Sackville councillors hear about new Indigenous Reserve and commercial development near Aulac

Mayor Higham commenting on the proposed new Indigenous Reserve

The Town of Sackville has been asked to welcome a new neighbour after learning that the Fort Folly First Nation near Dorchester is requesting the creation of an Indigenous Reserve on the former CBC transmitter property near Aulac.

Councillors were told at their meeting on December 3rd that the new, 308 acre/124 hectare Reserve would be used for unspecified commercial development.

“Commercial development could be a number of things from retail, power generation, etc.,” said town manager Jamie Burke who was outlining the contents of a letter from a federal official with Indigenous Services Canada in Amherst.

The letter asks the town for any comments it may have about the proposed new Reserve and encourages local officials to take “a good neighbour approach” in dealing with First Nations.

“There is no clear understanding of what they wish to do with the land at this point,” Mayor Higham told council. “They just wish to get it into a Reserve status and then consider what those options might be,” he added.

Land purchase

A non-profit Mi’kmaq organization named Mi’gmawe’l Tplu’taqnn purchased the land from the CBC in 2017 for $50,000 and now the Fort Folly First Nation is seeking federal approval to operate it as a Reserve.

“We’re having somebody move into our neighbourhood,” said Councillor Bill Evans. “In terms of friendliness, I welcome this.”

But he added that the town isn’t in a position to say much more.

“As long as implicit in that welcoming statement, there isn’t a commitment to do anything other than interact in good faith, I’m all for it,” Evans said, adding, “but that’s all we’re really in a position to say right now, is it not?”

Municipal services

Mayor Higham, who operates a consulting business that serves First Nations clients, said if the land does become a Reserve, its development would not be subject to the provisions of New Brunswick’s planning laws.

“It has a different form of development opportunity and responsibility,” Higham said.

“Some of the services that they will probably need may have to come from us, particularly for emergency response, fire etc.” Higham noted. He added that the new Reserve may also need water and sewer services.

“The mayor said that typically in cases such as this, there would be a municipal services agreement negotiated between the town and the First Nation.

Meantime, the federal letter is asking the town for its comments on the proposed Reserve by February 1st.

So far, my calls to the Fort Folly First Nation have not been returned.

N.B. Property Assessment Map showing outline of property with Tantramar River (top) and TransCanada Hwy (bottom) The white CBC transmitter building is near centre-right.

Posted in Indigenous affairs, Town of Sackville | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Sackville councillors award $1.9 million flood control contract, but Phinney votes no

Councillor Bruce Phinney

The final tally was 5-1 as a majority of   Sackville councillors voted Monday night to award a contract worth $1,985,499.58 to Birch Hill Construction Ltd. of Moncton.

Birch Hill was the lowest of six bidders on a project to construct a 40,000 cubic metre storm water retention pond with pedestrian walkways around it in a downtown marshy area south of St. James Street and east of Lorne.

The contract also calls for construction of a smaller pond near the foot of Dufferin Street with ditches leading to pipes and culverts under the CN Rail line and Crescent Street to connect with a ditch owned by the provincial Department of Transportation and Infrastucture (DTI) near the old railway station.

That ditch would carry storm water out past the Armtec plant to an old DTI aboiteau and then into the Tantramar River at low tide.

To see an engineer’s drawing of the new retention ponds, ditches, culverts and walking trails between Lorne and St. James Streets, click here.

Phinney says no

“I’m going to be frank and blunt,” said Councillor Bruce Phinney as he served notice he would vote against awarding the contract.

“I don’t have any faith in Crandall Engineering anymore,” Phinney said, referring to the Moncton-based consulting firm that designed the project.

“I’m sorry, they just seem to be winging it,” he added. “I really feel that it’s the wrong way to go. I think we need to stop it now.”

Crandall originally designed a project with two large retention ponds that would release storm water through a series of ditches and culverts in the industrial park to a new aboiteau at the river beside one of the town’s sewage lagoons.

But bids for the project came in at $5.9 million, double the $2.9 million all three levels of government had allocated for it forcing the engineering firm to scale the project back.

More ponds needed

Phinney stressed the fact that for flood control to work properly during especially heavy rainstorms, engineers say the town would need to contain at least 100,000 cubic metres of water.

