Town staff and members of Pelham Town Council meet virtually on Oct. 4. YOU TUBE

Pelham Town council voted Oct. 4 to uphold its ban on level road crossings of the Steve Bauer Trail, between Port Robinson and Merritt, but a creative solution may yet emerge.

The developer of the long-delayed Kunda Park subdivision expansion sent a lawyer to last week’s virtual meeting to appeal council’s decision from earlier this year to bar any road crossings that would traverse the recreational trail. Instead, the developer asked for a single vehicular right-of-way instead of the original proposal for two.

“We appreciate the intent behind the January 2021 resolution,” attorney Scott Snider said of the previous ruling. “We would proceed regardless [with the development], but we are requesting a council resolution for this single exception.”

The ban on road crossings of the Bauer Trail would limit the new subdivision expansion to only two possible vehicular access and egress points — one of which would need to cross sensitive wetlands to the south.

Councillor Bob Hildebrandt showed council this photo as an example of how to cross a trail up and or under. YOU TUBE

Most councillors went on record with their opposition to Snider’s request. However, Ward 3’s Bob Hildebrandt came equipped with a sample photo of a similar trail crossing elsewhere, and floated the idea of a grade-separated crossing — either an underpass or overpass — that could connect the Kunda Park expansion to the future Station Street extension east of the trail.

“It seems a win-win,” Councillor Lisa Haun said, pointing out that the option would mean not having to disturb the wetlands.

Mayor Marvin Junkin agreed, but stressed he would still be in support of a single level road crossing rather than bridging the wetlands.

“I was ready to support this … it’s another case of the human race not wanting to be inconvenienced … so let’s make Mother Nature pay the price,” the Mayor said of the notion of disturbing the wetlands. “We can do this another way. That picture, of course, was intriguing that councillor Hildebrandt showed, so I would be all for deferring.”

How the developer would react to the grade-separated crossing idea is unknown, but options are limited. Construction on an archaeologically sensitive area between the Glynn A. Green schoolyard and the Bauer Trail is apparently cost-prohibitive, and would create an awkward staggered intersection at Port Robinson and Station. Meanwhile the District School Board of Niagara (DSBN) has shown no interest in selling or trading Glynn A. Green lands for road use, something that Ward 2’s Ron Kore pushed. When Kore asked if the Town could expropriate school land, CAO David Cribbs answered that is was highly unlikely.

“There are a couple of entities that have expropriation powers equal to ours,” the CAO said, explaining that school boards are one of them, raising the spectre of the Town and DSBN attempting to expropriate each other’s land. “But it would make some lawyers wealthy.”

Kore was then the only member of council to vote against exploring the grade-separated idea, while also voting to uphold the ban on level crossings.

“The trail belongs to the people of our community. We always have to bend over backwards for developers,” Kore said, asking if developers would allow for construction of a trail in a new subdivision elsewhere.

Hildebrandt opposes council showing proof of vaccination

While stressing he was not an antivaxxer, Hildebrandt took issue with Ward 2 Councillor John Wink’s motion that elected officials be added to the Town’s list of those who must prove full vaccination against Covid-19 in order to conduct their jobs. All Town staff have until December to show proof of vaccination or risk losing their jobs unless they have a Charter of Rights exemption. As it currently stands, councillors are not considered staff under the policy, which Wink sought to change.

“I’m a municipal councillor,” said Hildebrandt, “and I’m not obligated as an officer and an employee to follow the Municipal Corporations act the way I read it. “It would be a disservice to all Canadians to create a precedent where people feel obligated to disclose private medical information to an employer, which I am not [sic]. I will not be participating in unrequired disclosure.”

Hildebrandt added a personal note about his family escaping war-torn Europe, though without making clear its relevance to preventing the spread of a global pandemic.

“I believe it’s a dangerous precedent set. My parents have been through it. I’ve seen the history they went through. My mother had such terrible fear until she died of the regime she left. I’m all in favour of vaccinations. I have no problem sharing all my data but I will not be voting to approve this as legislation for a councillor. I’m not going to be under any social pressures.”

