Planners recommend creating village near Sackville Exit 506

Drawing shows recreational trail and ambulance station at left, commercial shops and restaurants in two buildings on Cattail Ridge at the front as well as a commercial building, bank and mixed-use residential buildings on Bridge St. on the right. Parking is kept to the rear of buildings. A stormwater pond behind the residential buildings absorbs run-off from parking lots. (Click to enlarge)

A Nova Scotia planning and design company recommends creating a village near TransCanada Highway Exit 506 that could include stores, restaurants and coffee drive thrus, apartments or condominiums, sidewalks, bicycle lanes, an ambulance station, a hiking and biking trail as well as two new parks.

“It’s essentially a small little downtown cluster that happens in this one very small area,” Rob Leblanc of Ekistics Planning and Design told residents last night during a meeting to outline the plan at Sackville Town Hall.

“We can’t take credit for any of the ideas in this plan, they’re mostly ideas that came from the community,” Leblanc added after noting that 400 people had responded to an online survey and 35 had attended a workshop that discussed proposals for Exit 506.

Last November, Sackville Town Council awarded a $27-thousand contract to Leblanc’s firm to conduct a study of physical improvements that would be needed to facilitate economic development at Exit 506 and to lure more highway travellers into Sackville.

Leblanc noted that much of the area around Exit 506 is on a flood plain with some of it subject to flooding once in every hundred years.

He suggested that planners and developers would have to make provisions for 100-year flooding adding that his firm is not recommending development on the land in the area that floods regularly.

Two new parks

Drawing shows a new trail and two new parks,  a dog park at the end of Robson Ave. on the left and one named for artist Alex Colville at the end of Bridge St. near the Tantramar River.

Leblanc said a proposed new dog park could be built in an area off Robson Avenue where people already walk their  dogs.

The idea for one dedicated to Alex Colville originally came from retired Mount Allison music professor Janet Hammock who said the park could display some of the artist’s most famous paintings depicting scenes from the area by the river, bridge and railway.

“The history of the bridge, the old race track that used to be here, Alex Colville, all those stories could be told in that park,” Leblanc said, “and that would be enough to create the invitation for visitors to look at the tourism experiences, maybe get them to stay longer in the town.”

Leblanc said a look-off could also be built on the old bridge abutment to give people a better view of the river and marshes.

Cost of creating Exit 506 village

Drawing shows Alex Colville park with elevated look-off in the distance

Leblanc estimates the total cost to the town of creating a village at Sackville’s eastern gateway would be just under $600,000, but he said the work would not have to be done all at once.

He said he’ll discuss his proposals further with a steering committee consisting of senior town staff. Sackville town councillors will ultimately decide what to do about the recommendations.

Positive reactions

Residents who attended last night’s meeting seemed pleased with the proposals.

In response to questions, Leblanc said existing homes and businesses would not be affected by the plan.

He emphasized that any coffee drive-thrus would have to be carefully built to avoid the congestion that happens at Exit 504. He said, for example, that drive-thrus would have to accommodate at least eight cars on private property to avoid back-ups on streets and drive-thru windows would not be allowed to face main streets.

When asked about train whistles disturbing apartment dwellers, Leblanc said there are things that can be done.

“King’s Wharf in downtown Dartmouth was built literally on the train line and they blew their whistle every morning 5 a.m.,” he said. “The city, the developer and CN worked together to figure out a way to deal with that and they’re trying to work through that. So, I think even CN can be creative sometimes when they work with communities,” he added.

Some concerns

Sackville environmental consultant Sabine Dietz expressed concern about greenhouse gas emissions from idling vehicles at drive-thrus. She added that Leblanc’s overall plan did not incorporate concepts, such as the use of renewable energy, to mitigate climate change.

Dietz also wondered whether it’s realistic to expect significant new commercial development at Exit 506 when the population of Sackville isn’t growing and the downtown core is struggling.

