A four-hour Pelham Town Council meeting came to an end July 26 with its familiar political bloc successfully voting 4-3 to rescind a 2015 decision to transfer responsibility for the Niagara Central Dorothy Rungeling Airport to Niagara Region.
Ward 3 councillor Lisa Haun, who sits on the airport’s board along with representatives from the aerodrome’s other municipal owners — Welland, Port Colborne and Wainfleet —again led the charge to keep the facility. She was supported by fellow Ward 3 Councillor Bob Hildebrandt, Ward 2 Councillor Ron Kore and Ward 1’s Marianne Stewart.
Mayor Marvin Junkin, Ward 2’s John Wink, and Ward 1’s Wayne Olson were opposed.
While not as fiery as discussion last December on the topic, in which Junkin traded barbs with Haun, and Kore berated the Mayor, tensions remained clear.
Olson cited a report stating that cost projections to repair the airfield’s runway and taxiway are pegged at $2.4 million, 18 percent of which, or about $600,000, would be Pelham’s responsibility.
Haun claimed that the data was faulty.
“We don’t know where they got those numbers,” she said. “There’s some figures in there that are questionable at best. You interpret as you want, you’re going to anyhow. Its 9:30 here.”
Haun was referring to council being forced to extend its nighttime curfew to debate the matter.
Junkin chimed in and said he’s been hearing hyperbole about airport improvements since 2014.
“My good friend [former Town Councillor Richard] Rybiak was telling me great things are on the horizon for the airport,” the Mayor said. “Here we are seven years later, same thing again, more promises.”
Junkin then brought up a previously botched paving job at the airfield.
“It’s a fact, Lisa, correct me if I’m wrong, the commission before you spent $180,000, the guy did a lousy job, and it has to be redone because the gravel is coming up and hitting the propellers.”
It’s a fact, Lisa, correct me if I’m wrong, the commission before you spent $180,000, the guy did a lousy job, and it has to be redone because the gravel is coming up and hitting the propellers
“The important thing that I think we can agree on,” Haun answered stridently, “is when you go … and hiring someone to do a major job like paving, you would put it out for tender, wouldn’t you? Think on that one, was it done? So you may have someone sit [in council] and blow smoke … but the big question is, was that job tendered? You guys are throwing this number around at 2.4 [million dollars] without any facts on that. Why don’t you make it 10.4?”
Junkin reminded Haun that the $2.4 million figure came from a report. Rather than address the point, Haun again made note of the time of evening.
Haun asserted the property value of the airport land has increased.
“By uploading to the Region, Pelham taxpayers will be paying for two airports, not one,” she said, referring to the Region’s plan also to uptake the significantly busier Niagara District Airport, in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
By this point, political allies Kore and Stewart had come to Haun’s defense.
“It doesn’t make sense after 40-plus years of contributing to an asset to give it away,” Kore said.
“It’s our airport, it’s important to protect our asset,” Stewart added.
While the aerodrome — which does not have a control tower and cannot land aircraft on Instrument Landing System (ILS) approaches—sits fully inside Pelham borders, it is governed by the three municipalities.
Olson’s request to delay a vote until after long-delayed report from the Region on uptake plans fell on deaf ears.
Delays on major erosion projects
Council heard about delays on two major erosion mitigation projects in the town. Both the long-awaited Sulphur Springs Drive reconstruction, and work in the Hwy. 20/Rice Road area, are at risk of not being completed until 2022 thanks to bureaucratic red tape, and a lack of interest from contractors, respectively.
Public Works Director Jason Marr confirmed than in-water work on the Sulphur Springs matter has been granted an extension until Sept. 15 by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, yet remains hung up in regulatory hurdles from both the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) and the Niagara Escarpment Commission (NEC).
“They’re pulling their hair out,” Junkin said of the contractor. “The NEC had no feedback at all, then five days before … people start waking up, the NPCA has put another 20 stipulations on the work. And why these questions were not asked back in April, back in May, June, is beyond me—there’s a lot of words I could use. It’s very discouraging.”
In-water work is generally only approved between July 1 and August 31 to safeguard sensitive fish habitats.
Marr attempted to sound positive.
“I feel confident those will be resolved and that we will be able to get into construction—if not on both sites, on at least one site in 2021,” he said.
Earlier in the meeting, Jocelyn Baker, representing the environmental lobbying group Trout Unlimited Canada, had given a presentation on a Twelve Mile Creek ten-year action plan— the creek that has been the cause of the closure of Sulphur Springs Drive since 2016—and, in her remarks, stopped just short of saying the repair work shouldn’t even occur.
“In 30 years, 40 years, 50 years, are we really going to be looking back at today and be upset with our decision, because maybe we were looking for a quick fix?” Baker said. “I’m not going to tell you what I think should happen.”
Junkin added a pragmatic point, telling Baker that fire trucks cannot currently access some properties on Sulphur Springs due to the severity of the erosion.