The town does have tentative plans to spend about $350,000 constructing an additional 22,000 cubic metre retention pond in the old quarry above Salem Street.

But Phinney says that if the town buys the quarry from Mount Allison University, it would be taking on a huge potential liability if someone gets injured or killed there.

He also points out that even with a quarry retention pond, the town would be able to contain only 62,000 cubic metres, well short of what’s needed.

“How much more money are we going to have to spend to hopefully get up to a hundred thousand cubic metres?” Phinney asked. “This seems to be a never-ending pot of money somewhere, I don’t know where it’s coming from, but we’ll certainly be putting it on the backs of the taxpayers.”

Town priority

Councillor Bill Evans

Councillor Bill Evans spoke strongly in favour of approving the $1.9 million contract for the latest phase of the flood control project.

“I think it was two years ago at our priority session, we determined that flood mitigation was our number one priority,” Evans said.

He added that since then, the town had gone ahead with the successful $5.4 million first phase of the Lorne Street project before running into the higher-than-expected bids for the second phase.

“The proposal that we have is very impressive as far as I’m concerned,” Evans said. “We are doing the best that we can afford to do and we are also doing it in such a way that if we do get extra funding, we’ll be able to add to this project with minimal undoing.”

Evans argued that even though this latest project falls short of the 100,000 cubic metre goal, being able to contain about two-thirds of the water is a good thing.

“The alternative would be to say no to the money [from the others levels of government] and not do anything,” Evans  said. “I’m almost speechless considering that alternative.”

Councillor Michael Tower agreed.

“As Councillor Evans said, if we didn’t do something, we’re going to be in a mess, [a] bigger mess if we did what Councillor Phinney wants us to do,” Tower said.

Legal requirements

Later during the question period, Mayor Higham warned that climate modelling experts predict that the town would need to contain up to 200,000 cubic metres during a one-in-one-hundred year rainstorm which could come anytime.

“That amount of water will create a flow out of, at the bottom of Lorne Street, of 11 cubic metres a second,” the mayor said. “In order to get that out, you’d have to build a railway bridge for the CN tracks for it [the water] to flow under.”

Mayor Higham added that the town is legally obliged to work toward that one-in-one-hundred-year industry standard and that’s why it’s hoping to get more money from the provincial and federal governments to build a flood control system that would contain storm water until it could flow to a new aboiteau at the river near one of the sewage lagoons as originally planned.

To read earlier stories about the need for large, storm water retention ponds, click here.

To listen to my question about a future phase of the Lorne Street project and Mayor Higham’s answer, click on the media player below.

Posted in Environment, Town of Sackville | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Shawn Mesheau wins Sackville by-election

Councillor-elect Shawn Mesheau

Shawn Mesheau celebrated with supporters Monday night in Ducky’s pub after his victory in the municipal by-election to fill the vacant seat on Sackville town council.

Unofficial results from Elections New Brunswick show Mesheau winning with 470 votes while his nearest rival Sabine Dietz received 296. Dylan Wooley-Berry came third with 216 with Brian Neilson receiving 113 and Julia Feltham 104.

“I’m very excited and I am honoured,” a beaming Mesheau said during an interview with The New Wark Times.

Mesheau, who has already served three terms on council, added: “I’m excited about getting back in there, back with some former colleagues and with some new colleagues too.”

‘Balanced approach’

He promised to bring a “balanced approach” to council, seeking the “diverse economy that we used to have in years past.”

When asked what he meant by balance, Mesheau responded that the town has been focussing on one initiative or another without taking an overall approach.

“We do really well at community development, we’re weak at economic development,” he said, adding that his recent participation in a public consultation on the town’s business development strategy showed him that the business community needs a voice, especially since the demise of the local Chamber of Commerce.

“We’ve lost that voice with the Chamber being gone,” he said. “Where is the voice now?”

To listen to the interview with Shawn Mesheau, click on the media player below.

Next time

“I’m a bit disappointed with the results,” said Sabine Dietz who was also with her supporters in Ducky’s Monday night.

She added she was encouraged that the results showed that more than half of Sackville’s voters “would like to see a different voice.”