“Wherever you go in small communities, as soon as you have commercial development outside the core, the core is impoverished as a result,” she said, adding that increasing shopping on the outskirts might split Sackville into three pieces with the downtown pitted against the two highway commercial zones.

“I’d be the first to advocate [that] the strongest way to strengthen a community is to invest in your downtown,” Leblanc responded.

He said that both the downtown and the highway commercial zones have a role to play in development.

“Investing in the downtown is going to be really important moving forward as well,” Leblanc added.

To view a slide presentation on the Ekistics plan, click here.

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Sackville councillors urge feds to restore Via Rail service before it’s too late

Via train picks up passengers in Sackville on a snowy Sunday

Sackville Town Council voted unanimously last week to support the campaign to restore Via Rail’s Ocean passenger service that runs through Sackville on its route between Halifax and Montreal.

Councillors asked Mayor Higham to write a letter to the federal minister of transport supporting the group Save Our Trains in Northern New Brunswick, which is campaigning along with Transport Action Atlantic, for restoration of the six-day-a-week service that was cut to three days in 2012.

“I feel it’s a no-brainer, we really have to go after this,” Councillor Joyce O’Neil said when council first discussed the issue on February 5th.

“When you stop and think about it, if we lose the Via going through our town, our only other option is you’re either going to fly or bus or drive yourself,” O’Neil added. “This has been something that I’ve seen go all my lifetime and I’d hate to see us lose it now.”

“I think it’s a no-brainer too,” said Councillor Bruce Phinney. “We do need it. It’s a source of transportation for people who can’t afford a car or can’t afford other means.”

Report urges major investments

The background information package that councillors received before their meeting contained a copy of the report Riding The Ocean’s Next Wave by transportation consultant Greg Gormick.

The report, commissioned by the Save Our Trains group, was released last August.

It warns that Via’s Ocean train service will die without restoration of six-day-a-week service which it says would require an investment of about $266 million in new passenger train cars and track upgrades. It also recommends spending an additional $30-$40 million to restore Via’s Chaleur service on the Gaspé Peninsula.

“Direction and funding from Ottawa will enable VIA to begin the process of restoring the Ocean and the Chaleur as effective providers of local and long-distance public transportation, and as major contributors to regional tourism development,” the report concludes adding, “Failure to act soon will doom the Ocean quickly and ensure the Chaleur never returns.”

Sackville’s historic station

Sackville’s historic train station

As part of the cuts in 2012, Via Rail closed Sackville’s train station built in 1907-08 of locally quarried sandstone. The station is a nationally designated historic site.

It’s not clear, however, whether Via Rail would reopen the station if passenger service were restored to six-days-a-week as town councillors hope.

None of the councillors at last Monday’s meeting specifically mentioned the station, although those who spoke made it clear they felt Sackville residents should continue to have passenger rail service.

Councillor Megan Mitton argued train service is important for environmental reasons as did Councillor Bill Evans.

“We have said that [environmental] sustainability is important to us,” Evans said. “Public transit is a huge component of supporting sustainability.”

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Cape Sharp: tidal turbine generated little power, but was a success; FORCE: expanding test site makes sense

Cape Sharp turbine on deployment barge Scotia Tide, Nov. 2016

Cape Sharp Tidal sold only 41.4 megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity to Nova Scotia Power last year, enough to power the equivalent of about four homes, far short of the 500 the company claimed when it first deployed the turbine in the Minas Passage near Parrsboro.

“Nova Scotia homes and businesses are now powered by North America’s first in-stream tidal turbine,” Cape Sharp said in a news release issued in November 2016. “The demonstration turbine—designed and manufactured by OpenHydro—uses a fraction of the estimated 7,000 MW potential of the Minas Passage to power the equivalent of about 500 Nova Scotia homes with energy from our tides,” the news release added.

However, Stacey Pineau, who speaks for Cape Sharp, said in an e-mail to The New Wark Times that in spite of its low power generation, the turbine deployment was a success.

