North Bruce Peninsula Council Reporter’s Notebook — Cabot Head To Remain Closed for 2020, Lion’s Head Geese Management Strategy, Climate Action Committee and Tobermory Water Discussed

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By John Francis

Northern Bruce Peninsula’s Municipal Council met on February 10 with several weighty matters on the Agenda.

CAO Bill Jones has submitted his resignation, effective March 1. Council decided in January to engage a consultant to help with the process. A list of tasks/services was drawn up and sent out to seven management consulting firms for tender. Four firms responded. Their prices were $807.50, $8,000, $9,835 and $22,035. 

Municipal Clerk Mary Lynn Standen handled the tender process but she was not at the meeting. Councillors were bemused at the variation in prices. Was there extra value in the higher numbers? Was the lowest bidder bidding on the same list of tasks as the other three? Staff assured Council that all were responding to the same list of tasks and that the lowest bidder was a firm that has done satisfactory work for the municipality on at least two occasions in the past. Council chose the lowest bidder. “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” as Councillor Smokey Golden summed it up.

Then came some bad news about Cabot Head Lighthouse. The Municipality leases the property from the Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and has traditionally sub-leased it to the Friends of Cabot Head (FOCH), a volunteer group dedicated to preserving and displaying the lightstation. Both arrangements were interrupted three years ago when the property was condemned because of mercury and lead contamination (plus a few other issues). DFO remediated those problems, finishing last fall, but a whole new series of problems have emerged.

Sloppy contracting work on the insides of the buildings will need to be repaired before the buildings can be occupied, but this is a minor problem. More significant is that the hydro lines are down and the road is washed out.

Traditionally, the municipality grades the road and does a bit of work to clear the hydro corridor (which crosses private land). But the hydro lines need more than a couple of days with a chainsaw and the road is literally washed out. This left Council with an unpleasant decision. The lightstation is a valued, historic asset, but…

“How much to fix the road?” asked Councillor Jamie Mielhausen. Public Works Manager Troy Cameron’s best guess was that it would be around a quarter million, depending on how much more damage gets done this winter. “Do we need a road?” was Councillor Mielhausen’s next question. CAO Jones suggested that there is value in having a road to Cabot Head — it provides access to Provincial Park land and the Bruce Peninsula Bird Observatory in addition to the lightstation. And Search and Rescue use it too.

Councillor Megan Myles pointed out that the road might wash out again next fall. It might not be a one-time investment of a quarter million — it could be a quarter million every year. Tourism is important, she continued, but this is beyond our tax base to support. Councillor Golden agreed — we need a source of stable funding. “We need to kick it back up the ladder.” “My dad helped build that road,” she continued, but we need more support from the senior levels of government. We can’t expect our municipal taxpayers to cover the costs for regional and national assets. Where is the washout, Mayor Milt McIver asked; who owns the land? It’s on private property, Jones and Cameron replied, a trespass road. Cameron pointed out that any improvements to the road might imply legal liability. CAO Jones, unusually candid in his final meeting at MNBP gave Council clear suggestions: direct staff to contact DFO to say the municipality is not prepared to sign a lease agreement without a road and hydro agreement. There can be no lease with FOCH without this. Council should accept that the facility will probably not open in 2020. Jones noted that he really liked the FOCH proposal but they can’t do anything without road access.

Councillors reluctantly agreed to this. Staff will contact DFO and the facility will be closed again for 2020.

Geese Management

Geese management at Lion’s Head Harbour drew a lively discussion. Councillor Golden commented on the impressive amount of commitment and expertise in our community. Mayor McIver agreed, and said “If we’re going to do this – and I think we should – we need a plan.” CAO Jones suggested that fencing should be the first priority and “we should get on it now”. He noted that goose nests are difficult to target — they are mostly away from the harbour and often on private property. The strategy needs to concentrate on the harbour and the beach park. The City of Stratford has implemented a successful geese management strategy which we could copy. It would involve, fencing, dogs, public education, people in kayaks and possibly the deterrent chemical Avian Migrate. Councillor Myles (and several environmentalists in the visitors’ gallery) were uncomfortable with the use of Avian Migrate. It was agreed that the chemical would not be used without further authorization from Council.

