterfront.

But he said permanent fencing became a neccessity after Transport Canada's most recent audit of the port.

"They [Transport Canada] have found vulnerabilities with regard to our fencing and our perimeter control and our access control," said Hanrahan. "So they're telling us that our level of risk caused by our vulnerabilites are such that we bascially are putting our certification at risk."

Hanrahan said that withouth ISPS certification, foreign flag vessels, offshore supply boats, and cruise ships would not be able to use the port.

He added that the area would have to be closed to public access for most of the year, but could be opened up for celebrations, commemorations or other public events on request.

Fence will cost $1 million

The city and port authority have already agreed to spilt the bill for the fence, which is expected to cost almost $1 million.

But the structure has been the subject of a public backlash since last week when Coun. Sheilagh O'Leary voiced her opposition to the fence, saying that when she voted for it in September, she didn't realize it would be so big or restrictive.

Republic of Doyle star Allan Hawco and actors Russell Crowe and Rick Mercer have also added their opposition to the plan through social media.

O'Keefe met with port authority CEO

O'Keefe said he met with Hanrahan over the weekend to see if there was a way the authority could increase public accessibility and not lose its security designation. But O'Keefe said Hanrahan told him that would not be possible.

The mayor also noted the fence will replace a chain-link version that has lined the harbour apron from Prescott Street to Atlantic Place for almost a decade.

"I recognize that the harbour is beautiful, I recognize that it's historic. I recognize that the fence that's down there now is, and has been for the last seven or eight years, gives me the shudders," said O'Keefe.

"When I look at that I'm ashamed at what it does to our harbour."