Dietz explained that a “different voice” would mean longer-term, strategic thinking in which the environment and climate change would be central aspects of public policy rather than a short-term focus on jobs.

“Let’s just see what happens with the next municipal election, so hopefully we can get some more progressive people into council,” she said, adding she may well run again for council herself in 2020.

To listen to the interview with Sabine Dietz, click on  the media player below.

Welcome aboard?

Meantime, as Shawn Mesheau celebrated his victory, Sackville town councillors were wrapping up their regular December meeting.

Only three councillors responded when they were asked during the question period about Mesheau’s win.

Bill Evans said he was going to send Mesheau an e-mail congratulating him, but couldn’t because he was the only candidate who didn’t file his e-mail address with Elections New Brunswick.

“So, I’m going to take this opportunity to say congratulations, I look forward to working with him,” Evans added.

“I enjoyed working with Shawn,” said Councillor Bruce Phinney, “sometimes we had our differences, but overall we worked well together and I look forward to working with him again.”

Councillor Michael Tower also congratulated Mesheau saying they had worked together on municipal finance and other committees.

“We worked fairly well together,” Tower said, “there were times when it wasn’t the smoothest, but we worked well together and he’s had the experience and it will be nice to have him come aboard.”

Mayor Higham, who has had his differences with Mesheau, said nothing at all.

Mesheau will be sworn into office at Sackville Town Council’s next regular meeting on January 14.

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Sackville by-election candidates weigh in on planting, protecting and preserving town trees

Main St. looking south toward the university from Wright St. This is one of five photos showing lost trees that Kevin Anderson sent to the municipal by-election candidates

Four of the five candidates running for a seat on town council have responded positively to the idea that Sackville should take more action to protect, preserve and replace its trees.

In an e-mail to the candidates, Kevin Anderson, who runs Woodpecker Tree Care, said he has conducted surveys showing that since 2002, “an alarming number of trees have been lost” in Sackville.

He adds that the trees, part of the town’s urban forest, have fallen victim to Dutch elm disease, old-age, storms, development and civic improvements such as sidewalk and street widening as well as sewage upgrades.

Anderson’s e-mail asks the candidates if they’re elected, how they would work with him and others to better inform themselves about the loss of trees and how they would have council and staff actively work toward renewing and improving the urban forest.

“In addition,” he asks, “would you, as councillor, support a yearly budget earmarked for tree planting to allow us to maintain and improve our immediate local environment for the future?”

To read, Kevin Anderson’s complete e-mail to the candidates, click here.

Note: Anderson asked the candidates for permission before sending their answers to The New Wark Times. (He sent them in the order he received them.)

Another photo that Kevin Anderson sent to the candidates showing tree loss

Sabine Dietz

Candidate Sabine Dietz responded that she expressed her concern to town council in writing recently about the loss of the birch trees in the Lafford apartment development on the former United Church property; that she also spoke with former Councillor Megan Mitton about the need for a by-law to replace lost trees; and, that she has talked with staff and councillors over the last few years about improving tree cover to reduce the risk of flooding especially in an era of climate change.

She added that “maintaining biodiversity in communities is essential. That includes reducing asphalted surface in favor of permeable surfaces, more trees, more green spaces that are not lawns,” she wrote.

“Trees reduce heat islands in towns and cities, contribute to water retention, and slow down rain as it hits the ground, and thus they help reduce the eroding impacts from heavy rainfall events,” her e-mail says.

Dietz suggests enacting a by-law requiring the replacement of any lost trees in developments; developing an urban forestry plan to increase the number of trees and green spaces as well as public education about the many benefits of trees and green spaces.

To read Sabine Dietz’s complete e-mail response, click here.

Dylan Wooley-Berry

Dylan Wooley-Berry wrote that he supported the idea of improving Sackville’s urban forest and that if elected, he would pursue it after conducting his own research and seeking information from community members, town officials and experts.

“Off the top of my head, it would seem reasonable to enact a ‘one-down, one-up’ policy, where if a tree on town land needed to be cut down, the town would automatically plan to plant a replacement in the general area,” he writes.

