Reporter’s Notebook: Fighter Jets Shoot Down Rogue Balloon; Arena Reno, St Ed’s Daycare

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By John Francis, Bruce Peninsula Press

Things got pretty exciting (by Bruce Peninsula standards) on February 12, with fighter jets flying overhead and doing reconnaissance patterns out over Lake Huron. The air space over northern Lake Huron was closed to civilian flights for some hours that day, until suddenly, widespread news reports told of a “mystery balloon” being shot down over Lake Huron. 

The phrase “near Tobermory, Ontario” was heard around the world over the next few days, in reports about how the American and Canadian Air Forces and NORAD (the joint American/Canadian air defence agency) shot down an octagonal balloon over Lake Huron. The missiles (it took two; the first one missed the target) were fired in American airspace but by the time the balloon crashed into the lake, it had blown across the border into Canadian waters “southwest of Tobermory, Ontario”.

Awareness of high altitude lighter-than-air objects had “ballooned” the previous week, when a large, high-altitude surveillance/spy balloon was followed from Montana to South Carolina over a period of a week, then shot down on February 4, as soon as it was over open water, off the Atlantic Coast. Three more balloons were detected over the following week, all smaller in size and at much lower altitudes. A silver, cylindrical balloon was shot down over Alaska on February 10. The following day, a “small, metallic balloon with tethered payload” was shot down over the Yukon in Canada. That same day, another balloon was detected over Alberta, then over Montana before being lost to radar for a period of hours. Radar picked it up again over northwestern Michigan the following day and tracked it as the wind carried it across Michigan and out over Lake Huron. This balloon was described as octagonal, with strings hanging from it.

The three smaller balloons are all thought to have lacked any means of self-propulsion — they just drifted in the wind (which generally moves from west to east over most of North America, most of the time).

A recovery operation was mounted to find the Lake Huron balloon, but this effort was hampered by high winds and heavy swells. On February 16, the RCMP announced that the search had been suspended due to deteriorating conditions and a low chance of recovery.

If there is any flotsam from that crashed balloon, prevailing westerly winds may blow it onto the Bruce Peninsula shore of Lake Huron.

Arena Reno Moves Forward

At its February 13 Meeting, MNBP Council heard a presentation from Salter Pilon, the firm hired as architectural consultants for the proposed renovation and upgrade of the arena/community centre facility in Lion’s Head. Salter Pilon suggested that MNBP might be better served if the project switched from a Design/Bid/Build protocol to a Construction Management protocol. The difference is that under Construction Management, the consultant acts as chief contractor on the project, getting quotes, then supervising the work and handling the day-to-day communications with contractors. Council decided the extra cost was worthwhile because it puts an expert in charge of supervising contractors and also gives the municipality much better control of cost overruns.

The original project — to update the building’s washrooms and add ice-level dressing rooms — was to cost just under $5 million. Public consultation and other considerations caused the project to be re-imagined as a much larger facility. A public library space will be added; it will be leased to Bruce County. Other functional spaces are being considered including exercise facilities, a pickleball court and a kitchen/dining area for the Friendship Club. Council voted to cap construction costs at $10 million.

Existing financing is in place for the original proposal, at just under $5 million. This will require MNBP to find approximately $6 million. Deputy Mayor Rod Anderson noted that we have more than that amount in various reserves. Could we, he asked, lend the money to ourselves and save on interest charges? Apparently this can be done and the resulting savings could be around $100,000 per year.

New Gear for Firefighters

Council approved $24,816 to buy eight new sets of bunker gear (aka turnout gear) for our firefighters. Bunker gear has an expected service life of ten years.

“The Gap” Controversy

Some cottagers and residents in the Big Tub area of Tobermory have had longstanding complaints about the Bruce Anchor Cruises operation at the “Gap” in Tobermory — the stub of municipal road allowance that runs from the end of Hwy 6 to the Georgian Bay shore. Many of the complaints note that the road allowance was rezoned as “Open Space”, which, they claim, should preclude its use for vehicular uses, particularly the loading and unloading of Bruce Anchor shuttle buses.

“I can throw a couple of logs on that fire,” said Deputy Mayor Anderson, noting that he was on St Edmunds Township Council when the “Open Space” designation was added. It was, he explained, put there in response to some local landowners trying to prevent public use of the road allowance for shoreline access. The change was not intended to limit use, but rather to guarantee that the property would continue to serve both purposes — access to driveways on adjacent properties and public access to the shoreline.

The Municipal Law Enforcement Officer’s 8 page report to Council appears in the agenda for the February 13 Council Meeting.

The Agenda for Council’s February 27 Meeting includes several letters concerning the Gap property.

Volunteer Recognition Day

After a COVID-related hiatus, Volunteer Recognition Day will be held at the Rotary Hall in Lion’s Head on April 19.

Watch for information about how to nominate your local heroes.

St Ed’s Daycare Being Built

Bluewater District School Board confirms that “Work on-site is underway for the new child care project at St. Edmunds Public School …. we are looking forward to the addition of two large rooms, which will offer 39 licensed child care spaces, a full kitchen, as well as utility and staff spaces.  Significant HVAC and electrical improvements are being completed throughout the school as part of the project.”

No completion date was given.

$500 Housing Subsidy

Bruce County’s Housing Services division issued a press release drawing attention to the Canada Housing Benefit’s one-time payment of $500.00 to help cover the cost of rent. This one-time top-up to the Canada Housing Benefit is available to individuals with an adjusted income of $20.000 or families with an adjusted income of less than $35,000. Applications close on Friday, March 31, 2023. To learn more, visit canada.ca/one-time-housing-benefit