Climate Action Committee

Next on the Agenda was the municipality’s proposed Climate Action Committee. Proponents of the committee, including Rod Layman and Councillor Megan Myles, want it to be an official Committee of Council. Other Councillors took a different view, suggesting that a community committee would work at least as well and would not impose as much strain on municipal staff. CAO Jones noted that a Committee of Council requires Roberts Rules plus a staff minute-taker, either the Clerk or Deputy Clerk. Mayor McIver said that with current staffing issues — the CAO is leaving at the end of the month — this would be “beyond our capacity”. A deferral of 6 months was suggested. Councillor Myles stressed that Council had made a commitment but offered to reduce the number of meetings to every other month. Councillor Golden suggested a defined time period — perhaps two years — would be better than a permanent endowment. The decision was deferred.

Tobermory’s Water System

Proposed improvements to Tobermory’s water system triggered an intense discussion. A CAO Report in December had suggested a joint Federal/Provincial Program, the “Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program” (ICIP) might offer as much as $5.1 million towards an approximately $7 million project. The CAO Report for the Feb 10 meeting offered a more detailed but less generous scenario: “The Municipality of Northern Bruce Peninsula (MNBP) submitted an ICIP grant on January 17, 2020. The original project cost $7,637,076 with a contingency of $1,909,269. The ICIP Program Administrator has advised that if the project receives funding, it will be capped at $2,111,926. This leaves the Municipality responsible for approximately $5,525,150 plus any contingency allowances.”

Sticker shock took Council’s breath away. $5.5 million is a huge commitment for a municipality with a total annual budget of $7 million or so. The alternatives — continue to maintain the clumsy and inadequate well-and-holding-tank systems at the Bradley Davis apartments, the community centre, the firehall and the ambulance facility — are equally unappealing. The existing community water system serves the ferry terminal and the harbour master’s facility. It needs a half-million dollar upgrade and Councillor Golden verified that “we’re on the hook for that no matter what.”

One of the major concerns for Councillor Golden and Councillor Megan Myles is affordable housing around Tobermory. The lack of a town water system is a major impediment to building such facilities. If we don’t move forward on this in Tobermory now, Councillor Golden asked, then when and where? Could we allocate some parking revenues to this project? It would support tourism. We should proceed, at least with the application for funding. Mayor McIver confirmed that the proposal would run a water main down Carlton St to the Highway then along the highway past the community centre and around the corner on Nicholas St. Councillor Golden wondered “if it would be LaLa Land” to think about extending the system to the Parks Canada Visitor Centre (which has a notoriously inadequate water and sewage system and could contribute federal revenue to the project). CAO Jones said this was not unreasonable but Council would need to find creative solutions. A joint trench might work — a lot of areas in Tobermory already have a blasted trench for sewers. Councillor Golden favoured pushing ahead; she asked if the $7.6 million is do-able? CAO Jones suggested it was but reminded Council that there is a $1.9 million contingency fund.

“Why such a big contingency?” asked Councillor Golden. CAO Jones explained the services offered by the (arms-length crown corporation) Ontario Clean Water Agency (OCWA). It runs our existing water system, tests their quality and also offers construction estimates for proposed improvements. “Tobermory terrifies them” he continued. You can’t get help. You have to deal with rock — will it be blasting bedrock or excavating rubble? It’s expensive to send in people because they can’t find a place to stay. On the plus side, “the grant money is probably real; they’ve called us about it to make sure we’re still interested.” A public consultation process “will generate lots of support and opposition”. Mayor McIver suggested MNBP take a broader look at funding possibilities? CAO Jones noted that a commitment was needed but Council can always withdraw the application. Councillor Myles wanted to push forward — we need this for tourism but we need to get buy-in from community. We need to consult the business community. Would they be supportive? She suggested an STA tax could be another revenue source. CAO Jones noted that MNBP would probably need to implement a mandatory connection fee. “That’s where the pushback comes from,” he said. The same thing happens with sewer lines.

CAO Jones read the motion to Council. They took a deep breath and voted unanimously in favour. “If anything goes sour, we just give er back,” commented Councillor Jamie Mielhausen.