Sackville councillors split on 5-year strategic plan

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Image on cover page of five-year plan prepared by the Sharp Group of Charlottetown

Sackville’s mayor cast his first tie-breaking vote during Monday’s council meeting after four councillors voted in favour of adopting a new, five-year strategic plan and four voted against.

The three newly elected councillors, Allison Butcher, Megan Mitton and Andrew Black, joined with veteran Bill Evans in accepting the $26,000 plan while long-time councillors Ron Aiken, Michael Tower, Joyce O’Neil and Bruce Phinney voted to reject it.

Mayor Higham’s vote in favour of the plan means that the town is committed to following its recommendations. They include conducting an annual survey of Sackville residents to measure their satisfaction with taxes and services. (To read earlier Warktimes coverage of the strategic plan click here and to view the 20-page document outlining it click here.)

Aiken leads opposition

Councillor Aiken criticized the plan as “elitist” noting that nearly half of its key informants were from Mount Allison and some of them don’t live in the town. He added that while members of a fourth-year sociology class gave their opinions, no one associated with things like organized sports was consulted.

“I found nothing new or insightful in this report,” Aiken said adding that he looked through three previous strategic plans “and almost every point made here (in the latest plan) I could find in those.”

He said the town had spent a lot of consulting money just to repeat what had already been done.

“It’s almost a generic kind of report, you could have printed it off, filled in the blanks and submitted it,” he said. “To me, it was a waste of time and money given what came out of it and I don’t think we’re any further ahead.”

Councillors O’Neil, Phinney and Tower agreed with Aiken’s comments.

Councillor Tower advocated sending the plan back to the consultants so they could meet with other key groups such as local high school students and members of the Tantramar Seniors’ College.

Mitton defends plan

Councillor Mitton noted that many different people and groups in Sackville contributed to the new plan and everyone was invited to contribute.

“The thing with a plan is that it’s a living document and so, we can definitely add to it,” she said. “I would encourage councillors or community members who feel that there is something missing to bring that forward and we can see where we can course-correct.”

Mitton also referred to the plan’s call for an annual citizens’ survey that will enable the town to measure whether it’s accomplishing its objectives.

“If for whatever reason there are people who weren’t able to contribute,” she said, “I would hope they would participate in that (survey) and so again, we can adjust, as need be, and if we’re not meeting our metrics, we’ll get that feedback and be able to change what we’re doing in order to meet the objectives.”

Mitton added that the plan provides a framework for moving forward as well as guidance to town staff.

Councillors Bill Evans and Andrew Black also supported the plan with Evans calling it “inspired and inspiring” and Black agreeing with the consultants that those who did participate in helping formulate the plan were “people who care about Sackville.”

Mayor breaks tie

In supporting the new strategic plan, Mayor Higham said he had worked on many such plans in the past.

“I know it’s extraordinarily difficult to get input,” he added. “It’s easy to get criticism.”

Higham suggested that the latest plan is consistent with earlier ones.

“If there is an additional quality to this one, I would say it is we now have a public commitment to evaluating the progress on it,” he said. “I think it is consistent with the past and it is setting a framework for the future and it is holding us accountable to that framework.”

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Mt. A. student victory, Sackville says no to Energy East pipeline

L-R Prof. Brad Walters with students Will Balser, Claire Neufeld, Mara Ostafichuk

L-R: Prof. Brad Walters with students Will Balser, Claire Neufeld, Mara Ostafichuk

A group of Mount Allison students were all smiles Tuesday night after Sackville Town Council voted 5-3 to oppose the Energy East oil pipeline.

The students, who were enrolled last fall in an environmental activism course taught by Professor Brad Walters, asked councillors in November to take a stand against the proposed 4,600 kilometre pipeline that would carry up to 1.1 million barrels per day of diluted bitumen from the Alberta tar sands to Irving Oil facilities in Saint John.

Will Balser, one of seven students in the group, said he “couldn’t be happier” that a majority of councillors had passed a motion asking the federal government not to approve the $15.7 billion pipeline.

“I couldn’t have been more nervous leading up to the final round (of voting), you know, who was yea or nay,” Balser said. “This sets a precedent for all other municipalities in New Brunswick and around Canada who are opposed to projects that influence and detrimentally affect our future.”

