CN freight blocks Sackville exits in December raising concerns about communication & safety

Former Mayor Pat Estabrooks addressing Town Council in October

Former Mayor Pat Estabrooks was heading to a 10 a.m. out-of-town meeting on December 12th when she found herself trapped in the Sackville industrial park.

“You know where we live on Beal Heights?” Estabrooks asked during a telephone interview. “Well a CN freight train was totally blocking all three exits.”

Estabrooks says the train was stalled on the tracks preventing anyone who lives or works in the area from getting in or out via the two Crescent Street exits or the one at the tracks on Charles Street.

The train was also blocking the rail crossing about three kilometres away at Rte. 935 preventing people who live in Wood Point, British Settlement and Westcock from reaching highway 106 leading into Sackville.

Estabrooks drove to all three rail crossings in the industrial park and waited about 10 minutes at one of them before heading to the public works building on Crescent Street where she asked the receptionist to alert town officials.

She says she was concerned that residents who live on Charles Street, Beal Heights and Crescent Street weren’t being told anything about what was happening.

“If you’ve got a train that’s stopped on the track for 45 minutes and you have residents, your ambulance, your public works department on the other side of it, shouldn’t they be calling somebody and saying, ‘Look this is what the problem is and don’t get concerned and if there’s an emergency, call us?’, she asked, adding, “although I don’t know what would happen if there was an emergency.”

Estabrooks says she took the matter up two days later with Mayor Higham and although he seemed receptive to her pleas for better communication, she hasn’t heard yet what the town plans to do if a train blocks the exits again.

Mesheau raises issue

Shawn Mesheau being sworn in Monday by Town Clerk Donna Beal

Newly elected town councillor Shawn Mesheau asked about the train blockage after being officially sworn in at Monday’s council meeting. He said he first learned about it when a co-worker who lives in British Settlement showed up late because she couldn’t get across the tracks in West Sackville.

Mesheau added he had also talked with Pat Estabrooks after her meeting with the mayor who could not preside over Monday’s meeting because of urgent family business in Vancouver.

“I’m just wondering what has transpired since then, if there’s any work being conducted to address this?” Mesheau asked.

Sackville fire chief Craig Bowser replied that his department only learned of the blockage after it was well underway. He estimated it lasted from 20 to 30 minutes, but acknowledged he couldn’t be sure exactly how long it was.

He said that by the time he arrived, first at the Rte. 935 crossing and then at the ones in the industrial park, the train had moved away.

Bowser indicated that the train’s braking system had lost air pressure and that it had taken time to build the pressure up again.

He said town officials were talking to CN about procedures to notify the town when such incidents occur.

“So, there are steps being taken at this time to assure that if it does happen again, there’s a quicker response from CN letting the municipality of Sackville as well as emergency services know,” Bowser said.

Long trains

For her part, Pat Estrabrooks recalls that blocking the exits was a concern when she served on town council.

“We discussed with CN, and that was before the trains were four miles long, we discussed what would happen in the event a train stopped on the track for a length of time,” she says.

“We were told that they would break the train immediately, especially if they thought there was going to be a lengthy delay.”

Estabrooks adds that by breaking the train, she understood that CN would take steps to remove cars blocking at least one of the exits so residents and emergency vehicles could cross the tracks.

“So, my concern was why did they not break the train [on December 12th]?” she asks.

“The freight trains are too long and if they indeed close off three exits, then we’re in trouble.”

UPDATE: CN issued the following statement from its Montreal H.Q. on January 16,2019:

For this incident that occurred on December 12th  our procedures were followed accordingly which was to call the local RCMP centre and advise. CN Police spoke with RCMP in relation to the blocked crossing; they also called to advise when the crossing was clear.

The crossing was blocked for approximately 20 minutes due to a mechanical issue.

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Town engineer explains Sackville’s recent boil water order

Town Engineer Dwayne Acton

The town of Sackville took the unusual step last week of issuing a boil water advisory for about 290 customers in Middle Sackville and announcing it publicly.

“Usually boil water orders are isolated to five, 10, 20 or 30 customers and we can hand deliver notices to them,” Town Engineer Dwayne Action told The New Wark Times. “But in this case, we had to publicize it widely because so many people were affected.”

The town announced the advisory on its website and social media on Friday evening, January 4th before phoning affected customers who had signed up for Sentinel, Sackville’s emergency public alert system. Town workers also delivered notices to customers the next day.

The advisory to bring water to a rolling boil for at least one minute before using it for human consumption was issued after the top of a valve that controls water on Marshview Drive blew off.

