In a 6-2 vote Monday, Sackville Town Council approved applying for more money to complete Phase III of the Lorne Street flood control project at a cost to the town of between $1.24 and $1.52 million.
If the application is successful, the rest of the project’s estimated $4.6 million cost would come from the federal and provincial governments.
The Phase III project would include a retention pond in the old Pickard Quarry, now owned by Mount Allison University, as well as a 40,000 cubic metre pond behind the community garden on Charles Street along with ditches and piping to carry storm water through the industrial park to a provincially owned aboiteau on the Tantramar River near the town’s main sewage lagoons.
In expressing his opposition to the project, Councillor Bruce Phinney called on the town to replace Crandall Engineering, the Moncton-based consulting firm that so far, has led the design and oversight of all three phases of the Lorne Street project.
“I have no faith in Crandall Engineering,” Phinney said, adding he’s also starting to have concerns about the town’s senior staff.
“I’m actually even making a recommendation that Mr. [Jamie] Burke, Mr. [Dwayne] Acton and Mr. [Phil] Handrahan be removed from the employment of this town and find somebody to replace them as well.”
When Mayor John Higham warned Phinney that his words carried no immunity and that legal action could be taken against him, the councillor responded that he was recommending replacement of the Senior Manager of Corporate Projects, the Town Engineer and its Chief Administrative Officer because their mistakes cost $525,000.
Phinney was referring to the discovery of 14-thousand tonnes of contaminated soil and other materials on land the town acquired on an “as is” basis from CN Rail in order to dig a 40,000 cubic metre retention pond that is still under construction as part of Phase II of the flood control project.
To read a transcript of Phinney’s remarks, click here.
Mayor explains need for Phase III
Mayor Higham prefaced the debate over whether the town should apply for more funding to complete Phase III by reminding councillors that in 2014, CN Rail had threatened to sue Sackville because of flooding.
Although CN withdrew its threat then, the mayor described the company as “very litigious” believing that the courts would side with it if flooding caused a shut down that would disrupt its whole system.
“Any train that’s stalled here affects basically a supply line that goes across North America,” Higham said.
“If we’re lucky and it’s only for an hour or two, that’s significant, but it does delay a whole variety of other trains for an hour or two. So, if it’s going to be a day or two, recall this is going to be tens of millions of dollars of potential liability. Tens of millions of dollars.”
The mayor suggested that insurance would cover the town’s liability only if it invests in flood control projects designed to handle one-in-one-hundred-year storms.
“The reality of the insurance industry is if you do not build to what is a one-in-one-hundred year event that you’re aware of and know of, then your insurance doesn’t apply because you consciously chose not to build to the acceptable standard of the day,” Higham said.
To read a transcript of the mayor’s remarks, click here.
In supporting the motion to seek more funds for completion of Phase III, Councillor Bill Evans said the town would be preparing itself for a worst-case scenario, flooding that may never happen.
“Most of the time, it’s going to look like we don’t need this,” Evans said. “The retention ponds will be empty most of the time and even when there’s significant rainfall events, they’re not all going to be full,” he added.
“This is preparing for the worst case. So I just want to make that point to all the people who say ‘we don’t need to do this’ because it’s like I had a house for 40 years and had fire insurance for 40 years and never got a penny, so I guess that was a big mistake having fire insurance. I don’t think so.”
Councillor Shawn Mesheau, who voted with Phinney against the motion to apply for more Phase III funds, suggested that council was being pressured into making a quick decision.
Town manager Jamie Burke responded that the town didn’t know the cost-shared, funding program would be going ahead until May 7th when the province invited municipalities with “shovel-ready” projects to apply by June 28.
CAO Phil Handrahan sounded exasperated at the criticism of town staff saying that he and the department heads have always worked hard in the best interests of the town and its citizens following directions given to them by the mayor and council.
“You people were elected to make the decisions and be accountable to the public. We’re here to do what you want us to do and you direct us to do it. That’s all we’re trying to do,” Handrahan said.
The CAO picked up on Treasurer Michael Beal’s financial analysis showing that although it’s unlikely, council might have to raise taxes to cover its share of the costs of the flood control project.
“It pushes us financially. It doesn’t fit with where we hoped to be,” Handrahan said. “It might mean a tax increase in a year or two, but our financial position compared to other municipalities and our borrowing capacity, we’re in very good shape in Sackville,” he added.
“If it scares you, don’t do it,” Handrahan told council. “Sit back and do nothing and we’ll just see what happens because you’re right, we haven’t had a flood in a few years, but you had three of them in my first two years here that weren’t supposed to be the one-in-one-hundred, but it shut us down and there was lots of criticism and complaints,” he said.
To read a transcript of the CAO’s remarks, click here.
Bill Evans was the only councillor to respond to Bruce Phinney’s call for the dismissal of senior staff. To read his comments, click here.
To read the motion that was approved by Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken, Councillors Allison Butcher, Andrew Black, Joyce O’Neil, Bill Evans and Michael Tower, click here.