The five councillors who voted in favour of the motion opposing the pipeline were Bill Evans, Megan Mitton, Allison Butcher, Bruce Phinney and Andrew Black.

Councillors Ron Aiken, Joyce O’Neil and Michael Tower voted against the motion introduced by Bill Evans.

Pipelines and climate change

Text of Bill Evans's motion opposing Energy East pipeline

Text of Bill Evans’s motion opposing Energy East

Town Council’s vote followed a lively, 31-minute debate in which all councillors and the mayor spoke.

Bill Evans began by referring to what he called “the primary issue,” global climate change.

“The facts are that global climate change is real, it’s caused by human activity, it’s bad for us and we have to do something about it to avoid catastrophe,” Evans said.

He added that independent experts agree that the world must not continue burning more and more of the fossil fuels that produce greenhouse gases leading to climate change.

Evans said the pipeline proposed by TransCanada Corporation would only increase the burning of oil.

“TransCanada is pushing this project because they believe it will be profitable and it can only be profitable if they ship a lot more oil,” he added.

Support for the motion

Councillors Megan Mitton and Allison Butcher echoed Evans’s arguments about climate change.

“We still have a chance to have a liveable climate, but we are running out of time,” Mitton said. “The Energy East pipeline and all new fossil fuel infrastructure means that we have less of a chance because of the lock-in effect. If it gets built, it will get used and we will burn more fossil fuels.”

Councillor Butcher said that while she wanted to support business, the pipeline would not help businesses or people in Sackville.

“It will do the reverse,” she added. “It will cause irreparable damage to everything that’s important to us.”

From Alberta to New Brunswick: route of the Energy East pipeline

From Alberta to New Brunswick: proposed route of the Energy East pipeline

Councillor Bruce Phinney said he made up his mind about the pipeline three years ago when he attended a presentation given by TransCanada.

Afterwards, when he asked if the pipeline would mean cheaper gas, a senior official said no.

“I said, ‘so the only people who are going to benefit from this pipeline is going to be TransCanada pipeline, its shareholders and the Irving empire,'” Phinney added. “He never hesitated, he said ‘pretty much.'”

Phinney also blamed petroleum company drilling near his sister’s home a five-minute drive from Strathmore, Alberta for the sulphurous, rotten egg smell in the area’s water supply.

Councillors opposed

Councillor Michael Tower gave a number of reasons for not supporting Bill Evans’s motion. For one thing, he said, it perpetuates the misconception that “Sackville is not business friendly.”

He also argued that council should not be dealing with a symbolic motion such as this when the power to regulate and approve pipelines rests with other levels of government. Tower said Sackville could play a more positive role by urging governments at all three levels to work together on reducing the use of fossil fuels.

“Instead of opposing a pipeline, I’d like to see (us) make recommendations to the government for financial incentives, assistance to help New Brunswick and other provinces to offer rebates on the purchasing of green cars, backyard windmills, solar panels for creating electricity and possibly hot water,” Tower added.

Deputy Mayor Joyce O’Neil agreed that the town should not be dealing with federal and provincial matters and she added that council should not presume to speak for all town residents since people here are on both sides of the issue.

“I will be voting against this motion as I feel the pipeline will be a nation-building opportunity to create jobs and energy for the entire country,” O’Neil said. “It will also reverse the international flow of payments for the volume of oil shipped to our country by in-bound freighters from other countries.”

For his part, Councillor Ron Aiken said that as someone who holds a PhD in ecology with an emphasis on fresh water biology, the motion placed him in “more than a bit of a quandary.”

However, he said that while he doesn’t like pipelines, he too, felt that Sackville should not be dealing with something that is not its direct responsibility.

“If anyone on council wants to protest the pipeline, fight against it, lay down in front of bulldozers,” he said, “I’m behind you. It’s a great thing. But it’s not the role of this council to be making motions to the federal government on these issues.”

Black’s crucial vote

Andrew Black

Andrew Black

As councillors delivered their various opinions, it looked for awhile that the vote would be tied especially when Councillor Andrew Black said he felt “slightly soured” by the fact that students brought the pipeline issue to council as part of a class project.

He also said he firmly believed the municipality should not be discussing an issue in federal and provincial jurisdiction, especially when Sackville itself is far from the path of the pipeline.

But then, Black said, he talked the issue over with his family.

“I have kids who would be impacted by the potential of the Energy East pipeline,” he said adding that passing or not passing the motion would probably not affect whether the pipeline gets built.

