Asked to okay a formality, Pelham Town Council ignores staff recommendation and votes to defer
It was deja vu all over again at last week’s regular meeting of Pelham Town Council, as it appeared that some councillors did not fully understand the motion they were voting on. Asked to approve the City of St. Catharines’ contributing $250,000 to a non-profit organization working on an environmental project in Pelham, four councillors insisted on challenging how the money was to be spent. CAO David Cribbs and Mayor Marvin Junkin repeatedly pointed out that this was not a matter for council’s involvement.
As Cribbs put it, “It is only a legal technicality that [requires this to be] before you at all.”
A requirement of the Municipal Act says that a municipal government must inform another municipality if it intends to spend money in that municipality. Cribbs went on to point out that, “It’s like the Fonthill Legion’s strategic plan, or Beamer’s Hardware…proud members of our community, but none of our business how they are going forward.” He referred to the motion before council as having been drafted by staff “because we assumed the answer would simply be ‘Yes.’”
The money in question is compensation that the City of St. Catharines is required to make for the destruction of fish habitat during construction on the Lake Ontario shoreline. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) assessed the value of the habitat restoration at $250,000 and the City hired a consultant to find an appropriate project that would satisfy the DFO. The consultant, Tarandus Associates, recommended that a dam on Twelve Mile Creek, near the source of the stream in Fonthill, be removed or bypassed, allowing the spring water to flow unimpeded along Pelham Road and Hollow Road on its way to Short Hills Park and eventually to St. Catharines.
The dam, originally constructed more than 100 years ago, created a pond that was used by the adjacent cannery (now an apartment building). According to the Niagara Chapter of Trout Unlimited Canada, who were consulted on the compensation initiative, temperature loggers and water quality analysis above and below the pond reveal both significant temperature increase and a decline in water quality caused by the pond.
The stretch of the creek below the pond is therefore at present unsuitable for trout, so removing or bypassing the dam would create important fish habitat and potential spawning territory. Tarandus proposed the idea to the DFO, who agreed that this project would be adequate compensation for St. Catharines. Agreement in principle was also received from the NPCA and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Fisheries. St. Catharines City Council agreed and directed their staff to proceed with finding a project management solution.
Mayor Junkin outlined this history before debate, but was careful to make the point that, as worthy as the project was, it was not Pelham council’s business to comment on it, as it was on private property and being paid for by St. Catharines. When the time came for the project to go forward, he said, it would have to pass inspection by numerous government agencies, at which time stakeholder consultations would be part of the process. The Town would have “no skin in the game.”
All they’re asking us for is to say ‘Yes, if you want to spend your quarter million dollars in our municipality, by all means do it!‘
“All they’re asking us for is to say ‘Yes, if you want to spend your quarter million dollars in our municipality, by all means do it!’ It’s going to be looked at by the proper authorities and will go ahead only if it meets strict specifications.”
However, Councillor Bob Hildebrandt (who originally moved the motion to accept the report) insisted that he was getting questions from citizens about the project and he needed to have answers and oversight, to which Cribbs replied that oversight would be supplied by all the agencies that would have to give approval before any proposed project even left the planning stage. Both he and the Mayor cited the NPCA, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the Ministry of the Environment, and MNRF as having oversight on any work contemplated. Such oversight would include stakeholder consultation.
Ignoring the repeated admonitions that the project itself was not part of the motion, Councillor Ron Kore wanted to know where the public meetings would take place. Councillor Lisa Haun wanted to know if the Nature Conservancy of Canada had been consulted. Councillor John Wink wanted to know if the Town would be liable if the landowner didn’t like the result of the proposed work (the Town solicitor assured him that it would not). Councillor Marianne Stewart wanted assurances that councillors would be copied on all correspondence from all parties pertaining to the project so they could be kept informed.
A visibly frustrated CAO Cribbs answered that, “In the normal course of things, this would be a simple ‘Yes.’ What happens if we vote ‘No’? The City of St. Catharines will go elsewhere to spend their money.” The City, he said, cannot move forward with their development plans along the lake without DFO approval for the compensation, wherever it takes place.
In the end Cribbs undertook to have staff revise the report to address concerns about oversight and consultation, public information and stakeholder engagement, and return to council with the revised report at the next meeting on June 7. It was moved by Councillor Wink and seconded by Councillor Kore that the matter be deferred until staff could present a report that addressed all their concerns. Only Councillor Wayne Olson and the Mayor voted no on the deferral.