Councillor O’Neil says Sackville’s new town hall shows commitment to fighting climate change

Councillor Joyce O’Neil

To some, Sackville’s $13 million town hall is a symbol of the town’s vibrant culture and its relative prosperity; to others it stands for waste and extravagance, a costly Taj Mahal.

But during last week’s council meeting, Councillor Joyce O’Neil made it clear that for her, the seven-year-old building reflects Sackville’s longstanding concern with climate change.

“There’s a lot of people that don’t know the effort that was put into [it] when this building was being built, how we were looking at climate change,” O’Neil said.

“I know there’s others out there that have no idea what went into this building, the planning that [we] did, and it all dealt with climate change,” O’Neil added.

She asked Treasurer Michael Beal to explain the building’s history as a way of reminding the public that the town’s elected politicians have already taken major steps to fight climate change.

Beal, who oversaw the building’s planning and construction as the town’s acting Chief Administrative Officer, said discussions about it began around 2009 as it became apparent that the town needed to replace three undersized buildings: the town hall, the fire department and the police station.

“We undertook to move three facilities into one,” Beal said. “We looked at how can we construct this and not increase — even though we’re increasing our footprint — not increase our overall costs and our overall energy consumption.”

LEED building

Treasurer Michael Beal explaining history behind Sackville’s town hall

Beal went on to explain that by adopting “green” building standards under a rating and certification system known as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), the town became the first municipality in Canada to qualify for a $1 million grant from the federal government’s Green Municipal Fund and a $9.2 million, 20-year federal loan with a low, 2% interest rate.

He said Sackville’s town hall eventually received a LEED silver rating, reducing energy consumption for a building of its size by more than 60% through the use of green technologies such as geo-thermal heating and cooling, low-energy lights and timers.

“We have a lot more space,” Beal concluded, “and are not using very much [more] energy than we would have used in the three undersized, smaller facilities.”

Taj Mahal?

However, figures the treasurer made public in November 2016 appear to show that the new town hall did increase energy use and costs substantially.

The figures showed that the average annual energy cost of oil, natural gas and electricity from October 1, 2013 to September 30, 2016 in the new town hall was $90,358.61 while the average cost of energy in the three old buildings amounted to $32,514.86 per year between January 1, 2008 and December 31, 2011.

Keith Carter

Beal released the figures in response to questions from Sackville resident Keith Carter, who complained at the time that the new building was too costly with too much wasted space.

“We didn’t need a Taj Mahal,” Carter said. “One of their big things when they were talking about it before was to lower their carbon footprint, or whatever you call it, and that it was going to be cheaper. That was the original thing. Well now, we find out that it’s not. It’s more expensive to have it.”

Beal responded that the new town hall was needed to alleviate overcrowding of both staff and equipment at the old locations.

“The key is though, we have a larger facility than we had at the three other facilities and with that comes larger utilities costs,” he said.

“We do have a much larger facility, one that the fire trucks fit in, one that has RCMP cells that are up to standards and [the] council chamber is larger than the other facility,” he said.

Beal added that without the many energy-saving features that were incorporated into the new building’s design, utility costs would have been 40% higher in 2016, especially since fuel and electricity prices had been rising steadily.

To read my report on the November 2016 exchange, click here.

To see the treasurer’s comparative figures and his notes on the costs of running the old and new buildings, click here.

The new building incorporates the town hall, the RCMP station and the fire department

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

Councillor Black apologizes for ‘dire views’ but stands by his pessimism about climate change

Councillor Andrew Black

Sackville Town Councillor Andrew Black apologized for his “dire views” about the future of the planet during last Monday’s council meeting.

At the same time however, Black said he stands by comments he made during an earlier council meeting on April 1 when he said, “we’re doomed when it comes to climate change…I base my pessimism on my lack of faith in humanity.”

Black was responding to a letter from Hanna Longard, a Mount Allison student who helped organize last month’s march on town hall calling for more action on climate change.

In her letter to council, Longard wrote that when she heard Black say that we’re doomed, she felt that he was expressing the belief that young people don’t have a future.

“I do not want a pessimist in power because I do not want a town councillor that has given up,” she wrote. “I want a town councillor that will do everything they can to protect our futures – no matter how scary or big the fight. This is what the youth of Sackville are calling for.”

Black’s response

During last week’s council meeting on April 8, Black read part of a letter he has sent to Longard apologizing for his dire views while also repeating them.