“I’m always a bit of a pessimist and I really hope that it doesn’t go through,” he said. “The environmental concerns are too much for me to pass on even though I think that it could benefit the province economically especially since the province of New Brunswick is mostly bankrupt, the money coming in would be quite nice. But I will support this motion tonight because of its environmental, potentially environmental impact on this province.”

Mayor weighs in

After all councillors had spoken, Mayor Higham took the unusual step of leaving his chair so that he could also speak on the issue.

He made his view clear that Sackville should not “cast aside its mandate for local action” and give its opinion on “a complex and difficult issue” that would affect other communities more than ours.

“As a member of council during the fracking issue some time ago,” he said, “I recall how our debate centred on local approvals. We were required to approve an exploration permit. It was improperly presented to us and that’s frustrating, but we had to deal with a jurisdictional question and we had to deal with the impacts and that led us through that path to challenge provincial policy based on the town’s interest.”

Higham added that at the time, the issue received national media attention because councillors were working in the best interests of the town.

“Many of us got furious to hear other communities that had no fracking,” he added, “telling us what to do and the province accepting their opinion as equal to ours. I’ve ever since been very wary of presuming to lecture people who have impacts and will suffer them to tell them what they should do.”

Big relief

Other students members of group that opposes Energy East pipeline

Other students members of  the Mt. A. group that opposes Energy East

In the end, however, Higham did not get to express his opposition to the Evans motion by voting against it. Mayors vote only to break a tie and in this case the motion passed handily, 5-3.

Afterwards the Mt. A. students called the outcome “a big relief” after months of lobbying.

Mara Ostafichuk said she learned how much effort is involved in working for change.

“I definitely gained a better appreciation of how much work everyone who has these other environmental campaigns, how much work they put in to getting their ideas out and supported by government,” she said.

Claire Neufeld said it was “super eye-opening” for her how much “legwork you have to do” to deal with government processes.

“I know this might be kind of small compared to some of the environmental movements that are going on around the world,” she added, “but this is definitely a stepping stone for me and a good gateway into getting out in the world and try to make a difference and stand up for what I believe in.”

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Mayor Higham condemns recent acts of hate in Sackville and Quebec

Mayor John Higham

Mayor John Higham

Sackville Town Council held a moment of silence at its meeting Monday night to reflect on the murder of six worshippers at a mosque in Quebec City and the drawing of a swastika last month in the snow on the Mount Allison University football field.

In a statement read at the opening of the meeting, Mayor Higham said the two events had an impact on everyone in Sackville.

“These two incidents link together in far too many ways to leave any of us feeling very comfortable,” he added.

The mayor described the swastika as an “emblem of hate, prejudice and death” and called the shootings in Quebec the “brutal actions of one acting on hate and prejudice causing death.”

Higham said we often feel such terrible things can’t happen in Sackville and in Canada, but they have.

“The only defence we have is what we do ourselves,” he said. “Each and every one of us must consider if their actions are abetting such events or putting a stop to them. Do we use words to demean, to hurt or to hate? Do we allow them to be used in front of us or applied to others without acting on it?”

He suggested that everyone “must do better” adding he trusts that in Sackville “we’re going to rise to that challenge.”

To listen to the mayor’s statement, click on the media player:

New business?

Town council passed a motion Monday night setting the stage for a possible new business in the Sackville industrial park.

Terra Beata Farms near Lunenburg, N.S. is considering setting up a cranberry storage facility, but needs a building higher than the 40 feet (12 metres) permitted under the town’s zoning bylaw.

Council voted to take several steps to facilitate the request including holding a public hearing on lifting the height restriction at its meeting on March 6. (Such a hearing is required under provincial law.)

Town planner Lori Bickford says height restrictions vary in southeastern New Brunswick with some municipalities allowing buildings as high as 66 feet (20 metres) in their industrial zones. She also points out that the Town of Amherst has no height restrictions.

During an interview, Mayor Higham sounded enthusiastic about the prospect of a new business here.

“We’re excited about the possibility,” he said, “and happy with their preliminary questions and design. It looks like [lifting] the height restriction is the key thing to ensure it comes.”

Exit 506

Council has yet to give final approval, but it seems likely to allocate up to $40,000 to improve economic development prospects for TransCanada highway Exit 506 at Cattail Ridge.

