After a three-week delay and continued obstructionist tactics by Ward 3 Councillor Bob Hildebrandt, at their June 7 virtual meeting Pelham Town Council finally approved allowing the City of St. Catharines to spend $250,000 of its own money inside Pelham’s borders on a Twelve Mile Creek remediation undertaking.
While giving the green light for similar projects is generally considered a technicality, Hildebrandt had led the stalling of the approval — asking for a detailed report on the matter during council’s May 17 meeting.
While St. Catharines—who is spending the money at the behest of the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO)—was waiting for Pelham’s simple okay, Hildebrandt continued his objections last Monday.
“I have to make sure I am making the right decision,” the councillor said, despite CAO David Cribbs stressing at both meetings that Pelham has no authority whatsoever over the project, aside from giving the courtesy of an approval for its funding.
“What is the rush?” Hildebrandt asked.
Trout Unlimited’s Brian Green was on hand with a presentation to answer this. He explained that any delay into July would force the project to next year, given that a great deal of groundwork has to be done first.
“If St. Catharines can’t get this done, the DFO won’t let them do construction they need to do on Lake Ontario,” Green said.
Essentially, Twelve Mile Creek has been gradually warming over the years —bad news given that coldwater streams are environmentally sensitive, not exclusively because of their role as a fish habitat. The project in question, off Pelham Street near the intersection of Hurricane Road, focuses on a pond that dates back at least a century, when the site was home to a cannery. Trout Unlimited and the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) believe that re-engineering the pond can help cool the creek as it flows north into St. Catharines.
“This is a once in a generation opportunity to make a real difference to Twelve Mile Creek,” Green said.
One stumbling block—and possibly an explanation for Hildebrandt’s interference —came in a letter to councillors from Brock University professor and former Town Councillor Uwe Brand (nicknamed “Dr. No” during his term of office), who wrote that a higher-priority pond for cooling exists further north, at St. Johns Conservation Area. Green addressed this assertion in his remarks to council, saying Brand’s evidence “is not very robust.”
This is a once in a generation opportunity to make a real difference to Twelve Mile Creek
Still, the fact remains that the project will take place on private property, at no cost to the Town of Pelham, with the approval of the land owner, and overseen by agencies from three levels of government—all of which are higher than Pelham.
Green acknowledged that the non-profit advocacy group Trout Unlimited was in competition to be the project manager, something he highlighted as a plus.
“There is a very real possibility that Trout Unlimited Canada would be chosen as the project manager for this proposed project,” Green said. “If that should happen … you have the added reassurance that a non-profit conservation organization will be in charge of this project. Not a developer, not a contractor, not a for-profit organization.”
Hildebrandt ally Lisa Haun, who joined bloc members Marianne Stewart and Ron Kore— as well as John Wink — in obstructing the approval in May, had earlier suggested using St. Catharines’ money to instead address erosion issues at Highway 20 and Hurricane Road, but this idea was shot down for multiple reasons, including the fact that some of that work includes Town of Pelham land. On the topic, Green agreed with Haun’s assertion that the $70,000 that Pelham budgeted for this erosion mitigation project will likely not be sufficient.
Back to the issue at hand, however, Green summarized it succinctly.
“I think what you’re being asked is to acknowledge that St. Catharines wants to spend $250,000 in Pelham,” he said. “Period. Full stop.”
Mayor Marvin Junkin again urged council to approve the matter.
“I just think this council is overthinking this decision,” the Mayor said.
However, when the matter went to a vote, Hildebrandt again made a last-ditch attempt to delay— asking for “more data” from Trout Unlimited and the NPCA.
Cribbs again tried to explain the chain of command for the project.
“If someone was going to make changes to [E.L. Crossley high school], we don’t get to make these inquiries because there’s a competent order of government, which is to say a school board, that makes those decisions,” the CAO said. “If this application were to occur on Town-owned land … we would still not be the approval authority because we are not deemed competent to make this decision. This is not within our skill set or mandate.”
While Cribbs did say that Hildebrandt had a right to demand information, it was “certainly outside the norm.”
After Ward 1 Councillor Wayne Olson suggested that the data was widely available, Hildebrandt replied, “I expect people to give me the information.”
In the end, the approval passed 5-2, with Hildebrandt joined only by political ally Marianne Stewart in voting no.