“I think one of the things that makes Sackville such a special town is the remarkable natural beauty that surrounds it and exists within it,” Wooley-Berry adds. “I believe that the town has a responsibility to protect and conserve it. This is why I have been critical of town council’s decision to allow development to creep towards the waterfowl park.”

To read Dylan Wooley-Berry’s complete e-mail, click here.

Brian Neilson

Candidate Brian Neilson’s e-mail says he remembered Kevin Anderson’s presentation to town council a couple of years ago about the need for an annual tree planting program. Neilson adds that it makes sense to “plant and wait,” rather than to “wait and plant.”

“My interest would be to plant native species and I have an aversion to monoculture,” Neilson writes.

“I don’t know of a specific mechanism as such right now that would seek out stakeholder input but I would be happy to incorporate an urban forestry line item into future town budgets,” he adds. “I think that gas tax rebates for instance would be a good source of funds for the ongoing project and would work to alleviate the impact of emissions on our common future.”

Neilson writes that although it can be difficult for some residents to understand the aesthetic and environmental benefits of investing in trees, it’s still worth working for “even if we need to articulate it as a part of a flood mitigation strategy.”

To read Brian Neilson’s complete e-mail, click here.

Shawn Mesheau

Candidate Shawn Mesheau wrote his research showed that trees provide many benefits including health, relaxation and well-being while preventing soil erosion, providing shade, reducing wind speeds and noise pollution and attracting businesses and tourists.

Mesheau writes he believes in a balanced approach to ensuring the town continues to flourish. He suggests that since all sectors benefit from trees, it would be good to ensure that tourism and other businesses work with environmentalists and residents on improving urban forestry.

“What I would think would be appropriate is for the community, calling upon sectors, to become the catalyst to coming up with a plan on improving our urban forest,” he adds. “Look into what other communities are doing and finding means to financially support efforts with the town helping when called upon.

“We all have a role to play in funding this, municipal, provincial, federal, community. What an ‘advisory committee on urban forests’ could do is pull together a plan, break it down into maintaining the health of trees, replacing trees and ensuring that urban forestation is part of planning development,” Mesheau writes.

To read Shawn Mesheau’s complete e-mail, click here.

In an e-mail to Warktimes, Kevin Anderson writes that candidate Julia Feltham “sent a short response from a seminar and will try to send more soon.”

To read coverage about the town’s tree planting program in 2016, click here.

One notable photo of lost trees near Exit 506 that was not distributed to the candidates

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Deputy Mayor wants more ‘hard’ information before approving latest flood control project

Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken

Sackville’s deputy mayor complained during last Monday’s town council meeting that he hasn’t been getting enough information on the latest phase of the Lorne Street flood control project.

“I feel a little like a mushroom,” Ron Aiken said. “I’ve been kept in the dark, but I haven’t got much meat to deal with,” he added.

“I’m being asked to vote on something I don’t really completely understand.”

Aiken made his comments after Town Engineer Dwayne Acton reported the town has received six bids ranging from $1,985,000 to $2,608,000 for construction of two storm water retention ponds that would drain into pipes, culverts and ditches on the way to the Tantramar River. Acton said town staff still need to evaluate the bids before recommending one for council’s approval.

“I spent my career as a research scientist,” Aiken said, “and I like numbers and I like to see what they are, so I can evaluate them.”

The deputy mayor mentioned, for example, he’d like to see more “hard data” on water discharge rates and retention capacity to show whether the flood control project will do what it’s supposed to.

Public criticism

“We’ve heard from members of the public about [how] it can be done a lot cheaper,” Aiken said, adding however, that the critics haven’t supplied much hard information either.

He was referring to persistent questions and comments from Sackville resident Keith Carter, who along with Percy Best and former councillor Merlin Estabrooks, argue that the town should abandon its plans for expensive water retention ponds surrounded by walking trails and rely instead on deeper ditches that would carry storm water in a southerly direction across the marshes to Carters Brook in West Sackville.

Councillor Bruce Phinney echoed Aiken’s concerns.

“I’m going to have some very serious questions as well,” Phinney said. “I have great concerns about what we are being told [and] what we have been told,” he added.

