Kore breaks with faction, supports Junkin’s erosion project

Pelham Town Council voted 4-3 at its April 19 virtual meeting to go forward with spending up to $70,000 to immediately address erosion issues in the vicinity of Highway 20 and Rice Road.

The plan was brought forward by Mayor Marvin Junkin, who initially raised alarm bells last year that water from the drainage pond north of the community centre —colloquially known as “Lake Augustyn,” after the former mayor in office during its construction — had severely eroded the downstream properties of Pelham Cares and the Fonthill Lion’s Club.

The decision last week to act immediately also went against staff advice to perform an erosion study first, with Junkin successfully arguing that there wasn’t enough time, and that erosion was already obvious.

“That study is like having someone tell you after you after you’ve turn the stove on, and the element is red-hot, ‘Can you please touch that and tell me if it’s hot?’” the Mayor said.

Public Works Director Jason Marr had proposed instead spending just under $8,000 on a study, which would jeopardize pushing the solution project into next year. This staff report came after the engineers and contractors responsible for the pond’s construction found no fault in its operation.

Disregarding standard protocol, Ward 3 Councillor Lisa Haun pushed Marr on what his overall personal opinion was, with the director only replying that an erosion study on the area hasn’t been conducted since 2015.

CAO David Cribbs interjected, saying that, “The staff report report is indicative of the mindset of the employees, and is always the preferred course of action.”

Junkin said the $60,000 to $70,000 figure was deduced after consulting closely with Niagara College Geographic Information System professor Ian Smith—who is also the president of Lydian Environmental Consulting — on the matter, as well as with the environmental advocacy group Trout Unlimited, given the environmental sensitivity of the outflow creek north of Highway 20.

Members then voted 4-3 in favour of Junkin’s motion, with Ward 2 Councillor Ron Kore breaking with political allies Haun, Bob Hildebrandt and Marianne Stewart, who voted against. Junkin, Kore, Wayne Olson and John Wink supported.

With that matter determined, council then awkwardly had to deal with the staff report for the $8,000 erosion study.

Cribbs suggested simply receiving the report, on which staff would take no action.

“Quite clearly, none of you can vote for it as it will provide us with conflicting instructions,” he said.

Hildebrandt concurred, stating that he was actually in favour of the Mayor’s motion.

“Even though I didn’t support it, I did support it because I just wanted another report,” the Ward 3 Councillor said.

“The reason the motion ahead of us did not [work] … we did not feel we had time to do the erosion study,” Junkin added. “We knew that the erosion had taken place, we know that it’s serious, and if wasn’t caused by the water from [Town property] then I don’t know what caused it, because there was no mark of UFOs landing there.”

Even though I didn’t support it, I did support it because I just wanted another report

Haun, however, had concerns about the scope of the project. “I don’t know how you tender something with this many unknowns,” she said.

Junkin replied that the scope was known, and mildly criticized Marr for not voicing that.

“I had this talk with Public Works this afternoon, so I’m quite surprised he doesn’t remember this, but we decided that the scope of work was from Highway 20 to the boundary line of [the Lion’s Club].”

Councillors unanimously voted to receive the study report and do nothing with it. The overall project will be implemented as a design-build contract and could be completed by fall.

Motion to push Region for planning delay passes

A motion by Stewart and Haun to ask Niagara Region to delay release of its Official Plan passed, with Ward 2 Councillor John Wink joining Stewart, Haun, Kore, and Hildebrandt in support. Junkin and Ward 1 Councillor Wayne Olson were against.

The controversial measure is rooted in a contention that residents haven’t had enough input with the Region due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Junkin attempted to discredit that notion, using empirical data.

“Niagara residents do not get excited about the Official Plan to the point where they want to come out and talk about it,” the Mayor said. He cited that before the pandemic in 2019, the Region’s planning department held five separate open houses.

“Altogether, those five open houses over the course of that summer had 132 people [show up]. Which I agree with you, it’s a disgrace, there’s 460,000 residents in the Niagara Region, and how many are voting I honestly don’t know.”

Pelham’s Regional Councillor Diana Huson echoed those comments in a Voice commentary last week, saying the Region has exhaustively courted public opinion.

Haun argued at the meeting that the Official Plan was too important of a planning document.

“Not a week goes that I don’t have constituents emailing or calling me, disgraced by what is happening to their town, to their region,” Haun said. “They want to have more say in it. It’s always to do with development.”

Haun added that she and Stewart were taking their cue from other municipalities such as Halton Hills, which also asked for a delay from the province’s Official Plan deadline.

However, as Huson pointed out, Niagara hasn’t had a comprehensive review of its Official Plan in more than 50 years. Junkin said Halton Hills had done so in the last 15.

The Region is scheduled to release a draft policy of the Official Plan in May. It’s unknown yet how Pelham’s motion will affect this. Both of Pelham’s Regional councillors—Junkin and Huson—have told the Voice that they will vote against accepting Pelham Town Council’s request for a delay.