In something of a departure, Kore sided with Junkin.
“I agree with you, Mr. Mayor,” Kore said. “The biggest checkmark is the owner of that pond. He has the right to say yes or no.”
Variance for car wash sound barrier
Council voted 6-1 to permit the owner of the car wash at 151 Highway 20 East to construct a 15-foot-high sound barrier behind its facility. The issue has become a hot-button one in recent weeks, with residents on nearby Hurricane Road and Stonegate Place complaining about dryer noise emanating from the car wash.
“I can’t guarantee this is going to keep the residents quiet, but I think working with the owners and taking this measure, is going to solve the problem,” Fire Chief and Chief Bylaw Enforcement Officer Bob Lymburner said.
The only dissenting vote came from Olson, who worried that the sound barrier would affect “the aesthetic of the community,” and suggested that between planting trees and having the car wash adjust its blow dryers, it could reduce the noise.
Wink disagreed, pointing out that deciduous trees would defoliate in the winter months anyway.
Kore came to the defence of the car wash owner.
“She went through hell last week, and I don’t think that was fair to her,” the Ward 2 councillor said. “She’s an upstanding businessperson in our community and she’s trying to solve the problem to the best of her ability. I guarantee you that fence will be in all specs, and will help in some of the noise. It’s never going to go away.”
She’s an upstanding businessperson in our community and she’s trying to solve the problem to the best of her ability
Wink then attempted to insert an amendment that would have required the car wash to open an hour later and close an hour earlier, but the CAO urged a staff report on the idea given its potential legal ramifications. Lymburner noted that it was good time to update the Town’s noise bylaw in general, something that Cribbs agreed with.
“I’d be very happy to write those as separate reports,” the CAO said, saying the car wash noise barrier matter was far more timely. “There’s an issue bothering people right now, and I don’t think we’d do them any justice by waiting six months and wrapping it into the longer-term fix.”
Staff will return a report on the other issues in the first quarter of 2022.
Tree maintenance policy goes to public input
Council pushed back accepting a staff report on a Town tree maintenance policy until July 26 in order to solicit public input.
Ward 3 Councillor Haun suggested that work be done in “understanding the trees we are planting,” given that, for example, oak trees are a prime target of gypsy moths. As such, oaks may not be ideal for future planting due to potential infestation.
“When it comes to tree selection, part of the policy and mandate is to pick different species,” Public Works Director Jason Marr said, conceding that one never knows what a future infestation target could be.
The top objectives of the report state that there be no net loss of trees on Town of Pelham land, and that efforts be made to increase trees. Species native to the Niagara peninsula are recommended to be planted wherever possible on public land. The policy also strives to enforce the rule that two trees be planted for every tree removed.
Outstanding property taxes
Council voted to commence the registration process for property taxes in arrears for two years or more, with only Mayor Junkin voting against. This process has been suspended for most of the Covid-19 pandemic. Treasurer Teresa Quinlin explained that the registration process means just that, and that any overdue tax collection attempts wouldn’t begin until January. She said that six Niagara municipalities have started this registration process, while two are continuing to wait until pandemic restrictions are completely lifted.
Odds and ends
■ Hildebrandt attempted to table a motion that Pelham request adopting a 50 percent intensification target related to Niagara Region’s official plan, rather than 56 percent. Cribbs recommended he wait until receiving a report expected at the next meeting to do so.
“There’s another shoe to drop, which is information you’ve specifically requested and we’ve worked on,” the CAO said. Hildebrandt agreed.
■ With the Town re-assuming responsibility for advertising at the MCC, Wink questioned why the advertisements on the ice are at a cheaper price point than the ads on the boards at the hockey rink, given that the former would be more visible. Director of Recreation, Culture and Wellness Vickie vanRavenswaay explained that it’s because ice is only in the arena for eight months per year, while the boards are year-round. The staff report on advertising recommends charging $750 per season for on-ice ads, and $1,000 per year on boards.
■ There were 12 active cases of Covid-19 in Pelham as of June 7. Cribbs said that 18 picnic tables were sent out to local businesses last week as part of the Town initiative to provide the tables free-of-charge for outdoor seating areas.
■ Junkin began the meeting by paying tribute to Town staffers Marc MacDonald and Leah Letford for their recognition by Niagara’s “40 under Forty” business achievement awards.