Half of the money would go towards making the exit more attractive to passing motorists by clearing trees, cutting grass and making improvements to the landscape. The other half would be spent commissioning a study on facilities that might be needed such as curbs, sewers and modifications to intersections.

Council began focusing on Exit 506 last summer after rejecting a bylaw change that would have allowed a Robin’s Donuts drive-thru at the Ultramar gas bar co-owned by Wendy and Kelly Alder.

The Alders still want the drive-thru, but it’s not clear whether council can re-visit the issue before a full year has elapsed since the July vote rejecting the bylaw change that would have made the drive-thru possible.

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Sackville councillors hear the case for Energy East pipeline

Tradesmen and students supporting pipeline gather outside Sackville Town Hall

Tradesmen and students supporting Energy East pipeline gather outside Sackville Town Hall

When officials representing the proposed Energy East pipeline appeared before Sackville Town Council Monday night, more than two dozen workers and community college students from around the province came along with them.

The group waved placards outside town hall and later, filed into the council chamber to show support for the pipeline that would carry up to 1.1 million barrels a day of tar sands bitumen from Alberta to refineries in eastern Canada and an Irving Oil marine terminal in Saint John.

Scott Martin, who is studying iron work at the Moncton campus of the New Brunswick Community College, echoed others in the crowd when he said he supports the pipeline because he wants to work “instead of sitting home on the couch, not doing anything. It would be nice to get weekly pay like most Canadians deserve,” he added.

Martin said he doubted that building the pipeline would make much of a difference for the environment and climate change, but, “it will for my bank account,” he said with a smile.

35-minute presentation

The officials from TransCanada Corporation, which wants to build and operate the pipeline, were appearing before council to make their case against a proposed motion opposing the project introduced last fall by Councillor Bill Evans.

Patrick LaCroix, New Brunswick Manager of Stakeholder Relations, told councillors that the corporation has been in the North American energy delivery business for more than 65 years.

“TransCanada is a value-driven organization,” he said, “and we want to do what’s right.”

LaCroix added that aside from its investments in oil and natural gas pipelines, the company operates six big wind farms in Quebec as well as seven solar generating facilities in Ontario.

His colleague, Steve Morck, who serves as an environmental advisor to Energy East, told councillors that the 4,500 kilometre pipeline would use state-of-the-art technology to detect leaks. He added that an  operator monitoring data screens at the control centre in Calgary would have the authority to shut the pipeline down if something went wrong, an operation that would take about 10 minutes.

“That decision is actually made by that guy on the screen,” Morck said. “He doesn’t have to find a manager or vice president on a golf course on a Saturday afternoon, for example, to make that decision.”

Jobs, jobs, jobs

TransCanada officials Steve Morck (L) and Patrick LaCroix

TransCanada officials Steve Morck (L) and Patrick LaCroix present their pipeline case to council

LaCroix told council that Energy East would create more than 3,700 jobs each year in New Brunswick during the construction phase and 261 direct and indirect jobs each year for 20 years after that.

However, in response to a question from Councillor Allison Butcher, he was vague about how many of those 261 jobs would be full or part-time.

“Direct jobs would be like terminal operator, for example, or a safety inspector or maintenance supervisor,” he said. “Part-time jobs, there would be snow clearing around access to a pump station, there would be catering services, there would be all the types of services that would be required for the operation of the pipeline.”

In response to a question from Councillor Andrew Black about how much of the 1.1. million barrels of oil per day would be refined in Canada creating jobs here, LaCroix said that would depend on market conditions. He said the Irving refinery in Saint John has agreed to take at least 50,000 barrels per day while refineries in Montreal and Quebec City would also take some of the oil. He estimated that the total capacity of all three refineries is 600,000 barrels per day. Earlier, he told council that the oil could also be exported to markets in Europe, Asia and the United States.

Climate change

Two councillors raised environmental concerns about the pipeline.

Councillor Bill Evans noted that TransCanada’s 35-minute presentation had not dealt with what he called the “elephant in the room,” the effects of climate change triggered by the production and consumption of fossil fuels. He also wondered if the Energy East pipeline would ever be built given that tar sands oil will likely flow south to the U.S. from Alberta and also given the strong opposition in Quebec and from people in other places along its route.

