No objections at public hearing to small Sackville pot grow-op

Planner Tracey Wade

Sackville moved a step closer to getting its first legal marijuana growing operation last week when town council held a formal public hearing on a proposal to set up a 2,150 square-foot cannabis greenhouse off Main Street near School Lane in Middle Sackville.

No one appeared before council to speak for or against the proposal put forward by Sackville residents Danny Fillmore and Sari Weinberg.

The couple have applied for permission to grow organic cannabis under a federal licence on agricultural land at the rear of their property.

Planner Tracey Wade told council that at a meeting last month, the Southeast Planning Review and Adjustment Committee (PRAC) passed a recommendation that Sackville change its zoning bylaw to permit such small-scale cannabis cultivation in areas that are zoned as agricultural/conservation.

“Cannabis cultivation generally is considered to be similar to the growing of other crops,” Wade told council. “It’s a growing of a product for human consumption, so it’s really hard to distinguish it between corn or other things.”

Wade added that the micro-cultivation of cannabis in a greenhouse with a 200 square-metre growing area would have a similar impact as a dairy barn whereas larger-scale or “standard” cultivation would not be appropriate in an agricultural zone.

“Standard cultivation, given that there’s no limit to size, the recommendation from staff is that it’s still considered more appropriate to be set up in an industrial zone,” she said.

Danny Fillmore and Sari Weinberg have applied for town approval to set up a marijuana growing greenhouse behind their home in Middle Sackville

In answer to a question from Councillor Shawn Mesheau, Wade acknowledged that one member of PRAC from the Cap-Pelé area voted against recommending a change in the zoning bylaw.

“I don’t even think it’s a formal application yet, but there’s talk about one of the largest outdoor cannabis growing operations being set up near Cap-Pelé, it’s a very sensitive topic,” Wade said. “We kept having to steer the discussion back to the issue of micro-cultivation in one specific zone,” she added.

Mesheau asked if there had been any concern about issues such as odour.

“The discussion was about that but again, the comparisons that were being made were some of the major operations in Quebec where there have been a lot of complaints,” Wade answered. “Again this is a micro [operation], so it’s limited in size and scope.”

According to Global TV News and the French-language newspaper L’Acadie Nouvelle, the Moncton-based company Solargram Farms is proposing to establish an open-air marijuana grow-op on 65-acres of land near Cap-Pelé.

Meantime, Sackville Town Council is expected to give first reading or approval-in-principle to the zoning change at its meeting next month with final approval likely in August.

To read earlier coverage, click here.

Vote on deputy mayor

Town council held its annual election for deputy mayor last week. Bruce Phinney nominated Shawn Mesheau for the post, while Joyce O’Neil nominated Ron Aiken, who has held the position for the past year.

In a show of hands, Mesheau received two votes, his and Phinney’s, while the other councillors voted for Aiken who will continue to serve as deputy mayor until the municipal election next year.

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Backgrounder on why Warktimes was wrong about children as young as six being allowed to ride ATVs on Sackville streets

Mayor John Higham

During the public question period at Monday’s town council meeting, Mayor John Higham raised concerns about the accuracy of a Warktimes report that quoted a spokesman for New Brunswick’s off-road vehicle enforcement unit.

On May 20, the spokesman told Warktimes that children as young as six could be operating smaller-sized, all-terrain vehicles on designated Sackville streets after the provincial minister of public safety gives final approval to a bylaw that town council passed last month.

When I asked if I could quote him by name, he replied that I should identify him as “a spokesman for off-road vehicle enforcement” and gave me his direct office number to call if I had any further questions.

His new information led me to post the following update to a story first published on May 17.

UPDATE: Last week, I called the New Brunswick off-road vehicle enforcement branch to check on age restrictions for ATV riders operating on designated town streets. A spokesman for off-road vehicle enforcement returned my call on Monday morning, May 20th. When I explained to him that as I understood it, the minimum age to operate an ATV on town streets would be 14, he corrected me saying that under provincial regulations children as young as six could operate an ATV on town streets provided they have a proper-sized ATV (ATV not exceeding 70cc). He explained that in effect, the town bylaw extends the trails to the designated streets, so the regulations that apply in the woods, also apply on the streets. Click here to view those regulations. The spokesman added however, that off-road enforcement officers rarely see children under age 15 riding their own ATVs on the trails. Younger kids usually ride as passengers on a parent’s ATV, he said. But, he stressed that under the regulations, the minimum age is indeed six. (Note: All ATVers from ages six to 16 must pass an approved safety course and be supervised by an adult, over 19, who has also taken a safety course.) I have updated the following piece to include the new information.

