Sackville councillors urged to buy old quarry, but several worry about costs

L-R: Richard Elliot, Peter Manchester, Sandy Burnett

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.”

Quarry history

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.

Part of the old Pickard Quarry near the Mt. A. campus

Private fundraising

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.”

Council skeptics

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.

Town drawing showing proposed quarry flood control project with access road (2) and dam (5)

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.

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4 Responses to Sackville councillors urged to buy old quarry, but several worry about costs

  1. Rima Azar says:

    To “buy a pig in a poke”: What a cute yet wise expression by Councillor Butcher’s mom. Funny as in French, the equivalent is about a cat, not a pig (“il ne faut pas achetee/vendre chat dans poche”). The idea is the same: Do not buy something without first seeing it/evaluating it.

    This being said, my comment is strictly grammatical (no opinion). Thank you for this lesson. I wonder if Ms. Beale (from the earlier article on Scobie’s book) would have enjoyed this English expression :).

  2. Geoff Martin says:

    I am sorry to say the councillors who are being quoted are mostly not showing much vision. The Town is a large operation ($9.5 million in property taxes) and it needs to be more innovative to spur development and a positive external representation — not just fall back on the need to spend more on asphalt!

    • Percy Best says:

      Yes Geoff, it is mind boggling that so little is being done on behalf of real Economic Development by those in control of the purse strings here in our ever population shrinking town. Their non-actions are certainly being reflected in the current value of the existing stock of older homes. Some actually seem quite proud of the fact that they are paying less property tax than in previous years as a result of their provincial assessment lowering. Thinking maybe a real wake-up call is in order.
      As far as the proposed million dollar Quarry Park is concerned it is interesting that nothing seems to be factored in as far as the additional annual cost to the Town taxpayer for the future years of maintaining it.

  3. Dodie Perkin says:

    I just posted these comments on the Tribune-Post page, under the article reporting the same information about the Quarry.

    I’m sorry, but the questions of liability and property taxes and maintenance raised by Councillors Black, Butcher, O’Neill and Phinney in this (Tribune Post) article are all questions that, as a taxpayer, I would have expected would have been asked and debated long before a proposal was submitted for federal funding, and long before the Council agreed to put aside any budget money for this project. By submitting the proposal for federal funding (even if it has since been denied), the Town has already provided its support for the development of the Quarry in this way. It is irresponsible to raise these issues at this point — what would have happened if the federal funding had been received? Would you have put the project on hold while you figured out these issues? Was the Town not going to own the property under the federal proposal? Who was going to pay these costs if the funding had been received? To me, this sounds like Town Council trying to weasel out of using the funds already committed towards this project. $200,000 (if my memory is correct) can go at least a little way to improving trails and signage.

    If you weren’t prepared to fund maintenance, insurance and property taxes, you should never have supported the proposal to the federal government in the first place.

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