Project drawing

Engineer’s drawing shows large water retention pond south of St. James St. and a smaller pond near the foot of Dufferin St. with ditches leading to pipes and culverts under the CN Rail line and Crescent St. to connect with a ditch in the marshes near the old railway station (click to enlarge)

The town and its consultant Crandall Engineering have revised this phase of the Lorne Street flood control project several times to keep costs within the original $2.9 million budget.

However, Crandall Engineer Pierre Plourde, Mayor John Higham and the town engineer say more will need to be done to prevent downtown flooding during heavy rain storms.

For earlier coverage, click here.

Acton says the town is still planning to construct a storm water retention pond in the old quarry above Salem Street.

He explained that the town would need approval, however, from its funding partner, the Clean Water and Wastewater Fund, to alter the scope of the project to include a quarry pond.

Meantime, Acton is expected to ask town councillors on Monday to award the contract for construction of the retention ponds east of Lorne Street so that the work could be done this winter.

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Sackville town council candidates discuss their dreams and pet projects

Dylan Wooley-Berry

“Free public Wi Fi downtown,” was the answer town council candidate Dylan Wooley-Berry gave last week during an all-candidates forum at the Tantramar Civic Centre.

He was responding to Sackville resident Chris Eaton who asked all five candidates running in the by-election for the vacant council seat about their dreams for the town and “the one thing that when you come to council, you’re going to champion and it will be your pet project.”

Wooley-Berry answered that establishing free wireless Internet access is something that could be done in the months before the next municipal election in 2020.

He added that it’s already in place in more than 100 communities across Ontario.

“They use that public Wi Fi zone to collect data on the people downtown using it, so they can tell how many people are in the zone,” he said, “and how many people are choosing to shop and search in the zone for a certain thing. They collect that data, they aggregate it and then they give it free of charge to local businesses.”

Wooley-Berry said since there’s no longer a Sackville Chamber of Commerce, free Wi Fi would be an innovative way to support local businesses.

Local jobs

Shawn Mesheau

“I want people to not have to drive somewhere to go to work,” said candidate Shawn Mesheau.

“I want people to be able to work here.”

He added that he remembered his father standing in the window of their home looking out at Atlantic Wholesalers on the day it shut down. He said his father had worked there for 35 years.

“He looked at me and and he said, ‘All I wanted was my kids to be able to work in town and raise a family here.’ That’s what my vision is,” Mesheau said.

“It’s for us not to have to rely on development happening elsewhere for us to be able to have employment here in our home,” he added.

‘Solution economy’

Julia Feltham

“I would love to see Sackville be the centre of a solution economy,” said candidate Julia Feltham.

She suggested that with Alberta’s oil economy in recession, it’s getting cheaper to develop renewable energy and train more workers, including young people, for jobs in that field.

“Every problem is actually a job opportunity; every problem is actually a way that we can put ourselves on the map and tell our story,” Feltham said, adding that the latest economic projections show that every year New Brunswick needs to increase its labour force by 7,500.

“Why can’t we be the landing pad for creating those new jobs, the new economy, re-skilling blue collar workers so that they work in the green economy?” she asked.

Realistic growth

Sabine Dietz

“I don’t have a pet project,” said Sabine Dietz, suggesting that when people in other parts of the province ask why she lives in Sackville, she tells them the town already has everything.

“Sackville has all the nurturing, all the creativity, all the innovation that you need for a community to be a real leader and to be seen as a leader,” she said, adding that the Sackville Commons, which provides shared work spaces, is a good example of using local resources to solve problems and create community.

She said economic development should be carefully considered based on the reality of town assets such as the university and its many small businesses.

“Sackville is a wonderful community,” Dietz said.

“My dream is that we can — like Julia said — show it off more and grow it, that’s all we need, we just need to grow the things that are already there.”

 ‘Visionary project’

Brian Neilson

“My pet project, dream scenario,” said candidate Brian Neilson, “is what I have been working on for the last three or four years with several other community members, something called Sackville Schools 2020.”

Neilson said this “visionary project” would, among other things, create a performing space that could be used by students as well as local theatre groups and music festivals as well as a community kitchen where people could come together.

“It is an opportunity for students,” Neilson said, “to fall in love with this community, so that people stay in this community and then are drawn to this community because of its innovative education.”