Journalist Bruce Wark

On May 29, I received this e-mail from Sarah Williams, communications officer for the provincial department of public safety:

Mr. Wark, 

Thank you for the opportunity to clarify some items in your post “Sackville Town Council approves ATVs on busy streets” … When it comes to all-terrain vehicles the Off-Road Vehicle Act designates drivers on managed trails as being 16 or older.  It does allow youths aged 14 and 15 years to enjoy those same privileges on managed trails provided they have successfully completed an approved all-terrain vehicle safety training course and are driving an all-terrain vehicle that is prescribed as appropriate for a person of that age. The youths must be in the clear view of a person who is 19 or older and who has also successfully completed an approved all-terrain vehicle safety training course. Your story references children as young as six being allowed on the road. This is not the case. Regulations under the Off-Road Vehicle Act only permit youth over the age of 14 to operate off-road vehicles on a managed trail, like the one being proposed by the Town of Sackville.  The Minister of Public Safety has not yet approved this by-law and ministerial approval is required under the Act. The act is accessible at: The regulations are accessible at:

Sarah Williams Communications Officer / Agente des communications Department of Public Safety / Ministère de la Sécurité publique

During Monday’s question period, Mayor Higham asked if the department of public safety had contacted me about the accuracy of my story. I said I had received an e-mail from a communications officer and explained that I had made repeated calls to the enforcement spokesman’s number leaving messages on his answering machine asking him to call me back for clarification, but no calls had been returned.

Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken pointed to section 19.31 of New Brunswick’s Off-Road Vehicle Act, which states:

Operation of off-road vehicle on a closed course by young person

19.31 Subject to the conditions prescribed by regulation, an off-road vehicle may be driven on a closed course by a person who is under the age of sixteen years if the closed course is operated by an organization accredited by the Registrar.

Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken

“It states quite explicitly in there [the Act] that anyone under 14 can only ride an ATV on a closed course,” the deputy mayor said referring to Section 19.31. He also referred to provincial regulations governing closed courses.

I responded that I had read the Off-Road Vehicle Act.

“I never go by my own interpretation of a law without checking with someone who knows what the words mean,” I said. “And that’s what I did.”

I have since found the online document Standards for Recreational-Use Closed-Courses which clearly supports the deputy mayor’s position:

In practical terms, a recreational-use closed-course is an area which is designed and managed to provide a safe, controlled environment where properly trained off-road vehicle users 6-13 years of age can operate age-appropriate off-road vehicles…

Q. Where can 6-13 year olds legally operate an off-road vehicle?

A. Persons 6 to 13 years of age inclusive may ONLY operate an age- appropriate off-road vehicle on a recreational-use closed as defined in the regulation.

To read the entire document, click here.

Warktimes regrets having published an incorrect story. If the minister of public safety approves the town bylaw, the minimum age for operating ATVs on Sackville streets will be 14 as long as young riders under age 16 have passed an authorized safety course and are supervised by someone over 19 who has also passed such a course.

I have corrected my earlier story.

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Treasurer says Sackville might have to raise taxes to pay for flood control project, but only in ‘worst-case scenario’

Treasurer Michael Beal

Sackville Treasurer Michael Beal told council on Monday night that while a tax increase might be needed to finance the Phase III completion of the Lorne Street flood control project, it would only be required as part of what he called “a worst-case scenario.”

Beal was speaking shortly before a majority of councillors voted to seek more money from the federal and provincial governments for Phase III. The town estimates it would cost $4.6 million with 40% of that money ($1.84 million) coming from the federal government.

The treasurer said that under his worst-case scenario, Sackville’s share would be 33% or $1.52 million, but if the province agreed to pay 33%, the town would need to contribute only $1.24 million. Beal’s worst-case scenario also includes borrowing money at 5% interest even though the town’s last financing cost less than 2.5%.

“I don’t want to say at this point in time that we could do this with a potential of no tax increase,” he said. “What my projections show is that in a worst-case scenario, it’s 33% municipal funding, 5% borrowing and our tax base stays relatively neutral, we could have to look at a one to one-and-a-half cent tax rate increase.”

(Last year, when the town raised taxes by one cent to $1.56 per $100 of assessment, it meant that a homeowner whose property was assessed at $100,000 paid $10 more per year in taxes.)

Beal said, however, that many factors are at play that could eliminate the need for a tax increase — factors that include the town’s share of the costs falling to 27%, borrowing costs under 5%, continued growth in the town’s tax base, lower than estimated Phase III construction costs and the use of money from the capital reserve fund that is left over from Phase II.

“If all goes well and [these] factors come into play, then again, we would not have to increase any tax rate,” Beal said.

Holding ponds, but no new aboiteau

Town Engineer Dwayne Acton

The Phase III project would include a 20,000 cubic metre (cm) storm water retention pond in the old Pickard Quarry as well as a 40,000 cm pond behind the community gardens 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.