“We’re still the first and only developer to successfully deploy a tidal turbine in the Bay of Fundy and connect it to the Nova Scotia power grid,” she wrote. “That’s a big achievement.”

She said the turbine produced a total of 111 MWh between January and late March 2017, but nearly two-thirds of that power was required to energize the transmission line that connected the turbine to an on-shore electrical substation and to provide heat and light at the substation.

“The amount of electricity the turbine generated during this period was limited as we tested the system in different conditions and tidal cycles – we were not focused on maximizing power output,” Pineau wrote.

The Cape Sharp turbine was pulled from the water on June 15 and moved to Saint John Harbour where it has been undergoing repairs to its Turbine Control Centre, a school-bus-sized unit that transforms electricity produced by the generator into alternating current compatible with the power grid.

Pineau said the company is still on track to deploy a second turbine in the Minas Passage this summer, while the recovered turbine undergoes a detailed inspection of its interior.

“Our focus now is on continuing to fine tune the next turbine and its monitoring equipment based on everything we have learned so far,” she added.

FORCE tidal berths empty

FORCE visitor centre near Parrsboro

With the Cape Sharp turbines out of the water, all five berths at the FORCE test site in the Minas Passage are empty with no immediate plans for deployments by other tidal companies.

Mary McPhee, FORCE’s former facilities manager who quit her job in December, says the lack of activity raises questions about the future of the Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy.

“It’s more important now than ever that the public asks questions about what’s going on,” McPhee says adding that FORCE’s managers have isolated themselves in Halifax and are not engaging with communities and fishers affected by the tidal industry.

Nor do they seem to care, she says, that small communities such as Parrsboro aren’t benefitting more from tidal projects.

McPhee, who worked at the FORCE centre near Parrsboro for more than six years, says she’s also concerned about the lack of adequate environmental monitoring in the turbulent waters of the Minas Passage.

“I will be heartbroken, if in two to five years, FORCE closes down and becomes a waste of taxpayers’ money,” McPhee says.

FORCE responds

Matt Lumley, who speaks for FORCE, says he agrees with McPhee that Parrsboro needs to benefit more from tidal activity.

“Over time, it makes sense that the FORCE project, and berth holder activity, will be more based on the site,” Lumley writes in an e-mail.

He adds that although FORCE has consistently hired students for summer jobs and Nova Scotia community college graduates have been spending more and more time there, tidal deployments have been slow to get going.

“And that’s really the engine that will drive all activity and employment and spin-off on site,” Lumley writes.

FORCE site expansion?

Power cable installation at FORCE site, Dec. 2015

Lumley says it would make sense if small-scale developers put their devices in the water adjacent to the FORCE site at Black Rock.

The FORCE site has its own transmission line connected to the grid.

The Nova Scotia government has  invited tidal developers to seek permits for small-scale projects of up to five megawatts (MW) in the Bay of Fundy or Cape Breton’s Bras d’Or Lakes. The small-scale projects would be limited to a total of 10MW.

Lumley writes that FORCE regularly talks to developers around the world.

“We’ve heard increased interest from a number of companies following the province’s announcement in October that up to 10 megawatts may be available in Nova Scotia under new demonstration permits,” he says. “Several have been public about their interest in Nova Scotia.”

However, the thought of expansion at the FORCE site beyond the five berths that are already there, angers Darren Porter, a weir fisherman who speaks for the Fundy United Federation, a group that represents about 100 fishers.

Porter points out that the area is a prime lobster fishing ground that has already been disrupted by the tidal industry.

He says it makes no sense to expand the FORCE site and put more test turbines in the Minas Passage where it’s practically impossible to gauge their effects.

“They should go some place where we can actually determine the effect of these machines in clearer water and in an environment that can be monitored,” he says.

“If they go and take up that whole Black Rock area,” Porter warns, “it’s going to be war.”

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Sackville councillors approve $76.5k in community grants

Councillor Bruce Phinney

Sackville Town Council awarded $76,500 in community development grants to more than three dozen groups and organizations on Monday, but it wasn’t unanimous.