Cribbs said that Town staff are nearly 100 percent in compliance with the new rule, but clarified that councillors are technically not employees, and that any vaccination mandate should be added to the council code of conduct, rather than a bylaw amendment. As it stands now, council continues to meet virtually, and anyone entering Town Hall must demonstrate vaccination.

Kore agreed with Hildebrandt.

“I understand councillor Hildebrandt’s situation,” he said. “My parents came from the same situation.” Likewise, Kore did not clarify the “situation” he referred to or its relevance to Covid-19.

Cribbs said that proof of vaccination could be as simple as showing the Town Clerk the vaccination receipt.

Hildebrandt was then the only no-vote on Wink’s motion.

“I just want to make sure I’m not labeled an antivaxxer,” he repeated.

Earlier, during council’s regular Covid-19 update, Hildebrandt made note to Fire Chief Bob Lymburner that Niagara Region’s numbers on vaccinations are particularly strong among older residents, with some 90 percent of residents over the age of 60 fully vaxxed.

“I guess the older you get the more responsible you are,” answered Lymburner, “because our problem child group right now is between 20- and 39-year-olds. That’s the biggest group that’s refused to get vaccinated.”

Attempt to give Hildebrandt three-year extension on Pen West board fails

Pelham is served by two electric utilities: Hydro One and Niagara Peninsula Energy Inc. (NPEI). NPEI is jointly owned by Niagara Falls, the Town of Lincoln, the Town of Pelham and the Township of West Lincoln. Each municipality sends representatives to serve on the NPEI board.

With Hildebrandt’s term on the board coming to an end, political ally Marianne Stewart recommended that he be given a three-year extension into 2024.

“He’s done remarkable work on the board,” Stewart said, as Hildebrandt left the discussion due to pecuniary interest (board members receive a salary).

Kore and Haun both quickly raised their hands to second Stewart’s motion, with Kore winning the race.

Given that there is a municipal election next year, it’s traditional but not written in stone that such board extensions are only given through the end of the current council’s term of office.

“I would be in favour of a one-year [extension], because I don’t want to tie the hands of succeeding councils,” Ward 1’s Wayne Olson rebutted.

Wink agreed, saying that while he had no hesitation about Hildebrandt continuing, the length of the extension was concerning.

In fact, upon their arrival in 2018, the current council was disappointed to learn that former Mayor David Augustyn’s NPEI term was to extend beyond his departure from office. It was unclear how the current situation was different.

Stewart pushed on.

“I think by blunting his term, we could lose the leverage he’s gaining with this huge company,” she replied.

In a typical Pelham council vote, Wink, Olson and Junkin voted to keep Hilbrandt’s extension to one year, with Stewart, Haun and Kore voting for three years. Because it was a tie due to Hildebrandt’s absence, the motion was lost. Hildebrandt will get a one-year extension.

Odds and ends

Council passed a motion by Councillor Olson to contribute $2,500 for a flyover of a Second World War-era Lancaster bomber aircraft on Remembrance Day. The plane, based in Hamilton, will overfly several communities on Nov. 11. Kore asked if the plane could land at Pelham’s airport. Contacted for comment later, retired commercial pilot and frequent volunteer Lancaster pilot Leon Evans told the Voice that the aircraft requires a minimum runway length of 5000 ft. for operations. The longest runway at Niagara Central is 3500 ft.

■ Joint Accessibility Advisory Committee members Rhys Evans and Anna Villalta made a presentation to council regarding their work as Ontario approaches its 2025 accessibility deadline.

■ Stewart questioned why, on the 2022 council meeting schedule, Valentine’s Day was treated as a holiday. Council traditionally meets on Tuesdays if the Monday before is a holiday. This coming February, Valentine’s Day falls on a Monday, with council therefore scheduled for Tuesday.

“Councillor, I’m a little shocked by your lack of romanticism,” Junkin joked.

“I just want to point out that every day is Valentine’s Day in my house,” Olson chimed in.