For the fourth time in as many decades, Sackville Town Council is being urged to buy the old Pickard Quarry from Mount Allison University for a nominal sum and turn it into an urban wilderness park.
During their meeting on Monday, councillors heard that more than 80 species of birds visit or nest on the quarry property, 20 kinds of mammals can also be found there along with frogs, turtles, garter snakes and several species of small freshwater fish.
“We feel that it’s an outstanding opportunity for demonstrating this community’s commitment to the conservation of nature,” said Sandy Burnett who was a leading figure in the establishment of the Sackville Waterfowl Park.
“For nearly 30 years, we’ve benefitted from the Waterfowl Park as a showplace that has drawn a great deal of attention and a great deal of reputation for the town,” Burnett said.
“Establishment of the quarry park would add to that particular kind of lustre, thanks basically to the fact that for 40 years, the quarry has been neglected; it’s become a self-sustaining mix of urban wildlife habitats…all in just a few acres in the middle of town.”
Burnett argued that a park could also feature interpretive displays showing how red sandstone from the quarry was used in buildings at Mount Allison as well as in cities such as Saint John, Halifax, Ottawa and Toronto where the Ontario legislative building is made of Sackville’s distinctive stone.
He said the Chignecto Naturalists’ Club, the Tantramar Outdoor Club, the Tantramar Heritage Trust, EOS Eco-Energy and Michael Fox of the Mt. A. department of geography and environment all support turning the quarry into a town park. To read Professor Fox’s letter to council, click here.
Burnett was accompanied by Peter Manchester who has lived near the quarry for 25 years and wildlife biologist Richard Elliot who, along with Kate Bredin, compiled a survey of the species on the former quarry site.
Peter Manchester told council that many people are using the quarry now as an unofficial park.
“There are people going in there finding it as a meditative space, we want to see that as a focus point of this park,” he said. “The last thing we want to see is a big financial infusion into developing the area. We see it as a natural, beautiful asset now in the state that it’s in.”
Manchester pointed to the network of trails that the Tantramar Outdoor Club has created in the Walker Road reservoir area and said community-based groups could create trails in the quarry park. He added that a non-profit corporation raised money for the Waterfowl Park and it might be possible to set one up for the quarry.
Manchester urged the town to move the project forward by acquiring the quarry from Mt. A.
“We want to see this property secured so it’s not going to find its way into any other use aside from a green space within the heart of town,” he said. “Through town co-operation, community co-operation and other endeavours, we can find the money so it’s not coming from the tax base of Sackville to develop this property.”
Councillor Andrew Black said that while he thought a quarry park was a “great idea,” he’s concerned about the town having to pay property taxes, maintenance costs and insurance premiums if it buys the property from the university.
“So, I guess the question is, is it worth for us to have it, if it’s going to cost us money?” he asked.
Councillor Bruce Phinney wondered why, if the quarry is such a gem, Mount Allison isn’t applying for government money to develop it or offering to go into partnership with the town. Phinney predicted that Mt. A. would want to send biology students there to study the flora and fauna.
Phinney and other councillors noted that the town has set aside $200,000 in this year’s capital budget for a quarry project that would include not only a park, but also a dam or weir to retain water during heavy rains as a downtown flood prevention measure.
The money was to be used along with a $1 million climate change adaptation grant from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, but the town failed to get the FCM grant.
“I’d like to see the $200,000 go on the roads because we’ve got some terrible roads,” Phinney said.
He added that the town can’t afford the potential liability costs if it acquires the old quarry.
“If anything was ever to happen, we’d probably be sued and then we’d be bankrupt,” he warned.
Councillor Joyce O’Neil suggested that the town should be more concerned about building the dam in the quarry to retain water before it goes ahead with the park. (Town manager Jamie Burke said a dam would cost $225,000.)
Councillor Allison Butcher said that while a quarry park “would be wonderful,” she worries about spending money to acquire and maintain the property when the town had to raise property taxes to balance its budget.
“I think that we should look into the possibility of acquiring the land but, like some other councillors have said, this is not a time for us to be spending,” Butcher said.
“What does it mean for taxes, what does it mean for legal fees, land transfer [taxes], what does it mean moving forward as we have that land?” she asked. “We don’t want to, as my mother would say, buy a pig in a poke.”
Megan Mitton was the only councillor to speak in favour of acquiring the quarry property.
“I would hate to see us miss the opportunity to be able to secure the property,” she said, adding that, as the town continues to apply for grants, a quarry project could meet several goals including adapting to climate change through flood control measures, conserving wildlife and promoting awareness of local history.
“I’m glad that this is before us again and I hope we can move forward with it,” Mitton said.