By Chet Greason
Up for discussion at the meeting of Council on Tuesday (April 24) was the competency of the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority (UTRCA) in their operation of the Wildwood Dam.
The discussion was sparked while passing the minutes of a Strategic Priorities Committee meeting held on April 17. That meeting began with a presentation by the UTRCA’s board chair Murray Blackie and general manager/secretary-treasurer Ian Wilcox addressing the flood of Feb. 21-22. They were followed by Dave Courtnage and Rob Staffen of the St. Marys Golf and Country Club, who shared their concerns regarding how the UTRCA operates the dam. The two, citing what they called the worst flood the business has ever had, demanded the town withhold funding increases requested by the Authority until it is able to prove its accountability.
At this week’s meeting, many members of Council agreed that the Authority should be taken to task to some degree.
“When two credible businessmen suggest that (the UTRCA) is putting the town at risk, that’s not something you take lightly,” said Mayor Al Strathdee. He added that he didn’t leave the April 17 meeting with good feelings, saying the experts in attendance danced around questions, specifically when they were asked how they can determine models for 100 and 250 year storms when they do not possess local data of such storms.
Coun. Don Van Galen suggested Council “not be too polite” in their response, saying the UTRCA “is putting lives and properties in jeopardy,” and that they’re “expected to operate within their own guidelines.”
Coun. Bill Osborne agreed, but cautioned that the UTRCA ought to be given a chance to respond to the comments made by Staffen and Courtnage before further action is taken.
“I’m not an engineer,” he said, adding he was “Surprised they’ve not been in touch with us at all.”
Coun. Lynn Hainer said she would like to see a peer audit conducted by a secondary source; one that can ensure the UTRCA is using best practices in the operation of the dam.
Coun. Tony Winter noted that the golf course has been flooded again since Feb. 22.
“We need a response from Upper Thames as to why this is happening,” he said.
Coun. Bill Osborne wondered, if the Authority knew a heavy rainstorm was coming, why the reservoir was not emptied priorly in order to mitigate potential floods. Strathdee said it appeared as if they weren’t making decisions based off of weather patterns.
A motion was passed instructing staff to reach out to the UTRCA for a response.
Fire Department responds to a year’s worth of calls
Fire Chief Richard Anderson presented his monthly report to Council, which said his department responded to nine emergency calls between March 16 and April 13.
“And you can tag on another 11 to that since that report was written,” he said.
Anderson says that the St. Marys Fire Department has responded to 54 calls so far this year. To put that in perspective, the department responded to 55 calls in total during the entire year of 2013.
“I can’t tell you what’s going on,” he admitted. “But we’re busy.”
The Fire Department will soon be organizing a recruitment drive aimed at replacing firefighters that are set to retire soon.
Council OKs renovations
Two major projects were given the green light on Tuesday. The first is the renovation of the old water tower, which came in under budget with a bid from Robertson Restoration of $134,337. That’s less than half of what was originally budgeted for the project.
Staff will also be authorized to approve contingencies up to, but not exceeding, $26,800.
Robertson Restoration is the same developer that restored the Town Hall bell tower two years ago.
Council also narrowly passed a motion that accepted a bid put forth by IntegriBuild Construction Management to replace the windows of the Town Hall and the Library for $503,232. The contingencies of that project are not to exceed $50,000.
That total is well over the $352,000 it was originally budgeted for.
Mayor Strathdee insisted the new windows are needed, as many of the current wooden frames in the two historic buildings have begun to rot. The new windows will be re-insulated and will not include screens, although staff will have the option of inserting screens themselves should they wish to open a window in the summer time.
As well, the current storm screens, considered an eyesore by a number of Council members, are to be removed.
The motion was passed by a vote of 3-to-2. The two dissenting votes came from Coun. Van Galen, who observed that the tender only garnering two responses meant the project ought to be put off, and Coun. Jim Craigmile, who thought windows without screens were not worth half a million dollars.
Signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs
Service Club Signs will soon be constructed at four of the town’s major entry points. Currently, seven service clubs are signed up to have their logos displayed upon the signs, which are expected to be installed by the end of June at a cost of $27,669.
Director of Public Works, Jed Kelly, noted that there’s still time if any other service clubs want their logo included.
Town Council has also agreed to foot half of the bill for a new banner promoting the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s Induction Weekend, to be held from June 15-17. The banner will be strung up between buildings over downtown Queen Street. The municipality’s share of the new banner will be $650.