He added that as more people are attracted to Sackville, they create a tax base to support the hospital and care for the elderly.

“It’s a question of whether we want to grow and take a stand,” Neilson said, “or just keep our head in the sand and hope no one bugs us too much.”

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Sackville by-election candidates differ over lifting the ban on more drive-thrus

Town council candidates. L-R: Dylan Wooley-Berry, Sabine Dietz, Julia Feltham, Brian Neilson, Shawn Mesheau

The five candidates running for Sackville Town Council in the December 10th municipal by-election expressed a wide-range of views about permitting more fast-food drive-thru restaurants during an all-candidates forum Wednesday evening at the Tantramar Veterans Memorial Civic Centre.

Former town councillor Shawn Mesheau and candidate Julia Feltham talked about a more business-friendly approach, while the other three candidates stressed community development and environmental concerns.

“I’m going to answer the question outright: Yes,” Mesheau said in response to a question about whether he would support lifting the ban on additional fast-food drive-thrus in the highway commercial zone near the TransCanada.

Mesheau explained that he was on council in 2001 when the town first banned more drive-thrus because of traffic congestion around the ones at highway exit 504.

While he acknowledged the need to deal with long-term environmental concerns about what he called “our carbon footprint,” Mesheau said that businesses near the highway want to expand and offer a service to travellers.

“They’re looking to do that in order that they can stay in business and so that they might be able to employ more folks,” he said.

Infrastructure costs

Julia Feltham

Candidate Julia Feltham offered what she said might be “a slightly obnoxious nuanced answer” to the drive-thru question, adding that public policy often is that way.

“I don’t want to see more drive-thrus at exit 504, but I would be open to a development on 506, possibly,” Feltham added.

She said private developers invested about a million dollars at exit 504, with the town kicking in a lot of money on “quite a large infrastructure component.”

Feltham added that she hoped exit 506 could be developed without such big costs to the town while mitigating any environmental effects.

“I am concerned about the environmental risk,” she said, “but the idea of turning away business without hearing how they will possibly mitigate the infrastructure costs and everything else, I’d have to hear quite a bit more.”

Environmental concerns

Candidate Brian Neilson said he worries about the environmental impact of idling cars emitting greenhouse gases at drive-thrus.

Brian Neilson

“I think if we had our wits about us, we would do best at making exit 506 a destination and to actually have people get out of their cars, walk by the train bridge, walk along the dykes like I did as a student,” Neilson said.

He suggested developing facilities that would encourage people to stop and eat while enjoying cultural and recreational activities in the area.

Candidate Dylan Wooley-Berry also expressed concerns about the environmental effects of idling cars, especially near the children’s day care on Bridge Street.

Wooley-Berry said he disagreed with consultants who suggested the development of a commercial/residential complex at exit 506 complete with a couple of fast-food drive-thrus.

“I think we should be focusing on developing our downtown core,” he said. “There’s existing businesses there that need town council support and I think that’s where we should target when we’re talking about development in Sackville.”

Wooley-Berry added he advocates free public WiFi as one innovative way to develop the downtown.

Flood risks

Candidate Sabine Dietz said that while she also worries about the environmental and health effects of drive-thrus, her overriding concern is the danger of flooding around exit 506.

“If I look at the flood-risk maps and I look at the 506 interchange in the Cattail Ridge area, then you — at this time — cannot develop that area,” she said, adding that a major, one-in-one-hundred year storm, which could happen any time, would cut off the whole area.

“Both Bridge Street and the highway exits [would] have more than a metre of water over them; that is not passable,” Dietz said.

The ambulance station (outlined in red) is being built off Robson Ave. next to the Westmorland Animal Hospital

“I would suggest that before even considering any further development — whether it is recreational development or anything — that we do need to update our flood-risk maps and then look as a community [at] what is actually the development that is appropriate for areas that are highly likely to get flooded,” she added.

“So, believe me when I tell you, that ambulance building out there should not be there, and if you look at the flood map, it’s one of the worst places to have that,” Dietz said.

This is the first in a three-part series on the all-candidates forum organized by The New Wark Times. You can hear the entire forum on CFTA, 107.9 FM this Sunday, December 2, at 1 p.m.

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged , | 34 Comments