For her part, Councillor Megan Mitton referred to a 2011 report from the International Energy Agency that warned against the irreversible effects of building more long-term fossil fuel facilities such as pipelines.

“When you build that infrastructure, it costs a lot of money that you invest in,” she said, “so you need to keep it going for a certain amount of time to get money out of it and they basically said because of that lock-in effect, we shouldn’t be building any new fossil fuel infrastructure, if we want a liveable climate.”

LaCroix and Morck answered that fossil fuel producers are responding to an ever-increasing demand for oil and more greenhouse gases are produced from the consumption of oil than from producing it.

LaCroix said that the Alberta government has responded with measures such as strict guidelines and hard caps on greenhouse gas emissions that will promote the production of more oil with fewer environmental effects.

“Industry itself has reduced greenhouse gas emissions from a barrel of oil by a third in recent history,” he added, “so Canadian innovation will help us produce a barrel of oil with less environmental impact.”

Critics weigh in

After last night’s presentation to council, Mark D’Arcy of the Council of Canadians, a group that opposes Energy East, told Warktimes that the pipeline is designed to export oil and expand tar sands production.

“If we’re committed to economic growth in the clean economy and [to] catch up with the rest of the world, we have to stop the expansion of the tar sands,” he said outside the council chamber.

D’Arcy added that TransCanada has the worst safety record of any pipeline in Canada and Energy East would pose a risk to waterways in New Brunswick including the Bay of Fundy.

“TransCanada has the worst catastrophic spill rate in Canada,” he said, “and we don’t want Energy East built because of the implications for our water, but we also can’t accept the expansion of the tar sands pipeline.”

Meantime, Mount Allison environmental students were also highly critical of the TransCanada presentation. The students are members of Sackville, No Energy East a group that asked town council to oppose the pipeline in November.

Spokesman Will Balser criticized company officials for being vague about how much of the oil would be refined in Canada and how much would be for export.

“They’re not willing to say how much they’re going to keep here and how much they’re willing to export and because of that, they don’t know how many jobs they’re actually going to create,” he said. “So this is the company talking about how good things are going to be.”

Town Council is scheduled to vote at its meeting next Monday on whether to pass Councillor Evans’s motion calling on the federal government to deny approval for the pipeline.

In the meantime, Balser says his group will be e-mailing councillors and soliciting community support in their campaign to stop Energy East.

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Fishermen face uphill battle during court challenge to Fundy turbines

Cape Sharp photo showing turbine deployment in November

Cape Sharp photo showing turbine deployment in November

A lawyer for the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen’s Association appeared to have a tough time this week persuading a Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge that a 1,000 tonne tidal turbine should not have been lowered into the Minas Passage in November.

David Coles argued during Wednesday’s court hearing that installing the turbine violated environmental regulations because provincial officials did not have enough baseline scientific information to predict potential adverse effects on marine species and their habitats.

Coles asked Judge Heather Robertson to overturn the environment minister’s June 20th approval of that 2MW turbine and a second one, both owned by Cape Sharp Tidal Inc.

But the judge repeatedly questioned whether more scientific information was needed before the tidal project could proceed. She also suggested the province is genuinely trying to understand the environmental impact of the “fledgling” tidal industry and that scientists will gather more information after turbines go into the water.

“I’m not here to promote the industry or say it has to go ahead,” the judge said. “My judicial duty is to analyze the reasonableness of the minister’s decision.”

Earlier in the hearing, the judge referred to the already installed tidal device when she said, “You don’t have scientists saying, ‘shut that turbine off.'”

Routine decision

Sean Foreman, a lawyer representing the Environment Department, told the judge the approval of the first two turbines was a routine administrative decision that arose out of initial approval of the whole tidal demonstration project in 2009.

“There is no serious disconnect in how this process unfolded,” Foreman said. “We’ve had seven years of extensive study. Is it perfect? Absolutely not. Is it required to be perfect? Absolutely not.”

Scott Campbell, a lawyer for the Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy (FORCE) the non-profit organization which oversees the tidal site near Parrsboro, N.S. said, “We are talking about a very small-scale demonstration project with one turbine deployed.”

Campbell acknowledged that scientists at the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans had identified gaps in scientific knowledge about potential turbine effects, but said there was no evidence in their report of serious harm and no suggestion that turbine deployment should not proceed.