Town Engineer Dwayne Acton told council that the addition of the two new retention ponds would add to the 40,000 cm pond now under construction as part of Phase II giving the town the 100,000 cm capacity it needs to handle a one-in-one-hundred year storm.

Phase III does not include plans for a bigger aboiteau to discharge water into the river because all aboiteaux in the area are owned by the provincial Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (DTI).

“We feel that DTI need to step up to the plate and upgrade their infrastructure to be able to handle the flow and the water that we [would] be sending towards a potentially new aboiteau,” Acton said.

He added that even if DTI didn’t come through with a new aboiteau, the retention pond in the quarry, the two larger ones east of Lorne Street and a series of deep ditches would be able to handle the water from major storms.

Although a majority of councillors voted in favour of seeking the federal and provincial money under the Investing in Canada infrastructure program, Sackville will be competing with other New Brunswick municipalities for the $5 million that the province has allocated as its share of the program.

For a timeline on how the Lorne Street flood control project has evolved since 2016, click here.

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Phinney calls for dismissal of senior town staff as Sackville councillors debate future of flood control project

Councillor Bruce Phinney

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 John Higham

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.

Fire insurance

Councillor Bill Evans

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.

Tax increase?

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.

CAO Phil Handrahan

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.

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Cool clear water: EOS testing new rain-friendly asphalt in Sackville

Town workers “depaving” parking spot beside Bill Johnstone Memorial Park

Town workers used a backhoe this week to rip up pavement and dig soil from a parking space on Ford Avenue beside Bill Johnstone Memorial Park. Then, they filled the hole with gravel to prepare for the installation of permeable asphalt that allows water to seep through it unlike the conventional kind that directs rain water into storm drains.

Parking spot and storm drain area filled with gravel

The “depaving” project was sponsored by EOS Eco-Energy, the non-profit group that promotes community-based ways of fighting climate change while adapting to it. The town contributed the preparation needed, while EOS and its other funding partners are paying Dexter Construction around $5,000 to install about 10 tonnes of the permeable asphalt.

EOS co-ordinator Kelli-Nicole Croucher explains project during “learning day” on Tuesday

On Tuesday, EOS Watershed Co-ordinator Kelli-Nicole Croucher conducted tours of the project for more than 50 government officials, planners and members of environmental groups who were visiting Sackville as part of a “learning day” on climate adaptation organized by the New Brunswick Environmental Network and paid for by the federal and provincial governments.

Workers installing permeable asphalt on Wednesday

As the new permeable asphalt went down on Wednesday, Croucher said she was excited to see Sackville’s first installation of it.

“It will allow the water cycle to continue as it should,” she said. “The water can infiltrate down into the ground so it’s recharging ground water and the one-metre fill that’s under this permeable asphalt also acts as a filter, so it’s actually removing contaminants and any pollutants,” she added.

“Once that water is entering the groundwater or going into the storm sewer system and then out to our water bodies, it’s actually improved,” Croucher said, adding that the filtered water helps maintain the health of the watershed.

She said EOS chose this particular spot for its permeable asphalt pilot project because water pools on the surface here during rain storms.

Croucher describes the test project to CBC reporter Tori Weldon

Croucher acknowledges that at the moment, permeable asphalt is more expensive than the conventional kind, but says the project is both a test to see how it works as well as a demonstration project for public viewing.

“We’re expecting a lot of rain tomorrow, so it will be great to see how it performs right off the bat,” she said, referring to the Thursday forecast predicting steady rain.

Permeable asphalt appears to pass its first rain test on Thursday (click to enlarge)

Croucher says EOS and the town will monitor the new asphalt for a year to see how well it works.

For more information, click here.

EOS staff at asphalt event. L-R: Amelia Moore, Amanda Marlin, Kelli-Nicole Croucher, Eric Arbeau

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Questions raised about discovery of contaminated materials during ‘learning day’ tour of Sackville’s new flood control project

Town engineer Dwayne Acton conducting tour of St. James St. flood control pond

More than 50 land-use planners, government officials, academics and members of environmental organizations visited Sackville Tuesday to learn about the town’s climate change adaptation projects including the new $2.5 million flood control pond that is still under construction.

The event, which was billed as Learning Day: Natural and Nature-Based Climate Adaptation, was organized by the New Brunswick Environmental Network and paid for by the federal and provincial governments.

Town engineer Dwayne Acton and senior manager Jamie Burke delivered a slide presentation on the Lorne Street flood control project at the Sackville Commons and then led participants on a tour of the 40,000 cubic metre storm water pond that is part of Phase II of the project.

