Sackville to spend $17k hiring consultants to draft business strategy

Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken

Sackville Town Council has voted to hire outside consultants to draft a business development strategy for the town.

During their meeting on Monday, councillors voted 6 to 2 in favour of hiring Lions Gate Consulting of Vancouver in association with 4L Strategies Consulting of Milford, Nova Scotia at a total cost of $17,020 HST included.

Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken who, along with Councillor Bruce Phinney, voted against the proposal to hire the consultants, said that the town has commissioned many economic and business development studies over more than 20 years, but has never done anything with them.

“They all make the same three points,” Aiken said. “We should encourage small versus large business, that we offer a quality of life and that we have a great location near the TransCanada.”

Aiken said that council is limited in what it can do to promote economic development, yet Sackville is performing well compared to other small, New Brunswick towns.

He mentioned the new Bagtown Brewery, the Terra Beata cranberry storage facility in the industrial park and the re-opening of the former Moloney electrical transformer plant on Bridge Street.

The deputy mayor argued it would make more sense for the town to enlist local expertise when seeking advice on attracting new businesses rather than farming the work out to consultants, especially during a year when council raised taxes by $60,000.

“Spending over 25 per cent of that, including HST, on this particular proposal, doesn’t sit well with me,” Aiken concluded.

Councillor Andrew Black

Councillor Andrew Black spoke strongly in favour of hiring outside consultants even though he stressed the need to get advice and ideas from local residents too.

He also said local groups need to get more involved.

“Something needs to be done about the splintering groups in our community that are involved in economic development,” Black said as he mentioned organizations such as the former Sackville Chamber of Commerce, the Commons and the Rotary Club.

“All of these groups really need to come together and something has to happen in order for our town to develop economically.”

Black said he’s hoping the report from the consultants will point out what the town is doing right and what it’s doing wrong.

“I’m really interested to see what this report is going to bring back as to what Sackville is maybe not looking at properly and thereby changing what we do and how we do it,” he added.

To read earlier coverage of this story, click here.

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Engineering firm will be paid an extra $105k to redesign Sackville flood control project

Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken, seen here at an earlier meeting, voted against giving Crandall more money

Sackville Town Council has authorized Crandall Engineering of Moncton to redesign the second phase of the Lorne Street flood control project at an additional cost of $105,000.

Crandall’s initial designs had to be scrapped after bids on the project came in at around $6 million — nearly double the federal, provincial and town money that had been allocated for it.

During Monday’s meeting, Councillors Michael Tower, Bill Evans, Joyce O’Neil, Megan Mitton and Allison Butcher voted in favour of a motion to pay Crandall the extra fee on top of the thousands it has already received, while Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken along with Councillors Andrew Black and Bruce Phinney voted against it.

“If the engineering firm suggested it would cost three million or so,” Aiken told council, “and the contract proposals came in at twice that, it strikes me that they blew it pretty badly and I’m wondering why we’re giving them so much in additional fees to correct what was really their mistake.”

Councillor Black agreed.

Councillor Bill Evans

“Paying an additional $105,000 to this company that Councillor Aiken said bungled the original approach, doesn’t make any sense to me at all,” Black said, adding later that the extra fee “seems crazy to me.”

Councillor Bill Evans seemed to speak for the majority who voted in favour of the motion when he noted that the town needed to come up with an alternate, affordable plan to mitigate the risk of downtown flooding.

“We’re going to do it differently,” Evans added. “I understand the frustration, but the alternative would be to lose the money that we’ve got from the federal government and not do anything.”

Extra pay for extra work

Town engineer Dwayne Acton suggested that Crandall was entitled to extra money because the new flood control plan will include several features not included in the original one requiring additional engineering and design work.

For one thing, he said, the new plan would likely add a retention pond in the old Sackville Quarry to prevent stormwater from flooding into downtown areas.

And the pond east of Lorne Street and just south of St. James will need to be bigger than in the original design.

Acton explained that under the new plan, stormwater will no longer flow directly through the industrial park to a new, double-gated aboiteau at the Tantramar River.

Instead, it will probably be directed through existing ditches to culverts under the CN tracks at Crescent Street near the old Via Rail station and then, on out to the river past the Armtec plant using existing aboiteaux in the marshy areas along the way.

He said he sees the redesigned plan as a short-term solution until more money becomes available for a longer-term one with an additional retention pond behind the community gardens and the new, double-gated aboiteau near the river that was part of the original design.