Councillor Bruce Phinney voted no saying he disagreed with some of the grants and felt that town staff should not have made the decision on which groups qualified and how much they should get.

“Nothing against staff, but I really feel that actually should have been left in the hands of the Treasurer…and a councillor,” Phinney said.

“I know I did it for years and I think it worked out fairly well,” he added. “That way, some people wouldn’t think that oh, that’s being given because one of maybe the managers might be associated to one of the groups.”

Phinney’s objection was not shared by other councillors who spoke in favour of the new grants policy adopted in 2015 by a previous council and first implemented in 2016.

“I just want to say kudos to staff on doing this project,” said Councillor Michael Tower. “This is not an easy one to do, council struggled long enough and it seems like you guys have now found a good system and it looks like a fairly fair one indeed.”

Tower also praised the new system when council first discussed the grants at its earlier meeting on February 5th.

At that meeting, Councillor Bill Evans said he, too, was grateful that staff were implementing the new policy.

“I’m with Mike (Tower),” Evans said. “If we start getting into that individually as councillors, then the wheels fall off,” he added. “I appreciate the effort that staff have done according to the criteria that council has approved, and so I’m prepared to accept this and support the recommendation with thanks.”

Grant categories

The grants are awarded in four categories: operational grants, special events and projects grants, small capital grants that help with one-time building projects or equipment purchases and smaller sponsorship grants.

The largest operational grant of $8,000 went this year to Sackville Minor Hockey with Live Bait Theatre receiving $7,500, the Sackville Skating Club, $5,250 and the Sackville Swim Club, $5,000.

Rural Rides, the non-profit group offering out-of-town transportation for medical appointments and grocery shopping received an operational grant of $2,000.

In the Special Events/Projects category, the largest grants went to Sappyfest ($4,000), the Centre for Artistic Achievement ($3,000) and the Sackville Music Festival ($1,200).

The Marshview Middle School received a $3,000 small capital grant for improvements in a space used by community groups. Other small capital grants included $2,000 to the Sackville Golf Club and $1,500 to Sackville Minor Football.

There were only two sponsorship grants, $250 to Musa Betsu-Kyu Judo Club and $250 to the Sackville Farmers Market, which also received a $1,000 special events grant.

To view a complete list of 2018 grants, click here.

NOTE: The 2018 grants represent 0.7 per cent of the town’s operating budget. Previous totals under the new grants policy were: $80,150 in 2016 and $76,250 in 2017. This year, town staff assessed a total of $138,980 in grant applications, awarding just over half of that total (55%).

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Sackville councillors say no to more student apartments on King St.

Residents opposed to another apartment building at 40 King St. (L-R) Margaret Hanson, William Sheppard, Pat Sheppard, Mary Ann Peters, Reg Hanson, Roland Cook

A small group of Sackville residents won a victory Monday night when Town Council voted against allowing more housing at 40 King Street where about 30 university students already live.

In a 5-3 vote, council rejected a rezoning application that would have permitted another three-storey building on the 1.5 acre site doubling the number of rental units to 12.

There are already six, five-bedroom units on the property, one in a dwelling that fronts on King Street and five more in an apartment building behind it.

Town planners recommended rezoning the property to permit another building, but during a 12 minute debate, all but two councillors spoke against it, siding with residents who complained during a public meeting last month about excessive noise, traffic congestion and even outdoor fires.

Student town vs residents’ town

Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken acknowledged that the latest municipal plan sets targets for the development of more multiple unit residential housing, but in this case, he said, there are too many problems.

“All I can see is that somebody wants to add enough higher density to obviously make more money off rents,” Aiken said, “when the residents have already commented on the problems they’re having with the buildings.”

Councillor Bruce Phinney also acknowledged that the municipal plan encourages more apartment buildings, but sometimes projects “come forward that just don’t work within that plan and I think this is one of them.”