Precautionary principle

Fishermen’s lawyer, David Coles also argued that under the terms of the provincial Environment Act, the minister was required to follow the precautionary principle in the face of scientific uncertainty about potential turbine effects on fish in the Minas Passage. He suggested that under that principle, the minister should have refused to approve turbine deployment until more scientific information had been gathered on turbine effects.

But Cape Sharp lawyer Harvey Morrison countered that the minister’s approval was based on a careful evaluation of risk and that it’s not possible to determine whether fish will collide with turbines until the machines are actually in the water.

Fishermen's Association spokesman Colin Sproul

Fishermen’s Association spokesman Colin Sproul at the Halifax courthouse

Later, outside the courtroom, Colin Sproul, a spokesman for the fishermen’s association, said complete baseline information is required before turbines are deployed so that scientists can compare conditions before and after deployment. He added that federal and provincial politicians decided to go ahead with the project based on political considerations, not scientific evidence.

“I think the province set out on this project with good intentions,” Sproul said, “and if they had followed their own advice to have meaningful, transparent consultation with the fishing industry that we wouldn’t be here today.”

He added that his association, the largest fishermen’s organization in the Bay of Fundy, was never approached by the government, FORCE or Cape Sharp about the tidal project.

“The onus is on proponents and regulators to meaningfully consult with Bay of Fundy stakeholders and it’s something they failed to do,” he said.

At the conclusion of Wednesday’s court hearing, Madame Justice Robertson said she was reserving her decision. It will be released at a later date.

If, as seems likely, the judge refuses to overturn the government’s approval of the two turbines, the second one will probably be deployed this spring.

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Regulations proposed to restrict new housing near Sackville’s rail line

One of 120 trees planted last fall with the help of money from CN-Rail

One of 120 trees planted last fall with the help of $25,000 from CN rail

It appears likely that Sackville town councillors will adopt new zoning regulations that would restrict residential development near the CN railway line.

Council held a well-advertised hearing on the proposed regulations last night, but no members of the public showed up to express opposition or support.

One of the regulations would require home builders to maintain a minimum distance of 30 metres (about 100 feet) from the railway that runs through the southern part of town.

A second regulation would prohibit anything such as private fences or hedges from blocking a clear view of the tracks at railway crossings.

Town planner Lori Bickford explained that the regulations are designed to ensure safety and to minimize the effects of noise and vibrations caused by passing trains.

She said existing homes would not be affected by the new, 30-metre setback regulation.

Trains and trees

Council agreed to consider the changes last year when CN gave the town a $25,000 matching grant to plant 120 trees on public property. (Under the terms of the grant, the town agreed to contribute an additional $25,000 toward the project.)

At its meeting in November, council heard from Sackville resident Keith Carter who complained about the tree deal.

“CN gave you fellas some money to plant some trees,” Carter said, “so now you’re going to jump up and down and get them a hundred foot setback on everybody’s property along the railroad.”

Carter added that if he wanted to build a house close to the rail line, it should be his choice not council’s.

Deputy Mayor Joyce O’Neil replied that she had attended a CN presentation showing the need for national standards governing residential construction near rail lines.

“They [CN] showed pictures of where this setback had never been in place,” she said, “and when a person come out of an apartment building, they came right straight out their back door, brought them right out onto the railroad track, so this is a safety issue.”

O’Neil added that the new regulation would not affect other structures such as sheds and unattached garages that could still be built in the 30 metre setback zone.

At last night’s meeting, Lori Bickford estimated that there are 37 residential lots next to the railway.

Municipal plan

Council is also planning to adopt new policies governing rail safety under the Sackville municipal plan.

The town plans to work with the rail industry to promote safety along rail corridors.

It also plans to consult with the the rail industry on design standards for any new apartment buildings or residential subdivisions within 300 metres of the tracks.

Residential developers could be encouraged, for example, to consider ways of minimizing the effects of noise and vibrations in houses or apartments near the railway.

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Private gain, public pain: trouble in New Brunswick Crown forests

Charles Theriault with his poodle Gaia

Charles Theriault with his poodle Gaia

“We’re being screwed here,” Charles Thériault says from the big pink chair in his straw bale house at Kedgwick River, northeastern New Brunswick.

“We’re letting it happen, our governments are letting it happen,” he adds. “We have no control over our natural resources.”

Thériault is talking about provincial Crown forests and his three-and-a-half year campaign to convince New Brunswickers that we’re giving those public forests away.