“We tried to keep the natural features, groves of trees that were native to this area,” Acton told tour participants as they stood beside the pond on the south side of St. James Street. “We tried to create our own naturalized retention pond.”

He said any additional costs of keeping the natural features were “minimal, minimal,” adding that the pond’s service roads would double as walkways connecting to the town’s extensive trail network.

Acton pointed to an excavator on the west side of the pond that was loading creosoted rail ties and concrete onto a truck that would haul them along with soil laced with petroleum, aromatic hydrocarbons and heavy metals to a disposal facility in Memramcook.

As reported earlier, disposing of the contaminated materials is adding an extra $500,000 to the cost of the project.

Acton explained that the town originally planned to drain storm water to a second larger pond.

Plans had to be changed after bids on the original one came in at $6 million, double the original budget.

“But then we were able to acquire a lot of land from CN which turned out to be a bit of a mess,” he said, referring to the discovery of the contaminated materials on the railway’s property.

View of pond from where tour participants were standing

When someone wondered whether CN was motivated to give up the land because the company would benefit from a flood control project near its tracks, manager Jamie Burke responded that the town hasn’t figured out “what really motivates them,” adding that CN had an old office building that he probably wouldn’t want to put his dog in, so that when the town offered to buy a more modern building in the industrial park, CN agreed to swap the land for it.

The group laughed when Burke went on to say, “They said ‘OK, you do that for us and we’ll give you the rest of the property as is, where is.'”

When a participant asked about CN’s financial responsibility for removing the contaminated materials, Burke said: “They own property all across the country and their properties are contaminated across the country, so they don’t want to get into the contaminated land business.”

He added that CN told the town the storm water would have to be stored on the north side of its tracks.

“So despite the federal government, the provincial government, the town of Sackville making improvements to protect not only our own municipality, but a piece of national, critical infrastructure which is the train track,” Burke said, “they have yet to contribute any money to the overall project other than partnering in the land exchange.”

When another participant asked whether the town had exercised “due diligence” in acquiring the CN land, Acton responded that six or eight bore holes had been drilled to test the soil.

Later, after the group had moved to the other end of the pond near Crescent Street, Burke said that good communication, including his regular updates on the town’s website, are key to maintaining public support.

He acknowledged that there is still opposition to the town’s approach from a small and persistent group, but suggested half jokingly that the critics might be silenced when Sackville eventually wins awards for its flood control project.

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Sackville manager says onus was on the town, not CN, in property swap

Coun. Michael Tower

Sackville manager Jamie Burke says the town was in a difficult position when it was negotiating with CN to acquire just over 6.7 acres from the railway for the construction of a big flood control pond south of St. James Street.

He was responding during Monday’s special council meeting to a question from Councillor Michael Tower who asked whether municipal officials made any attempt to find out from CN what they had buried on the property.

The town has since discovered about 14-thousand tonnes of soil laced with petroleum, aromatic hydrocarbons, heavy metals and other contaminated materials that will cost taxpayers half a million dollars to clean up.

“Everybody in town knew that CN had junk in that thing and you had enough warning from everybody around town about it,” Tower said.

Burke responded that he was the main person involved in the land transactions with CN.

“CN was in a duty to disclose if they had any contamination on the property,” Burke said. “They did not disclose that they had any.”

He added that since CN had an office on the property and still needed one, the town offered to trade the AutoPlus building it acquired at 124 Crescent Street.

As part of the deal, CN indicated it would give its old property to the town on an “as is” basis.

“We had conversations with CN’s real estate team as we were going through the process,” Burke said. “They were not interested in any type of geo-technical investigation being done on that property.”

He said that when the contamination was discovered, the town asked CN for any information it had about what might have been stored on the site, but the company said it had no information in its files.

Town manager Jamie Burke

“This has been a difficult, difficult situation from the very start,” Burke said. “It is an unfortunate situation and, as we’ve said from the very start, thankfully the budget allows us to be able to remove the [contaminated] material; removing the material, we still think, it’s the right thing to do.”

Mayor John Higham asked Burke to respond to his summary of the situation in which the mayor said: “CN had no interest in providing the land if there was an option to look for contaminants before exercising that option.”

“I can’t say specifically that they’ve indicated that they weren’t interested in that, but I’d be very surprised if they would have permitted a geo-technical investigation of any sort,” Burke answered, “because what happens is that sometimes when you find contamination on your property, there’s then an obligation for you to clean it up.”

Burke added that CN needed a new office and offered the land behind Atlantic Towing on Lorne Street where its old one sat on an “as is, where is” basis.

“‘You need to get us an office because we have an office in that area where we [the town] want to put the pond,” Burke said summarizing CN’s position.

“The onus was on the municipality,” he concluded.

To listen to this two minute and fifty second segment of Monday’s town council meeting, click on the media player below:

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