“I meant what I said that we as people don’t have much of a chance in the future and sadly my children will have a tough life living in a world that will be very different than what we have right now,” Black said, adding that he lacked faith in people’s willingness to do the right thing.

“I have lived for 43 years and in that time I have been jaded by people and their lack of understanding of what is right and just in the world, that most people can’t see past themselves and what is at stake and not just with climate change, but with many aspects of life,” Black continued.

However, he said his pessimism does not mean that he wouldn’t fight to change the future.

“That fight would be with the strongest conviction that we can make a change and save the only home that we have,” Black said in his letter.

“It will take strong, firm, drastic and disruptive action from all levels of government to make the changes that the world needs right now,” he continued.

“We as municipal councillors need to pressure other levels of government to make a change, but also make sweeping changes within the community we live in,” Black said.

He added that he and his wife have tried to raise their children to be socially, economically and environmentally aware so they can make the right choices.

The children are, Phaedra (age 10), Roman (age 7) and Margot (10 months).

“My three kids are the greatest and best thing that has ever happened to me and I will fight not just for their future, but the future of everyone,” Black’s letter concluded.

To listen to Black reading from his letter, click on the media player below:

To read the complete text of Councillor Black’s letter to Hanna Longard, click here.

To read Hanna Longard’s letter to council, click here.

To read earlier coverage, click here.

Posted in Environment, Town of Sackville | Tagged , , | 15 Comments

Sackville councillors approve recreation master plan, but reject including TransCanada pedway

Christina DeHaas shows council a 519 signature petition supporting construction of a pedway over the TransCanada highway

In a 6-2 vote, Sackville Town Council approved a five-year recreation master plan at its meeting last Monday after rejecting an appeal to include a reference to a pedestrian walkway over the TransCanada highway.

Christina DeHaas asked councillors to amend the plan to include wording from one in 2006 that stated: “The TransCanada crossing at the Waterfowl Park and the linkage between the Waterfowl Park and Lilas Fawcett Park are to be included in project prioritization.”

DeHaas also read a second reference in the 2006 recreation plan stating “that the town should work with the province of New Brunswick in developing an under-highway corridor that primarily provides a real human linkage to existing and future trails on both sides of the highway. This is a long-term solution that should be placed on the provincial radar for future implementation.”

DeHaas said that including this wording in the latest recreation master plan would reflect the wishes of 519 people who had previously signed a petition supporting construction of a pedway over the highway as well as members of the Sackville Pedway Working Group and supporters of the TransCanada Trail.

“The pedway is near and dear to my heart,” said Councillor Bill Evans. “I love the idea.”

But Evans went on to say it would be dishonest to refer to it as a priority in the recreation master plan because the town doesn’t have the money in its capital budget to build it.

He added that the under-highway corridor referred to in the old plan was primarily intended to allow wildlife to cross the highway.

Evans said that not including mention of the pedway in the recreation plan won’t prevent the working group from continuing to seek funding or whatever else would be needed to make a pedway happen.

“But I don’t think it’s fair for us to sign off on a document that says it’s a priority when I honestly don’t think it is,” Evans said.

Split vote

Councillor Shawn Mesheau

Later, when the recreation master plan came up for approval, Councillors Shawn Mesheau and Bruce Phinney asked council to delay the vote until July 8th.

Councillor Mesheau explained that such a postponement would allow time for a public presentation and for citizens to ask questions that might lead to changes.

However, Councillors Evans, Butcher and Black along with Deputy Mayor Aiken said there had already been extensive public consultations and so, there was no need for a delay.

In the end, six councillors voted to approve the plan with Councillors Mesheau and Phinney voting against it.

To read previous coverage of the pedway proposal, click here.

To read previous coverage of the recreation master plan, click here.

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged , , | 12 Comments

Sackville Town Council stops short of declaring climate emergency

Laura Reinsborough speaks to town council

A group of local citizens expressed disappointment Monday night after Sackville Town Council stopped short of declaring a climate emergency.

Instead, council passed a unanimous resolution acknowledging that “the world faces a climate crisis.”

Among other things, the resolution also promised that the town will consider climate change when it makes operational decisions; will lobby other levels of government to respond to the climate crisis and will establish a “roundtable on climate change…to provide advice and guidance on climate change initiatives as part of the town’s annual priority planning and budget process.”

To read the resolution, click here.