Acton said he’s hoping Crandall Engineering will be ready to present the new $2.6 million flood control plan to council during its meeting on September 4th.

To read coverage about surging Phase II costs click here and for my reporting on earlier modifications to the Lorne Street plan, click here.

New aboiteaux on Rte. 935

Detour around construction of new aboiteaux on Rte. 935

Meantime, work has begun on a flood control project on Route 935 in the Carters Brook area of West Sackville.

The New Brunswick Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (DTI) has hired a construction company to install three, six-feet, concrete aboiteaux spaced 10 feet apart to reduce the risk of flooding.

It will also raise the road slightly.

A detour has been built around the project which is expected to be completed by the end of December.

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Emera seeks to abandon its stake in Cape Sharp Tidal Inc.

Emera, parent company of Nova Scotia Power, has announced it’s withdrawing from its partnership in Cape Sharp Tidal Inc., the company that has a test turbine sitting on the bottom of the Minas Passage.

In a statement released today, Emera says it has notified its Irish-based partner OpenHydro of its withdrawal and has also notified liquidator Grant Thornton, the firm that is currently handling OpenHydro’s bankruptcy proceedings.

In July, OpenHydro’s French parent company, Naval Energies, asked an Irish court to appoint a liquidator after calling OpenHydro “seriously insolvent” and pointing to its debts of about $426 million. Naval Energies acted only four days after Cape Sharp deployed the massive turbine at a test site overseen by the Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy (FORCE).

In today’s statement, Emera says Naval Energies’ action left it with no choice but to withdraw from Cape Sharp Tidal in which it holds a 20 per cent stake.

“The surprise application by Naval Energies to Ireland’s High Court on July 26th requesting the liquidation of OpenHydro and Naval Energies’ subsequent statement that it will no longer support or invest in tidal turbines left Emera with no practical choice but to withdraw from Cape Sharp Tidal,” the statement added.

It goes on to say that although Emera did not own or develop the open-centre turbine, it considered OpenHydro’s technology “cutting edge” and believed it was worth investing in a demonstration or test project to prove its viability.

“Without support from the technology developer, OpenHydro, to operate and maintain the technology and the turbine, we do not believe that there is further value in pursuing this project for our business,” Emera’s statement adds.

Responsibility for turbine and local suppliers’ bills

Emera’s statement also suggests that the provisional liquidator Grant Thornton is now responsible for operation of the submerged turbine because it “currently controls the majority interest of OpenHydro Technology in Cape Sharp Tidal…

“Emera has repeatedly reinforced with Grant Thornton the need to continue environmental monitoring and safe operation of the deployed turbine and the importance of meeting all obligations of Cape Sharp Tidal and OpenHydro to local suppliers,” the statement adds.

“It is our understanding that a number of local suppliers have been paid and we will continue to encourage the provisional liquidator to resolve all outstanding items as soon as possible.”

To read the Emera news release, click here.

What about environmental laws?

Meantime, the blades on the 16-metre turbine continue to turn, but the turbine itself has been isolated from the power grid and since its environmental sensors are not working, there’s no way of telling if it’s harming fish or other sea creatures.

A contingency plan requires deployment of a platform equipped with sensors 30 metres from the centre of the turbine within two weeks, but there’s no indication that has been done.

Last week, Nova Scotia’s minister of energy said this situation cannot go on indefinitely, and today an e-mail from his department repeats that message:

“As we have said, this situation cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely. If our expectations are not met, we will consider the appropriate next steps to ensure compliance,” the e-mail says.

Meantime, an e-mail from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans says:

“DFO continues to communicate with Nova Scotia Energy to gain a better understanding of the liquidation of OpenHydro and the next steps for the project. As Cape Sharp Tidal has not complied with conditions of its Fisheries Act Authorization related to environmental monitoring, DFO is evaluating appropriate actions.”

An e-mail from FORCE, which is supposed to oversee the tidal test site, suggests we get in touch with Cape Sharp or the province for answers to any questions about what’s happening with the turbine.

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Sackville moving ahead with 20-acre addition to Waterfowl Park

The Lund property just west of Squire Street will add meadow and woodland to the Sackville Waterfowl Park

At its next meeting on Monday, town council is expected to approve spending $15,000 on improvements to nearly 20 acres of marshy and wooded land that is about to become part of the Sackville Waterfowl Park.

The town is planning to erect a small cairn telling visitors that the land was willed to Sackville by long-time resident Daniel Lund who died in 2013 at the age of 92.