“In order for us to fix that, we had to shut down the Main Street water main,” Acton says, “and that’s where we had to shut down basically all of Middle Sackville,” he adds.

“As soon as you shut down a water main and de-pressurize it, the department of health automatically puts you on a precautionary boil order.”

Water service was quickly restored to Middle Sackville, but the town could not guarantee it was safe for human consumption until samples could be tested over the weekend at RPC, a certified laboratory in Moncton.

“When you de-pressurize a main, you have the ability for backflow,”Acton says, explaining that water can enter the main from the pipes in houses or commercial properties.

“It means we have no control over what could come back into our system,” he says. “We have to flush the lines, sample them and put everyone on a precautionary boil order.”

The town informed customers the boil advisory had been lifted on Monday, January 7 after sampling determined the water was safe.

Acton says water main breaks happen all the time, but in most cases, workers can repair them while maintaining pressure.

“It’s not easy to do, it’s not fun to do, but our guys are trained and they have the ability to repair a broken water main, depending on the situation, we can repair it under pressure,” he says. “In this particular case, we were not able to do that because it was the top of a valve that came directly off.”

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Construction begins on Sackville’s latest $2 million flood control project

Heavy equipment clearing snow & brush for water retention pond

Birch Hill Construction Ltd. of Moncton began clearing snow and brush on marshy land south of St. James Street on Tuesday in preparation for digging a retention pond designed to hold 40,000 cubic metres of water during heavy rain storms.

The work began the day after town officials held a public meeting to outline details of what’s known as Phase II of the Lorne Street flood control project.

“I think everyone in the room can hopefully agree that climate change is here, it’s real and we’ve seen a significant amount of rainfall and flooding events here,” town manager Jamie Burke told the meeting attended by the mayor, town councillors and about 25 Sackville residents.

“We’re getting more rain, we’re getting more intense storms and the temperature’s changing,” Burke said. “Those are the things that we’re trying to react to and plan for and that’s what this Phase II of the Lorne Street project is looking to do, how we can store that water in a strategic and manageable way.”

Burke explained that the storm water will be stored when tides are high.

“We can then fill up the bathtub and empty that water into the Bay of Fundy as time permits,” he added.

Artist’s rendering of retention pond area south of St. James and east of Lorne St. with natural landscaping, walking trails and park benches

Town Council awarded the flood control contract for just under $2 million at its meeting in December.

The contract also calls for construction of a much smaller pond that would collect storm water near the foot of Dufferin Street.

The water from the two ponds will flow through ditches and culverts under the CN Rail line and Crescent Street to connect with a ditch owned by the provincial Department of Transportation and Infrastucture (DTI) near the old railway station.

That ditch will carry the water out past the Armtec plant to an old DTI aboiteau and eventually into the Tantramar River at low tide.

Town engineer Dwayne Acton said the construction of the large retention pond should be completed this winter while the marshy ground there is frozen. He said the other work to install the smaller pond along with new culverts and ditching should take place in the spring and early summer.

Residents were also told to expect construction work to be ongoing on the site from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday although some heavy equipment will be used at first, during the overnight hours, to tamp frost into the ground. (The tamping operation can be done only when temperatures are well below zero.)

A nearby disposal site for excavated soil hasn’t been chosen yet, so truck routes haven’t been determined, but Acton assured residents that most traffic would likely occur on Lorne and Crescent Streets as well as on an existing service road and not on narrower neighbourhood streets such as Charles.

Short-term solution

Later, Acton made it clear that this phase of the flood control project is only a short term solution and town officials are still hoping to secure federal and provincial funding for their original plan to construct a second large retention pond behind the community garden and then conduct all of the water from the Lorne Street area to a new, double-gated aboiteau for discharge into the Tantramar River near the town’s sewage lagoons in the industrial park.

The town was forced to abandon that plan when bids came in that were twice as high as the $2.9 million in federal, provincial and municipal funding that had been set aside for the project.

New Charles St. construction site office to manage the Lorne St. project

The town’s decision to scrap its original $2.9 million plan for the current $2 million one leaves almost a million dollars that could be used to extend the current flood control project, but there was disagreement during Monday’s public meeting about how that money could be spent.

The town is hoping to get federal approval to construct a retention pond in the old Sackville quarry to keep water from pouring into the downtown during heavy storms, but Sackville residents Percy Best and Keith Carter argue the money should be spent instead improving drainage around the rail line and Rte. 106 west of downtown Sackville.