Sackville resident Laura Reinsborough told council during the public question period that “wording does matter” and that the students who marched to town hall on March 15th specifically asked Sackville to join more than 400 municipalities, including Edmunston and Moncton, in declaring a climate emergency.

Mayor Higham and Councillor Bill Evans responded that council was concerned about the legal implications of declaring an emergency and therefore, settled on the words “climate crisis” instead.

Solidarity and leadership

Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken

Reinsborough said it’s important to show solidarity with other municipalities by declaring a climate emergency.

“Using that same strength of wording, does help send that message that we are being serious about this,” she said.

“We know that municipalities in New Brunswick have made that declaration and I think, even just for that headline, it means a lot about the leadership that town council would be showing.”

“I think this is quibbling over semantics,” said Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken. “Every other municipality I’ve seen has declared an emergency and stopped there,” he added. “We are taking further steps than just declaring it, so we are in essence doing more than was really asked for.”

‘Climate lens’

Quinn MacAskill, who helped organize the March 15 march, pointed out that the students had also called on the town to update its 2010 Sustainability Plan in light of the effects of climate change, but that was not included in the resolution that council passed.

Quinn MacAskill

“I’m just wondering,” MacAskill asked, “if you would be able to actually create a plan specific to just the environment.”

Mayor Higham responded that, in fact, the Sustainability Plan balances a range of social, economic and environmental issues, but that council felt a more specific “climate lens” is needed in its decision making.

“That’s much more focussed on specific environmental and climate factors,” the mayor said, adding that council wants to work toward developing such a climate lens.

He also said that the climate change roundtable promised in the resolution would be an ongoing committee comprised of a variety of people who could offer advice and guidance on climate change policies and decisions.

‘Right side of history’ 

When Councillor Bill Evans brought forth the resolution earlier in the meeting, he said he wanted to be able to tell his granddaughter that he did all he could to combat climate change and helped turn things around.

“I want to be on the right side of history,” Evans said. “I don’t want to have to hang my head as the temperatures and sea levels rise inexorably and increasingly frequent and intense flooding and drought and storms displace millions and chaos reigns and have to say to my sweet girl: ‘Well, we just kept on doing what we’d been doing because we liked living that way and it was easier and, well, we’re sorry we ruined your world.'”

To read Evans’s complete statement, click here.

Update: Here are two messages from Laura Reinsborough on Facebook:

“I’m thrilled with this motion and am hopeful that it will qualify Sackville to be listed among those 400+ local governments that have declared a climate emergency. I just submitted the wording of the motion to the International Climate Emergency Forum (the ICEF, which has compiled a database of local governments that have declared climate emergencies) to see if they can confirm that the wording is enough to comply.”

“Here is the response from the ICEF’s Margaret Hender: ‘Since the ICEF sheet explicitly says that the words ‘climate emergency’ should be in the motion text in order to ‘count’, and I follow that same criterion in managing the global map, I think the Sackville motion does not qualify.'”

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

Lorne St. flood control project hits $400k snag with discovery of contaminated soil

Town manager Jamie Burke

An estimated 9,000 tonnes of soil contaminated with petroleum and aromatic hydrocarbons as well as heavy metals have been discovered on the site that is being excavated for a flood control retention pond south of St. James Street.

It could cost up to $400,000 to haul 900 truckloads of it to Memramcook for safe disposal.

The town’s share of the cost would be 25% or up to $100,000 with the rest coming from the federal and provincial governments through the Clean Water and Wastewater Fund.

Councillor Bill Evans broke the news during the Sackville Town Council meeting Monday night when he moved a motion calling for approval of “additional expenses for the cleanup of the Lorne Street Phase 2 project due to a pocket of contaminated soil being found on the former CN property.”

‘Not thrilled’

“Obviously, we’re not thrilled about finding contamination on the property,” town manager Jamie Burke told council. “However, the good news is that there will be a property that was formerly contaminated in our municipality that will be cleaned up.”

Burke explained that the contamination was found on land that the town bought from CN Rail on an “as is” basis.

Much of the area where the retention pond is being dug served as a railway hub for more than a century with rail yards and a big railway shed on the site.

Councillor Shawn Mesheau asked why the engineering consultants the town hired hadn’t anticipated the possibility of contaminated soil.

“I’m kind of curious as to why they wouldn’t have gone a little more in depth in regards to the testing in an area that would be considered industrial,” he asked, “and how it is we’re kind of stumbling across this now.”

“I guess in hindsight, 20/2o’s a wonderful thing,” Burke answered, adding, “It’s easy to sit here now and say ‘we should have done this, we should have done that.'”