The town is also planning to restore a cobblestone trail that Lund built and create a small visitor parking lot just off Squire Street.

During last week’s council meeting, town manager Jamie Burke said the land was bequeathed to the town under the Ecological Gifts Program — a federal scheme that provides tax breaks to donors. He added the town will seek approval for this first phase of improving the property from Environment Canada as soon as Sackville acquires full ownership of it.

The Lund bequest of nearly 20 acres, adjacent to the Waterfowl Park, lies between the TransCanada Highway and residences on Princess St. bounded on the southeast by Squire St. and on the northwest by the TransCanada Trail

If it approves the $15,000 in improvements, town council will be acting on the advice of the Sackville Waterfowl Park advisory committee which is planning celebrations in October to mark the park’s 3oth anniversary.

For earlier coverage, including a brief history of how the Waterfowl Park began, click here.

Lawn and order

Sackville councillors spent about 18 minutes last Tuesday discussing whether the town needs a bylaw, similar to a recent one passed in Moncton, requiring property owners to keep their lawns, weeds and grasses under 20 centimetres (eight inches) or face fines ranging from $140 to $2,100.

Councillor Joyce O’Neil brought the issue forward partly because of long dried grass at a home close to hers on Bridge Street.

“Our biggest fear out that way is that with all this dead grass, all you need is a cigarette flicked into that and the house is old, the grass has grown in underneath the verandah and to me it’s such a chance of that going up, catching on fire,” O’Neill said, adding that the lives of three small children are at risk in a house next door.

While O’Neil’s colleagues on council agreed that it might be worth discussing the issue further, Councillors Andrew Black, Megan Mitton, Michael Tower and Allison Butcher said such a bylaw isn’t necessary in Sackville.

“I know that lot of people are really bothered by long grass,” said Councillor Butcher adding that it might contribute to the presence of rodents and ticks. However, she added, there are already ticks everywhere.

“I think that a well-manicured, perfectly groomed golf course-looking lawn is environmentally really awful,” Butcher said. “It’s not good for our world, it’s not good for butterflies, it’s not good for bees.”

She said the town bylaw on unsightly premises should cover cases in which people aren’t looking after their properties.

“I think that there are lots of beautiful properties that don’t have lawns mowed and probably don’t own a lawnmower,” Butcher concluded.

In the end, CAO Phil Handrahan promised that staff would prepare a background report on the issues involved in controlling tall grass in case council wants to have further discussion about passing a bylaw to regulate it.

To listen to what was said at last week’s meeting about the issue, click here. (The discussion starts within 30 seconds of the beginning of the meeting.)

A front yard on Main St. in Middle Sackville where flowers, tall grasses, shrubbery and trees occupy most of the space

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Cape Sharp Tidal scrambling to meet deadline for environmental monitoring

Photo shows placement of monitoring platform on the beach at low tide for testing

STORY UPDATED ON FRIDAY AUGUST 10

As the blades on the 16-metre tidal turbine deployed on July 22 in the Minas Passage continue to turn with no monitoring for their potential effects on sea creatures, Cape Sharp Tidal Ventures Inc. (CSTV) and the Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy (FORCE) are scrambling to put a contingency monitoring plan in place before government regulators intervene.

In an e-mail to The New Wark Times, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) warns that Cape Sharp must deploy a monitoring platform as outlined on pages 35-36 of its Environment Effects Monitoring Program (EEMP) within the two-week period that began on July 27, 14 days ago. DFO warns that if the company does not meet that deadline, “DFO will assess and determine the appropriate action.”

Cape Sharp not ready

However, judging by an e-mail Thursday from Stacey Pineau, who speaks for Cape Sharp Tidal, the company is not yet in a position to deploy a monitoring platform 30 metres from the centre of the turbine as required under its monitoring program or EEMP.

Instead, she writes that a team “will execute an interim monitoring plan to ensure environmental monitoring data is recorded.”

Pineau did not respond to a request for details about the interim plan, but photos taken at the testing site on Thursday show placement of a platform on the beach at low tide that when submerged would be hundreds of metres from the turbine.

It’s understood that the FAST-2 platform was being tested Thursday and has since been retrieved to download the data it recorded when submerged to see if its sensors are working properly.

Pineau wrote in her e-mail on Thursday that deployment of the required monitoring platform near the turbine has been hampered because the turbine developer OpenHydro, which holds 80 per cent of Cape Sharp, is in the midst of bankruptcy proceedings.

