By John Francis
The Municipality of Northern Bruce Peninsula has moved quickly to keep things running smoothly. With the entire community on lockdown, staff and council have improvised ways to get work done and keep communications open.
The Council Meeting on Tuesday April 14 was a nice illustration of that.
The Meeting was held on Zoom. Mayor Milt McIver was present at Council Chambers but the other four Council Members attended from home, as did several staff members. Your reporter logged in from his home office.
It was no surprise that the remote system sort of worked. The surprise was that it worked better than a regular meeting. All participants could see the page of the agenda, the page of the supporting information and the face of the person speaking.
Everything was audible. Everything was visible. It was just plain slick.
The first few items were routine. The meeting got interesting at item #8 — Paid Parking in Tobermory. Councillor Megan Myles serves as Council’s Rep at Tobermory Chamber of Commerce. She said that Tobermory’s business community is under a lot of stress and paid parking would add to that. The Chamber would like paid parking delayed, parking enforcement put off and a longer grace period when paid parking does resume, perhaps 20 or 30 minutes instead of the traditional 10 minutes. Councillor Smokey Golden, who often has a different perspective than Councillor Myles, said “Mark this down — I agree with everything Megan just said”. Councillor Jamie Mielhausen wondered if it is even worthwhile to get the machines reprogrammed for 2020.
Mayor McIver agreed that the municipality needs to do all it can to assist businesses in making a recovery. He suggested that staff should “stand pat” on paid parking and that Council would revisit the issue on a monthly basis.
Next on the Agenda was a report from Chief Building Official Wendy Elliott. Councillor Golden asked how things stood with respect to issuing building permits. Elliott explained that the process functions in the normal fashion but that the permits issued cannot be activated — there is a provincial hold on new construction.
Council then had to address the issue of how to manage the airport during the pandemic. It became clear that the same general principles would apply to the harbours and campground — how do you manage a facility that nobody uses? Would it be a good idea to have a porta-potty at the airport? Probably; you wouldn’t want pilots or passengers to have any reason to go into town during the lockdown. How would the helicopter tour lease be handled, given that there may not be any helicopter tours in 2020? Pro-rate the contract? Defer until 2021? The same pattern would occur at the marinas and the campground at Lion’s Head.
A Staff Report on the reconstruction of Lion’s Head lighthouse generated a lot of discussion. The staff report suggested there were two possible locations for the lighthouse — #1: a raised footing on the same location as the previous building, or #2: another, more protected spot nearby. The engineer stated that either site would be adequate but recommended #1. The advantage is that it is construction-ready. Site #2 would need to be studied and prepared before a footing could be poured. That process might delay the project and might also add $50,000 or more to the cost. Three Councillors seemed to favour site #1. With a volunteer team in place to handle construction and Coast Guard support in place, these Council Members were reluctant to entertain any delays that might risk disengagement with the volunteer team or the DFO approval process. Councillor Myles argued — as she has at previous meetings — that the process should be delayed to permit public consultation and input. “We need the right choice in the right place that the community can be proud of.” Community Services Manager Ryan Deska was eager to go to tender soon in order to get the structure finished in time for the navigation season. Mayor McIver and Councillor Golden pointed out that the engineer preferred site #1 and that site #2 would be substantially more expensive. A motion to support site #1 was put to a vote. Councillor Myles, ever the team player, smiled ruefully and voted in favour with the rest of Council.
BREAKING NEWS: (from the Agenda for Council’s April 27 Meeting) “Following the last report to council on the lighthouse (April 14, 2020), the engineer returned with further concerns about the location council approved (the site closest to the water, the previous site of the Lion’s Head Lighthouse). Working with the engineer, the lighthouse reconstruction team was able to identify a location further back where the foundation would support the lighthouse structure without costly reinforcements to the foundation or for wave protection. This new location is the most cost-effective and indeed the most original, as it was the site of the lighthouse from 1913-1969. It is also much more protected from future high-water related damage.”
In a more recent interview, Mayor McIver told me that he is very pleased about this solution. The new (original!) location “will not need any reinforcement”, no “elaborate concrete base”. So it’s historically correct, physically protected and budget-friendly.
The high point of the April 14 Meeting came at item 17: Municipal Clerk Recruitment Process. Mayor McIver began by announcing “we think we are successful in the CAO recruitment process.” The new CAO’s start date was tentatively scheduled for April 21 and a formal announcement should be ready soon.
Councillor Megan Myles asked if the Clerk would be willing to delay her retirement by two weeks or a month so that the new CAO could be involved fully in the Clerk recruitment process. Mayor McIver echoed this request and Clerk Mary Lynn Standen agreed without hesitation that she “would be honoured to extend”. Councillor Myles suggested that MNBP “needs to issue a press release” about the new CAO. (It was issued April 17; see front page)
With Ms Standen’s agreement to extend, Council decided to defer the issue of Clerk recruitment to the April 27 Council Meeting — this way the new CAO can be involved from the outset, beginning with the job description.
A motion for the Municipality to withdraw from the Multi-Municipal Wind Turbine Action Group sparked a lively discussion. Four members of Council felt that the threat of a large turbine installation on the peninsula is gone and that membership in the group is costing the municipality quite a bit of money. Deputy Mayor Debbie Myles spoke against withdrawing, saying “How do we know the public wants this? How do we know if we haven’t asked them?” Councillor Megan Myles responded simply “We were elected to make changes.” The motion to withdraw passed, with Deputy Mayor Myles voting against.
In a recent interview, I asked Mayor McIver about the municipality’s finances — would we be heavily affected by COVID-19?
He noted that MNBP has deferred penalty interest on overdue property taxes for three months and there will be little or no revenue from campsites or boat slips this year (a decision on these facilities is on the Agenda for the April 27 Meeting) but these deficits are offset to some extent by not staffing the marinas. “We’ll notice a little on the bottom line,” he said, “but for the most part, it’s minor compared to other municipalities,” in that MNBP has no transit system, no large Parks & Rec programs.