He went on to say that the town had just started Phase 1 of the Lorne Street project when the province indicated there could be additional funds for Phase 2.

“We then made a second  application,” he said, adding that the town and its consultants didn’t have the luxury of time to conduct extensive studies.

“We had done geotechnical investigation and we didn’t hit any contaminated soil,” Burke said.

“We did take a risk. Unfortunately, we had some contaminated soil and we’re very fortunate that it is only a small pocket.”

To read the town’s report on the contaminated soil, click here.

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

Consultants recommend mayor’s roundtable to co-ordinate Sackville business strategy

Tyler Mattheis of 4/L Strategies Consulting

Sackville Town Council has received a consultants’ report that contains a wide range of recommendations for attracting and retaining businesses including everything from setting up a “green” industrial park at the Walker Road TransCanada highway exit to establishing a high-powered Mayor’s Roundtable Committee.

The 33-page report outlining a business development strategy for Sackville was written by Lions Gate Consulting of Vancouver in association with 4/L Strategies Consulting of Milford, Nova Scotia. Council hired the consultants last summer at a cost of $17,250.

Tyler Mattheis of 4/L Strategies was on hand Monday to brief the mayor and councillors on the final recommendations.

“We believe that this is a do-able plan,” Mattheis said, adding that while he doesn’t expect all of the recommendations in the new strategy to be implemented, it can act as a guide.

“You look at it, you pick the things that work best,” he said, “and you adjust as you go forward.”

Mattheis reminded council that before coming up with their recommendations, the consultants talked to a wide range of people including town staff, local residents and entrepreneurs, representatives from Mount Allison University as well as officials at Opportunities New Brunswick and other public agencies.

The consultants also conducted a business survey that received 40 responses and held what they called a “World Café” with a dozen members of the public last October.

‘Value proposition’  

Mattheis explained the first recommendation — that the town adopt what he called a “value proposition” to guide business development.

“We tend to see it as an elevator pitch,” he said. “We see it as a thing that’s useful to coalesce your efforts around,” he added, as he showed a slide with a value proposition drafted by the consultants.

Value Proposition suggested by consultants

Mattheis explained that such a value proposition can be useful for marketing purposes.

“Your target audience here is the person who’s interested in investing or moving to this community, but also your business person or industry that’s already here.”

Other recommendations

The consultants recommend the establishment of a Mayor’s Roundtable Committee on Economic Development to co-ordinate efforts at attracting and retaining businesses. The Committee would include a variety of “stakeholders” and would ensure, for example, that “new entrepreneurs or contacts are directed to a single point for the best startup support.”

The Committee would also draft an annual workplan, monitor and measure results, oversee business “incubator” support and “support the establishment of a new student business accelerator program in collaboration with MTA and in alignment with MTA’s experiential learning initiative.”

The consultants also recommend that the town develop an inventory of land and buildings suitable for new businesses and focus on development at highway exits including the one at Walker Road:

“It is recommended that efforts continue to establish a working relationship with the landowners of industrial land near Exit 500 and that any opportunities in this area be included in the future Land and Building Inventory.”

Elsewhere the consultants call on the town to: “Consider development of an un-serviced and potentially “green” business park on Exit 500.”

Other recommendations include exploring the feasibility of investment in improved hotel and motel accommodations, drafting a prospectus for a boarding school that would serve international students, creating a “health-care or Senior-Focused Development prospectus to showcase Sackville as a desirable location,” re-establishing the Sackville Chamber of Commerce and developing partnerships with Opportunities New Brunswick, Mount Allison and First Nations.

To view a three-page table summarizing the many recommendations, click here.

No additional staff

During his presentation to council, Mattheis said the consultants are not recommending that the town hire more staff to implement the business development strategy.

“We’re crystal-balling here a little bit,” Mattheis said, “but looking at the levels of volunteers and stakeholders and staff, we think we’ve put forward a plan that works within these levels and is congruent with many communities of your size.”

Mayor Higham thanked Mattheis and his colleagues for their efforts, adding that he and councillors would study the recommendations and get back to the consultants if they have any questions.

To read the consultants’ report and supporting documents, click here.

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

Council to be asked to approve Sackville’s new recreation plan

Matt Pryde, manager of recreation programs and events

At its meeting next week, Sackville Town Council is expected to be asked to approve a new, five-year master plan that would set priorities for recreation within town limits.