On the Rice Road/Hwy. 20 matter, a recent report stated that the Town has been unable to find a contractor interested in doing a design/build project to curb erosion north of 20 originating from the drainage pond adjacent to the community centre.
“It’s very disheartening,” Junkin said.
Hildebrandt took the opportunity to make an amendment to conduct further engineering studies.
“I’ve been monitoring that pond myself,” the Ward 3 councillor said.
Marr again said that based on results of a review, the pond — flippantly nicknamed “Lake Augustyn,” after the former mayor whose council shepherded the start of East Fonthill development —is functioning as designed, and that outflow problems would likely be happening regardless.
“Indication was erosion was happening before that pond,” he added.
Only Junkin voted against Hildebrandt’s amendment.
Hildebrandt also regaled council with his challenges trying to book an on-demand bus online recently, highlighting the flaws in the Regional transit system framework.
“I do not consider this service acceptable,” he said. “I will not be supporting the transit system governance … they’re not responding and they’re not dealing with the issue of not being able to book.”
Hildebrandt’s trouble echoes that of many recently, with Wayne Olson adding that the proposal for a Regional transit governance model may only make things worse.
We’re not building the Space Shuttle here, we’re trying to get people to work.
“We have poor service, and we’re going to have one opportunity to get this right,” the Ward 1 councillor said. “We’re not building the Space Shuttle here, we’re trying to get people to work.”
The Mayor agreed.
“Once this governance comes in and we’re one of [several municipalities], we’re probably going to be barking up a tree nobody is listening to,” he said.
The Town bureaucrat responsible for transit — Director of Recreation, Culture and Wellness Vickie vanRavenswaay —said she had expressed her dissatisfaction with the Region, adding they told her a revised pre-booking system should be available by September.
Hoop house hoopla
Council received a report on “hoop houses,” farm structures similar to greenhouses but less durable. In March, Willowbrook Nurseries’ owner John Langendoen had given a presentation to council on the differences in the buildings, given permit concerns. At the top of last Monday’s meeting, Junkin and Kore declared a conflict of interest on the matter as they had taken campaign contributions from Langendoen.
Later, with Junkin and Kore out of the meeting, Hildebrandt moved to add a multiple-page motion on hoop houses, dealing with matters such as definition and emergency vehicle access. A staff report proposes a flat building permit fee of $263 per hoop house.
The matter is scheduled to come back Aug. 23.
SDUs primed for passage
Council received a report from staff recommending that the matter of secondary dwelling units (SDUs) come up for vote at the next meeting. Minor changes regarding height have been made to the proposed bylaw, specifically that the permitted height of an accessory residential building or structure was reduced to 4.75 metres from 7.2 metres within residential zones.
Haun again brought up the issue of parking. Director of Community Planning and Development Barb Wiens again said that the relevant parking bylaw requires only one parking space per SDU, and again reiterated that street parking is mostly legal throughout Pelham. Haun wanted to ensure that those undertaking Pelham’s long-awaited parking study—delayed by atypical pandemic traffic patterns—were aware of the SDU matter. Wiens said they were.
Adding to the marathon meeting, council engaged in a six-minute exercise to ensure that the Town sends an official letter to Global Affairs Canada calling for the end of nuclear weapons. The original matter came about after Dr. David Nicholson, a Pelham resident and member of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War, appealed to council with a letter as part of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).
Canada hasn’t officially had nuclear weapons on its soil since 1984, when they were the domain of the U.S. military. There are estimated to be 13,100 nuclear weapons worldwide in 2021, down from some 70,000 during the hair-trigger peak of the Cold War in the 1980s. The measure passed unanimously.
Capital gains concerns
Also unanimously, council voted to endorse letters from Fort Erie, Port Colborne and other municipalities calling on the federal government to not apply capital gains taxes on primary residences. The letter from Fort Erie baselessly claimed that the feds are “currently looking into” the controversial measure in order to cool down runaway housing prices, when in fact the only public support for the idea appears to come from RBC economist Robert Hogue, who floated the idea in March. In any event, such a decision would wipe out billions of dollars of Canadians’ net worth.
“From my perspective as a former financial planner … putting capital gains tax on [primary] residences is going to hurt the transfer of wealth,” Councillor John Wink said. “It could almost cripple some people who have to sell their home.”
Odds and ends
◼︎ Olson gave a brief report to council about a consultation he attended regarding strengthening accountability for municipal council members. Kore asked Olson if impeachment came up as a form of punishing elected officials for breaking various codes of conduct.
“Impeachment precisely did not come up in that matter,” Olson replied, adding that sentiment favoured voters retaining the ability to vote out, at the next election, representatives in whom they had lost confidence.
◼︎ Council unanimously passed commencing a Pelham mental health walk-in clinic for youth. Thanks to a $5,000 donation from local service clubs, a one-day-per-week walk-in clinic will be scheduled to start Sept. 28 at the MCC.
◼︎ Fire Chief and Chief Bylaw Enforcement Officer Bob Lymburner reported one active case of Covid-19 in Pelham as of July 26.