Phinney added that while residents have lived in the neighbourhood for a long time, “it seems that actually it’s becoming more of a student town than it is actually a resident town.”

Councillor Allison Butcher partly disagreed with Phinney, arguing that Sackville needs to be a community town that includes the university, but she also recognized residents’ complaints.

“There is, I think, lots of student housing now and I have some great concerns about the issues the present homeowners in that area have.”

Butcher also worried about harm to the environment with more apartments being built near a stream that flows beside the Sackville cemetery.

Not in my backyard

Existing 5-unit building at 40 King. The owner was proposing to add a 6 unit building on the property

Councillors Bill Evans and Megan Mitton argued strongly for the project, partly on the grounds that the municipal plan calls for a five per cent increase every year in multiple housing units and partly because it would add to the town’s tax base. (Evans estimated that the increase would be about one million dollars.)

He said that residents’ concerns would be met by conditions attached to the project, which include limiting it to no more than 12 units. Evans suggested that residents’ main opposition was simply that they didn’t want the project in their neighbourhood.

“Not In My Backyard [NIMBY] is an acronym because people regularly feel that way,” he said. “They’re not saying they’re against doing it at all, but they just don’t want it where they are. Our mandate as council is not to look after our backyard, but the whole municipality.”

Confusion over vote

Mayor Higham asked Councillor Andrew Black, who moved the motion giving preliminary approval to rezoning the property at 40 King Street, to conclude the debate.

Black surprised his council colleagues by siding with the residents opposed to more student housing, announcing that he would be voting against his own motion.

When Mayor Higham called for the vote, Councillors Evans and Mitton voted yes, while Deputy Mayor Aiken along with councillors Phinney, Butcher, O’Neil and Tower voted no. It only became clear later that Black had voted yes after all, making the final tally 5-3.

Residents react

Outside the council chamber, residents expressed relief that a majority of councillors had turned down more student housing at 40 King Street.

“It’s encouraging they’re actually listening to the residents instead of going for a quick money grab,” said William Sheppard, summing up the general reaction.

But several residents also objected to Councillor Evans’s contention that they simply didn’t want more student housing in their backyard.

“We didn’t say not in our neighbourhood,” Pat Sheppard said, “our neighbourhood is already suffering from too much student housing and the university enrollment is down,” she added.

Reached by phone on Tuesday, landlord Sean Doucet said council’s decision is OK with him.

“Like I said earlier, I wouldn’t want to ruffle any feathers with the neighbours and if that’s council’s decision, I’m fine with it…When you go through rezoning, you never know.”

Council debate on the rezoning motion begins just after the 21 minute mark on the video recording of the meeting. To watch it, click here.

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Indigenous historian urges scrapping investments in fossil fuels

LaDonna Brave Bull Allard on Mt. A. campus

The campaign to get Mount Allison University to pull its investments from big fossil fuel companies got a boost this week from a Lakota historian who helped lead the fight against an oil pipeline in North Dakota.

LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, told about 100 people on the Mt. A. campus Wednesday night that one aim of the growing divestment movement is to take money from the big banks that finance oil and gas developments and return it to local communities.

“Right now, we are putting our money into these large banks who are investing across the world,” she said, “and I don’t know about you but I’ve been going through many communities and they are in dire straits.”

Allard urged audience members to put their money in local institutions such as credit unions.

“You know, a strong economic system is when your communities are strong,” she said. “Invest in your own communities.”

She drew applause when she mentioned New York City’s recent decision to withdraw pension fund investments from coal, oil and gas companies following similar moves in other U.S. cities including Seattle and San Francisco.

“The world is changing,” Allard said. “Everybody understands what’s happening around us. Have you looked?”

Killing the black snake

During her talk sponsored by the Mount Allison University library, Allard described the unsuccessful battle to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline from destroying graves near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation and threatening water supplies. The $3.7 billion, 1,886 kilometre pipeline was being built under the nearby Missouri River.

Allard set up the Sacred Stone Camp on her property, a camp that attracted almost 100,000 visitors in 2016 including indigenous people from all over the world.