The 47-page plan outlines a detailed approach to planning for recreation facilities including parks, sports fields, walking trails, the Civic Centre, school gymnasiums and the town’s 18-hole disc golf course.

Matt Pryde, Sackville’s manager of recreation, says that if it’s approved, the master plan would set priorities giving town staff  long-term direction and avoiding the tendency to chase grant money as individual projects pop up.

“This way if we have something on paper that helps us prioritize our long-term vision for recreation, then we have a reason to turn down other opportunities if they don’t fit within our overall vision and scope,” he explains, adding that a recreation master plan can guide decision making.

“That’s the biggest thing for me,” Pryde says, “giving us a little bit of direction so that we know where we should be focusing our work.”

Few new projects

Pryde says the draft master plan focuses on things the town is already doing.

“There’s a lot in the plan, but a lot of it isn’t really new,” he says. “It’s stuff that’s already been looked at — it’s just a lot of ways to prioritize what we’re already doing or look at better ways of doing.”

During a brief presentation at this week’s council meeting, Pryde mentioned a few of the new plan’s highlights:

  • improving connections between the town’s walking trails and its parks
  • exploring the possibility of establishing a park in the old quarry near Mount Allison
  • pursuing development of a fenced-in, off-leash dog park near the downtown
  • establishing privately-run canoe and kayak rentals at Lillas Fawcett Park
  • looking for new groups to use the Civic Centre
  • holding the Sackville Street Chalk Festival every year
  • evaluating development of mountain bike trails near Beech Hill Park and the Crooked Tree/Ogden Loop trail systems

Natural playground being built to replace plastic and metal one at Lillas Fawcett Park is included in the recreation plan. Lifeguard building at rear could be used for canoe and kayak rentals

During an interview later, Pryde acknowledged that some ideas in previous plans are not included in the new one such as setting up a walking track at the Civic Centre, building a pedestrian/bicycle walkway over the highway to connect the TransCanada Trail from the Waterfowl Park to Lillas Fawcett Park and establishing an 800 metre walking distance from any house in town to a park.

In putting the new plan together, town staff solicited the opinions of more than 430 people during two focus group sessions, a public consultation meeting, three online surveys as well as a booth at the Sackville Farmer’s Market.

“Everything that’s in that plan was shaped out of the data that was collected,” Pryde says. “The number of people that we had through the consultation process was quite impressive.”

To read the results of these surveys as outlined in the recreation master plan, click here.

Councillors divided

Councillor Shawn Mesheau

During a six minute discussion, Councillors Bill Evans and Andrew Black expressed strong support for the new recreation master plan, while Councillors Shawn Mesheau and Bruce Phinney voiced their doubts.

Mesheau questioned why half of those included in the surveys were young people, while the draft plan itself acknowledges that most of the town’s population is over 40, with nearly a quarter over 65.

He also referred to the most recent census figures showing a 4.1% decline in the town’s population between 2011 and 2016.

“There’s discussion in that draft about a decrease in population happening,” Mesheau added, “and yet we’re talking about adding to our (recreation) infrastructure.”

He also questioned why the plan talks about a permanent Street Chalk Festival while acknowledging problems in getting people engaged in events that the town is already offering.

Both Mesheau and Phinney called for more public consultation, perhaps a public question-and-answer session that would allow people to determine whether the new plan is heading in the right direction.

Councillor Bill Evans

Councillor Bill Evans disagreed. He said staff had done “a really good job of consulting widely” in coming up with the plan.

“If the public provided feedback, we’d have a whole bunch of different opinions that wouldn’t help us,” Evans said. “You provide the general (public) input to start with and then staff brings together a recreation master plan.”

Evans added that he liked how the process was conducted and would support approving the plan when it comes up for a vote next week.

Councillor Black said staff had pulled together information on population and age trends to come up with recommendations that he called “spot on.” He added that he liked the fact that the plan is not full of new things.

“There’s a lot of stuff that we’re doing already and anything that’s new is just fleshing out what we’re already doing,” he said, “and I think it was really well done.”

Councillor Phinney said people he’s talked to have never heard of the recreation master plan.

“They have no idea what I’m talking about,” he said, adding that the town’s communication process is not working.

“There’s a lot of people being left out,” he added, “and I think we really need to develop that before we turn around and actually approve something that only has been approved by 420 people.”

To read the draft recreation master plan, click here.

For information on how to provide comments to town staff about it, click here.

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged , | 2 Comments