Airport item grounded temporarily

Olson opened the virtual meeting by immediately calling a point of order on Haun’s motion to rescind the previous Council’s decision to move to upload the Niagara Central Dorothy Rungeling Airport to the Region.

Olson said that because Haun receives a stipend for her work on the airport’s board along with representatives from neighbouring municipalities, she could be at risk of a conflict of interest.

“I would suggest that Councillor Haun would like to consult with the Integrity Commissioner,” Olson said.

A perturbed Haun asked Cribbs for his opinion, to which the CAO replied, “Staff are clearly not allowed to provide advice on the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.”

Haun wondered aloud if previous Pelham representatives on the airport board had to declare conflicts of interests, but the present issue comes at a time when some Pelham residents and elected officials are questioning its financial commitment to the aerodrome. Haun, meanwhile, has become a staunch proponent of the Town keeping the airfield, getting into a fiery argument with Junkin over the matter at a December meeting.

“My only goal is to do the work of Pelham taxpayers,” Haun said. “It’s disappointing to know this is the angle that is being taken.”

For her part, Huson told councillors during her presentation that Regional staff were continuing to work on a long-term airport master plan. “We’re not a point where a decision is going to be made by council on whether or not the Region wants to upload,” she said.

Haun’s item was removed from the public agenda while she presumably consults with the Integrity Commissioner.

No integrity report

Councillor Kore appeared confused by the lack of an Integrity Commissioner’s report on a former Town employee’s complaint against staff. The Integrity Commissioner had recently decided that a complaint filed by former Treasurer Cari Pupo was not within that department’s mandate.

The complaint was not related to Pupo’s past employment, but instead regarded her engagements with Town staff over a 2019 neighbourhood property dispute.

Kore insisted that the report be made public, to which Cribbs stressed there was no report, because the Integrity Commissioner had deemed it out of their jurisdiction.

“There isn’t a report, is what I’m trying to communicate,” the CAO said.

“I just want to read the report,” Kore said. “We paid him to do a report, there must be a report somewhere.”

At which point Director of Community Planning and Development Barb Wiens interjected—with her Zoom camera off and perhaps not realizing her microphone was on—to exasperatedly exclaim, “There is no report!”

Pride benches coming

Despite early reservations from some members, council unanimously voted to approve, funds permitting, the addition two rainbow-coloured park benches in honour of June’s LGBTQ+ Pride Month —along with raising the Pride flag outside of Town Hall.

In opening remarks that briefly threatened to veer into uncomfortable territory, Hildebrandt and Stewart voiced objections to the idea, but later supported it.

“I might as well start this off, since I’m the supreme conservative of the group—perceived maybe, perceived conservative of the group,” Hildebrandt said. “Therefore, I’m not going to spend any money we don’t have the budget for, so we’re raising the flag on a flagpole we purposely installed for such an occasion.”

Pelham added two flagpoles outside Town Hall in 2019 after complaints came from some quarters that event flags—although specifically the Pride flag— were periodically usurping the Canadian flag on the single flagpole, despite there being a second flagpole on the other side of the building that continuously flew the Maple Leaf.

Stewart said she was uncomfortable devoting more resources to one group over others.

“I’m not in actual disagreement with benches, but I think the issue is, this is one particular group and we have so many other groups that participate in the Town in various ways,” the Ward 1 councillor said. “And I think it could become somewhat of a slippery slope if we dedicate a bench or spend some money on some other way to recognize each of these events.”

After Wink asked and was told that unspent funds were available in the parks budget, Junkin spoke in favour of the idea of inclusion.

“My own feelings are that we should, as a Town, do more as elected officials,” the Mayor said. “We represent every aspect of this community, every person. I’d like to go with Councillor Wink’s idea.”

Marr then clarified that while park bench money had been earmarked, there was still a surplus for Pride benches— along with the likelihood of paid sponsorships.

Solar down the road

Olson asked staff to return a report later this year on the possibility of converting the community centre to solar power in the future. Hildebrandt, who sits on the Utility Sustainability Committee, welcomed the idea of a report, pointing out complaints with current hydro rates.

Marr added that the Town’s engineering department has solar LED streetlights as part of their 20-year forecast. Noted by both councillors and staff was the likelihood that more green energy grants and funding from upper levels of government will come online as climate change continues to influence policymaking.

Wink suggested that when the time comes, it may be worth investigating the possibility of solar power for all Town buildings.

The Good, the Bad, the Old

Fire Chief Bob Lymburner reported that 134,679 doses of COVID-19 vaccines had been dispensed in Niagara as of April 19. Parks, trails and playgrounds remained open, although CAO Cribbs stressed to residents that playground equipment is not being sanitized. Sports fields and courts, including the skateboard park, remained closed.

“But it can’t be all bad,” Cribbs summarized at the end of his COVID-19 update, notifying council that in their ongoing quest to digitize all Town records, a Pelham cemetery record from 1811 had been unearthed from the archives.

“We’re confident that this can’t get beat as far as age goes,” Cribbs said. “[It predates] Canada and the War of 1812.”

Plans to frame the document may be underway.