Only days after turbine deployment, OpenHydro’s parent company, Naval Energies of France, asked an Irish court to liquidate the company because of debts amounting to $426 million.

Pineau writes that the firm appointed to liquidate OpenHydro is “working to establish environmental monitoring as soon as possible,” but she adds “there have been unforeseen technical challenges due to the liquidation process.”

How will regulators react?

It remains to be seen whether DFO and Nova Scotia’s departments of environment and energy will continue to allow the turbine blades to turn much longer without the close monitoring the regulators require.

On Thursday, Nova Scotia’s energy minister, Derek Mombourquette, told the Canadian Press news agency that the turbine cannot be allowed to sit on the bottom of the Minas Passage indefinitely.

“This can’t go on forever,” CP quotes him as saying. “They (creditors and remaining partners) have indicated that they are implementing a contingency plan and I’m looking forward to what that plan is going to be.”

In a guarded statement e-mailed to The New Wark Times, the provincial environment department said that regulators will “work together to ensure the environment is properly protected.”

To read the full Cape Sharp EEMP including Appendix D which gives more information about the contingency monitoring plan, click here.

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Sackville’s first survey ‘report card’ gives high marks and low for services and leadership

The first annual survey of Sackville residents shows mixed results when it comes to opinions on municipal services, overall management of tax dollars and the town’s governance and leadership.

One hundred and ten people responded to the online survey expressing high rates of satisfaction with fire services (96%), garbage collection (84%) and arts and cultural programs and events (78%).

However, there was much less satisfaction with tourism initiatives (60%), economic development (42%) and town roads (36%).

Only just over half of those who responded were satisfied with the town’s governance and leadership (53%) and there was even less satisfaction with the town budget and management of tax dollars (49%).

Tantramar Regional High School student Ambra Kaur produced an infographic “report card” summarizing the results. (To view it, click here.)

The report card shows that survey respondents want the town to focus primarily on the management of dykes, economic development and the growth of new businesses.

The unscientific survey was carried out on the town’s website in the 26 days between Monday, March 19 and Friday, April 13.

Sackville’s Senior Manager of Corporate Projects, Jamie Burke says the town is pleased with participation in this year’s survey that was open to everyone, but targeted at Sackville residents.

“It was advertised on social media, our website, Civic Centre signboard, noted in council reports, and the local paper,” Burke wrote in an e-mail to The New Wark Times.

“Where it was our first one, we wanted to keep it simple,” he added.

An annual survey of residents was called for in the five-year strategic plan that town council adopted last year.

To read the 10 survey questions, click here.

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Sackville to hire outside consultants to draft business development plan

Jamie Burke

At their meeting next Monday, Sackville councillors will be asked to award a $15,000 contract to consultants to come up with a business development strategy for the town.

Town staff have chosen Lions Gate Consulting Inc. of Vancouver and its partner 4L Strategies of Milford, Nova Scotia to draft such a strategy at a total cost of $17,250 when HST is included.

Jamie Burke, senior manager of corporate projects, told council at its meeting last night that the town received three responses to its request for proposals for the business development project.

He said the Fredericton office of Pivot Consulting Inc. and Common Good Solutions of Halifax also submitted proposals, but scored significantly lower on the town’s ratings scale which includes financial considerations, previous experience and expertise as well as the general approach to the project.

Burke pointed out that the five-year Strategic Plan council narrowly approved last year calls for the town to adopt a business development strategy aimed at diversifying its economic base so that it is not too dependent on a few large employers. (To view more details, click here.)

Hiring outside

When Councillor Andrew Black asked why a business development strategy could not be drafted by town staff instead of hiring outside consultants, Burke replied that staff are too busy on a day-to-day basis to lead such a project, at least not for the remainder of this year and the early part of 2019.

“Time is really the issue,” he said. “Sometimes to get things done, we need to exercise consultants that can help and assist.”

Burke added that senior managers would oversee the project and help the consultants throughout the process.

First step

Mayor Higham pointed to recent successes such as the reopening of the former Moloney plant on Bridge Street and the construction of Terra Beata cranberry freezer storage facilities in the industrial park.

“At some point, we have to figure out what’s next and what’s next may not be another industrial park,” Higham added.

“There’s a lot of pretty big questions that we need to get some handle on in order to know what’s best for the community,” he said, adding that drafting a business development strategy is a first step.

“It’s a long-term decision at some point here as to how you want to see the community develop,” the mayor concluded.

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