Before walking out of the meeting, Carter complained that the flood control contract was awarded without any public consultation.

“Everything that’s gone on for the last three years has been done in a rush,” he said. “I’ve been to enough council meetings where you say, ‘why don’t we get some input from other people in the town?’ Well, you fellas don’t want any input, you just want to do what you want to do.”

Town manager Jamie Burke said Monday’s meeting was being held to inform local residents about the details of construction in their downtown neighbourhood, not as a public consultation on long-term flood control.

However, councillor-elect Shawn Mesheau suggested it might still be worth talking about spending money alleviating flooding in western Sackville before undertaking the quarry project.

“They’re both important,” Dwayne Acton replied. “We never said the [Rte.] 106 is not important,” he said, “[but] if we don’t do the quarry project and don’t retain the water up there, then it’s going to end up down on Lorne.”

Burke also repeated his point that Monday’s meeting was purely an information session.

“As we move along with the design of the quarry, we will have another public information meeting, depending on how far along we are, whether it’s a consultation session or information meeting,” Burke said.

“We have a project that’s starting tomorrow, we’ve got equipment on site, [a] 24-hour mobile shop, we want people in the area to understand what’s happening, and when. And that was really the purpose of tonight,” Burke explained.

More information about Phase II of the Lorne Street project is available here on the town’s website.

Posted in Federal Election, Town of Sackville | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

‘Out into the world’: New book explores life & photography of Thaddeus Holownia

Biographer Peter Sanger (L) with Thaddeus Holownia at Thunder and Lightning book launch

Well wishers packed Sackville’s Thunder and Lightning pub on December 5 to attend the launch of the new book Lightfield about the life and photography of Thaddeus Holownia.

Holownia, who recently retired from teaching in the Mount Allison University Fine Arts department, seemed puzzled when someone asked what he sees as the limitations of photography.

“This will sound very flighty, but I don’t really think in terms of limitations,” he answered. “I just get up in the morning and take my battery of instruments and go out into the world.”

As Peter Sanger’s book makes clear, Thaddeus Holownia has been going out with his instruments to record the world for more than 40 years.

Some of his photographs have appeared in big books produced in collaboration with writers including Peter Sanger himself. Their 2001 Ironworks uses Holownia’s black and white photographs and Sanger’s poems to honour the simple ingenuity of seven of the 19th century blacksmith-made tools that Sanger had collected.

In Dykelands, Holownia’s large, detailed photographs and Douglas Lochhead’s poems capture the sometimes-stark beauty of the Tantramar Marsh.

Photography as dialogue

During the book launch, Sanger read a passage from Lightfield in which he writes that like nature itself, Holownia’s photographs “unfold and reveal as we observe and respond to them…Holownia makes photographs to be watched.”

Later, Sanger told a story about growing up in England during the 1940s and 50s when his father became an avid photographer.

“I found it extremely difficult to live with,” Sanger said. “Like many people obsessed with photography, he tended to objectify the figures and scenes that he used as fodder for his photographs.”

Sanger remembered his father asking him to do things twice so he could record them properly.

“I became depressed and angry and for many, many years, I stayed away from photography altogether,” he added.

“When I encountered Thaddeus’s work, I found something really, very, very different and this book is an attempt, in part, to recount that difference,” he said.

“One of the themes of the book is that to a modern artist, it’s impossible to objectify their subject.”

Sanger added that in Holownia’s photographs, the observer is also the observed.

“I’m not sure that many members of the artistic community have caught up with this idea yet. That we are what we create and what we create is what we are,” he said.

In the book, Sanger also quotes one of Holownia’s own comments about his work: “Photography is a dialogue between the photograph and its viewer.”

Lightfield: The Photography of Thaddeus Holownia is published by Gaspereau Press.

Posted in Arts, Mount Allison University | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Sackville council passes 2019 budget with no tax increases, no cuts in services

Councillor Bill Evans

Sackville town councillors appeared to be in an upbeat mood during their meeting last week as they approved an operating budget of just over $10.9 million, an increase of $153,509.

The 2019 budget contains no property tax increases, no cuts in municipal services and, there will be money to bring back the popular chalk art festival that was held on Bridge Street in 2017.

Councillors voted in favour of the budget after learning that this year’s revenue is expected to be at least $242,000 higher than estimated mainly because the town earned $120,000 from building permits.

At the same time, expenses are expected to be about $60,000 lower than projected mainly because of the $30,000 saved in salaries due to vacant positions and leaves.