Thériault is using his website, Is Our Forest Really Ours?, to document the investigation he’s been conducting since 2012.

He says his work began when he discovered that the big forestry company, J.D. Irving Ltd., was diverting some of the Crown wood it had been allocated away from its Kedgwick sawmill.

“The mill was only working about eight months a year, rather than 12 and only one shift,” he says, adding that over a three-year period, the local economy had lost more than $2 million in work and wages.

Media not interested

But when Thériault tried to interest the New Brunswick news media in the story, he was ignored by journalists and editors except for those at the French-language daily, L’Acadie Nouvelle.

“CBC, CTV/ATV, I contacted all of them, newspapers, of course the Irving papers, and none of them reacted, even when I called them back, they wouldn’t talk to me.”

So, Thériault approached the federation of private woodlot owners who also feel victimized by the big forestry companies.

“For five months, I got a salary, they bought the camera and I just started producing,” he says.

Now, his website has 28 episodes consisting of filmed interviews with a wide range of experts on all aspects of forestry including the Crown forests that are managed by the private companies that lease them.

(Last year, the auditor-general reported that the province paid more in management and silviculture fees to the forestry companies than it received in royalty revenues from the trees the companies cut on Crown land.)

Client state

In his first episode, Thériault interviews William Parenteau, a University of New Brunswick professor who describes New Brunswick as “a client state,” a place where dominant industries have more power than the provincial government.

It’s an idea that Thériault speaks about passionately as we talk by his wood stove in Kedgwick River.

“The first thing if a corporation wants to control a country, take control of their natural resources,” he says, “and then take control of [the] legislature, then control the information, control the media.”

Thériault uses the term “corporate capture” rather than “client state,” but for the him, the results are the same for New Brunswick.

“We’re kept blind and we’re kept stupid, misinformed and we don’t have access to the revenues from our resources,” he says — all themes he pursues in Episode 21 of his website series.

Creating jobs, not just profits

Thériault outside his straw bale house

Thériault outside his straw bale house in mid-October

Thériault says his work shows that big forestry companies are more concerned about making  profits than about creating as many jobs as possible.

“We’re turning our natural forests into a fibre farm,” he says, planting “cheap trees” such as black spruce that replace valuable hardwoods native to the Acadian forest.

“We’re chopping it all down and planting these cheap spruce trees to furnish a market that is based on volume and not on quality.”

Thériault points, for example, to the local Groupe Savoie hardwood mill that employs 600 people producing a variety of products including pallets, cabinet doors and wood chips. He says the mill uses about 300-thousand cubic metres of hardwood while the local Irving mill uses the same volume of softwoods each year, but employs only 60 people to produce construction lumber such as two by fours for the U.S. market.

“Their object is not to create work,” Thériault says of the Irving mill, “their object is to make profit.”

In Episode 20 of his website series, Thériault visits Boisaco, a company in Quebec’s Saguenay region that employs more than 700 people to make a wide-variety of wood products from both softwoods and hardwoods.

“This mill in Quebec is worker-owned,” he says, “so the dollars stay in the community…and they’re the same size as far as the amount of wood cut in a year. But here we’ve got 50 some odd jobs and there we’ve got 700 jobs.”

Taxes and subsidies

Thériault’s current series ends with an episode that looks at how Irving companies use tax havens and complicated corporate transactions to avoid paying taxes.

The episode features an interview with Dennis Howlett of Canadians for Tax Fairness who explains how such tax avoidance schemes deprive New Brunswick of revenues needed to reduce poverty, maintain roads and finance education and health care while at the same time, both the federal and provincial governments are giving the Irvings and other corporate owners grants, loans and tax breaks for their various enterprises.

Thériault shakes his head as he recalls starting out on his website project in 2012.

“I thought I could probably do it in six months,” he says. “It’s been three-and-a-half years and there’s still so much to talk about, still so much to discover.” He adds that the more he keeps digging into the way New Brunswick gives away its natural resources, the more he finds out.

“I’d like to go to other countries and see how they’re dealing with their resources,” he says, hoping that would convince New Brunswickers that things don’t have to be the way they are here.

As we end our talk, Thériault returns to his main theme.

“We’re being screwed,” he says, “and basically we’re being screwed by a company that doesn’t pay any taxes and, we’re letting it happen.”

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