She mentioned an ancient Lakota prophecy about a black snake that would slither across the earth poisoning the water and destroying the world, a snake that many saw as the pipeline that would be carrying 470,000 barrels of crude oil each day to an oil terminal in southern Illinois.

“When the black snake comes to devour the world, we must stand up and stop it or the world will end,” Allard said.

The fight to stop the pipeline turned into a epic battle as those calling themselves water protectors eventually faced riot police armed with automatic rifles, water cannon, mace, concussion grenades, tasers and batons. Private security firms used dogs to attack people and as the struggle wore on, hundreds were arrested and some are facing lengthy jail sentences.

Allard said she grew up as a police officer’s daughter believing in law and order.

“I no longer believe the law is just,” she said.  “I don’t know what’s happening in America.”

Student members of Divest MTA meet with LaDonna Brave Bull Allard. (L-R) Lauren Latour, Hanna Longard, Tina Oh, Louis Sobol, LaDonna, Shannon Power

Water is life

Allard painted a grim picture of what she called “Mother Earth’s revenge” for the profligate burning of fossil fuels.

“Tsunamis, typhoons, hurricanes, floods, storms,” she said, “animals going extinct everyday…why are we trying to kill ourselves?”

She added that since “water is life,” it’s impossible to live without it, yet we’re not protecting it.

She also referred to the struggle at Standing Rock.

“This is far from over,” she said, “they say LaDonna when are you done? When I dig up every pipeline from my homeland, that’s when I’m done,” she said.

“We are all in this together, there is only one Earth.”

To see the film Black Snake Killaz documenting the resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline, click here.

Posted in Environment, Mount Allison University | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Excavator digs hole in town budget

Sackville’s John Deere 2010 wheeled excavator with broken front axle

Sackville municipal officials have been scratching their heads over what to do about one of the town’s most heavily used pieces of equipment, a $300,000 excavator with a front axle that split wide open around the end of November.

Town Engineer Dwayne Acton told councillors last night that a crack had appeared in the axle’s main housing a few months earlier.

“We were able to weld it once and then it split again,” he said. “We welded it a second time and got more months out of it.”

But a third welding job failed to hold.

“It literally let go and split wide open, beyond repairs.”

Unexpected failure

Acton said the 2010 machine should last for 10 years and therefore, there’s no money in this year’s budget to replace it.

And, spending $300,000 on a new excavator could mean putting off capital projects such as reconstructing a 300-metre section of Main Street from Dufferin to Queens Road. (The town has applied for provincial funding that would cover nearly half of the project’s $850,000 cost.)

In the end, Acton and Treasurer Michael Beal are recommending that, at its meeting next Monday, council approve spending $63,250 on a new, replacement axle.

“There was one axle in all of North America that would fit our machine and it’s in Mississippi,” Acton said, adding that they could find only two used excavators on the continent that matched the make and model of Sackville’s.

“We said, ‘well maybe we can get a used axle off of another machine for this one.’ Well, the one was $95,000 to buy the used piece of equipment, $95,000 U.S….the other one was $120,000 and it was out west.”

He and Beal considered renting an excavator but that would cost $7,000 to $9,000 a month, a hefty expenditure considering that the machine is used for up to eight months every year.

They also decided that contracting out digging jobs would be even more expensive.

A hole in the budget

Treasurer Michael Beal

Treasurer Beal said he’s not sure yet where the money for a replacement axle would come from. He suggested that the town could dip into the $80,000 it’s planning to transfer this year to a long-term reserve fund that will eventually pay for upgrading its sewage lagoons.

He added that there might be savings on other capital projects, although it’s too early to tell.

In the long term, he said, it’s better for the town to replace the excavator axle now and recover some of the money when the machine is traded in or auctioned off.

“If we sell this at auction in two to three years, we may reap back $25 to $50 to $75 thousand,” Beal said, “that we could then put back into the reserve fund, if we have to do that.”

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