Evans impressed

“I don’t have a question, but I just was deciding, when during this meeting, I should gush about the job done by staff,” said Councillor Bill Evans.

“We’ve had good planning and good management,” he added, noting that the town also had some really good luck.

“Over $100,000 in building permits is not good management and good planning, it’s good luck,” Evans said, “but what we did with it is that we put it towards moving ourselves to a position where we’re going to have a much bigger capital out of revenue [and] a much smaller debt servicing component to our budget.”

Evans was referring to the town’s plan to finance nearly all of next year’s capital projects, including Phase Two of the Lorne Street flood control project, out of tax revenues rather than borrowing the money and paying interest on it.

The town does plan, however, to borrow $138,00o for new fire equipment.

To view the full list of 2019 capital expenditures totalling $1,505,359, click here.

Meantime, next year’s budget allocates just over $1.1 million to pay principal and interest on long-term debt that was previously incurred.

To view all of the 2019 budget documents, click here.

Sackville losing provincial money

Treasurer Michael Beal

Town councillors were told during last week’s meeting that Sackville’s 2019 tax base has increased by $14.6 million (2.36%) to $634.6 million and that the town will receive $65,757 from the province as its 2019 community core funding grant.

However, Treasurer Michael Beal says that since 1993, the town has lost $954,262 in such provincial grants because of its high tax base and relatively small population.

According to Beal’s figures, the losses have increased dramatically since 2013 when the province abolished its system of unconditional grants and replaced it with an equalization formula designed to help poorer municipalities.

“Why do we have a high tax base, it’s because of the university,” Beal said during an interview. “The province takes into account the university properties in the formula, but they don’t take into account that we have to provide services for these 2,400 students.”

Since the students are not counted as part of Sackville’s population, the town receives no equalization grant.

According to Beal, over the last 26 years, Sackville has been forced to raise property taxes by more than 23 cents per $100 of assessment to make up for the lost provincial grants. The current residential property tax rate is $1.56 per $100 of assessment or $1,560 on a home assessed at $100,000.

To view a table showing the core funding and equalization grants that all New Brunswick municipalities are receiving in 2019, click here.

To view a 2018 chart showing how the province calculates core funding and equalization grants, click here.

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Sackville councillors hear about new Indigenous Reserve and commercial development near Aulac

Mayor Higham commenting on the proposed new Indigenous Reserve

The Town of Sackville has been asked to welcome a new neighbour after learning that the Fort Folly First Nation near Dorchester is requesting the creation of an Indigenous Reserve on the former CBC transmitter property near Aulac.

Councillors were told at their meeting on December 3rd that the new, 308 acre/124 hectare Reserve would be used for unspecified commercial development.

“Commercial development could be a number of things from retail, power generation, etc.,” said town manager Jamie Burke who was outlining the contents of a letter from a federal official with Indigenous Services Canada in Amherst.

The letter asks the town for any comments it may have about the proposed new Reserve and encourages local officials to take “a good neighbour approach” in dealing with First Nations.

“There is no clear understanding of what they wish to do with the land at this point,” Mayor Higham told council. “They just wish to get it into a Reserve status and then consider what those options might be,” he added.

Land purchase

A non-profit Mi’kmaq organization named Mi’gmawe’l Tplu’taqnn purchased the land from the CBC in 2017 for $50,000 and now the Fort Folly First Nation is seeking federal approval to operate it as a Reserve.

“We’re having somebody move into our neighbourhood,” said Councillor Bill Evans. “In terms of friendliness, I welcome this.”

But he added that the town isn’t in a position to say much more.

“As long as implicit in that welcoming statement, there isn’t a commitment to do anything other than interact in good faith, I’m all for it,” Evans said, adding, “but that’s all we’re really in a position to say right now, is it not?”

Municipal services

Mayor Higham, who operates a consulting business that serves First Nations clients, said if the land does become a Reserve, its development would not be subject to the provisions of New Brunswick’s planning laws.

“It has a different form of development opportunity and responsibility,” Higham said.

“Some of the services that they will probably need may have to come from us, particularly for emergency response, fire etc.” Higham noted. He added that the new Reserve may also need water and sewer services.

“The mayor said that typically in cases such as this, there would be a municipal services agreement negotiated between the town and the First Nation.

Meantime, the federal letter is asking the town for its comments on the proposed Reserve by February 1st.

So far, my calls to the Fort Folly First Nation have not been returned.

N.B. Property Assessment Map showing outline of property with Tantramar River (top) and TransCanada Hwy (bottom) The white CBC transmitter building is near centre-right.

Posted in Indigenous affairs, Town of Sackville | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Sackville councillors award $1.9 million flood control contract, but Phinney votes no

Councillor Bruce Phinney

The final tally was 5-1 as a majority of   Sackville councillors voted Monday night to award a contract worth $1,985,499.58 to Birch Hill Construction Ltd. of Moncton.

Birch Hill was the lowest of six bidders on a project to construct a 40,000 cubic metre storm water retention pond with pedestrian walkways around it in a downtown marshy area south of St. James Street and east of Lorne.

The contract also calls for construction of a smaller pond near the foot of Dufferin Street with ditches leading to pipes and culverts under the CN Rail line and Crescent Street to connect with a ditch owned by the provincial Department of Transportation and Infrastucture (DTI) near the old railway station.

That ditch would carry storm water out past the Armtec plant to an old DTI aboiteau and then into the Tantramar River at low tide.

To see an engineer’s drawing of the new retention ponds, ditches, culverts and walking trails between Lorne and St. James Streets, click here.

Phinney says no

“I’m going to be frank and blunt,” said Councillor Bruce Phinney as he served notice he would vote against awarding the contract.

“I don’t have any faith in Crandall Engineering anymore,” Phinney said, referring to the Moncton-based consulting firm that designed the project.

“I’m sorry, they just seem to be winging it,” he added. “I really feel that it’s the wrong way to go. I think we need to stop it now.”

Crandall originally designed a project with two large retention ponds that would release storm water through a series of ditches and culverts in the industrial park to a new aboiteau at the river beside one of the town’s sewage lagoons.

But bids for the project came in at $5.9 million, double the $2.9 million all three levels of government had allocated for it forcing the engineering firm to scale the project back.

More ponds needed

Phinney stressed the fact that for flood control to work properly during especially heavy rainstorms, engineers say the town would need to contain at least 100,000 cubic metres of water.

The town does have tentative plans to spend about $350,000 constructing an additional 22,000 cubic metre retention pond in the old quarry above Salem Street.

But Phinney says that if the town buys the quarry from Mount Allison University, it would be taking on a huge potential liability if someone gets injured or killed there.

He also points out that even with a quarry retention pond, the town would be able to contain only 62,000 cubic metres, well short of what’s needed.

“How much more money are we going to have to spend to hopefully get up to a hundred thousand cubic metres?” Phinney asked. “This seems to be a never-ending pot of money somewhere, I don’t know where it’s coming from, but we’ll certainly be putting it on the backs of the taxpayers.”

Town priority

Councillor Bill Evans

Councillor Bill Evans spoke strongly in favour of approving the $1.9 million contract for the latest phase of the flood control project.

“I think it was two years ago at our priority session, we determined that flood mitigation was our number one priority,” Evans said.

He added that since then, the town had gone ahead with the successful $5.4 million first phase of the Lorne Street project before running into the higher-than-expected bids for the second phase.

“The proposal that we have is very impressive as far as I’m concerned,” Evans said. “We are doing the best that we can afford to do and we are also doing it in such a way that if we do get extra funding, we’ll be able to add to this project with minimal undoing.”

Evans argued that even though this latest project falls short of the 100,000 cubic metre goal, being able to contain about two-thirds of the water is a good thing.

“The alternative would be to say no to the money [from the others levels of government] and not do anything,” Evans  said. “I’m almost speechless considering that alternative.”

Councillor Michael Tower agreed.

“As Councillor Evans said, if we didn’t do something, we’re going to be in a mess, [a] bigger mess if we did what Councillor Phinney wants us to do,” Tower said.

Legal requirements

Later during the question period, Mayor Higham warned that climate modelling experts predict that the town would need to contain up to 200,000 cubic metres during a one-in-one-hundred year rainstorm which could come anytime.

“That amount of water will create a flow out of, at the bottom of Lorne Street, of 11 cubic metres a second,” the mayor said. “In order to get that out, you’d have to build a railway bridge for the CN tracks for it [the water] to flow under.”

Mayor Higham added that the town is legally obliged to work toward that one-in-one-hundred-year industry standard and that’s why it’s hoping to get more money from the provincial and federal governments to build a flood control system that would contain storm water until it could flow to a new aboiteau at the river near one of the sewage lagoons as originally planned.

To read earlier stories about the need for large, storm water retention ponds, click here.

To listen to my question about a future phase of the Lorne Street project and Mayor Higham’s answer, click on the media player below.

Posted in Environment, Town of Sackville | Tagged , , | 4 Comments