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Opinion, Dave Dale: Council punts and punts again

Mayor Al McDonald’s final ‘scheduled’ council meeting was beyond anticlimactic
20220526 trout lake movie the lake
Trout Lake is North Bay's municipal water source for serviced properties.

There was a bit of déjà vu for me Tuesday evening with retired city manager of environmental services Peter Bullock and developer John Wallace of Laurentian Heights in the chamber.

Bullock was representing the Trout Lake Conservation Association this time around, picking apart the consultation exercise over the water quality study that sets the bar for development.

In a clear, measured yet grating tone Bullock said the recommendation to allow more development on both city and East Ferris land was based on bad science and ignored their advice. At his side was Liza Vandermeer, retired from the Ministry of Environment, making it a fairly hefty one-two combo of punchy opinion.

(On the topic of punchy opinions, my column last week included a smug line stating the $25 million federal grant for net-zero emissions in the proposed twin-pad community centre might amount to less. I understood it was only for the costs that qualified. I was enlightened this morning verbally from a city staffer I got that wrong. Apparently, they can put the whole thing toward the projected $50M (interest included) price tag. Waiting for an official statement to clarify but there ya go … note to self: be extra wary about accepting what seemingly plugged-in people say in an election year. My apologies to readers, I shall try harder to be more right than righteous.)

Back to Bullock, it’s amusing how he employs monumental effort to explain simple concepts to complex people. I’m sure others find him annoying though. Either way, it is interesting to see the never abating push-pull dynamic between the determined developmental mindset of capitalists and the stubborn solitude that defines environmental protectionism.

It’s a big deal because Trout Lake is the drinking water source for the municipality (filtered and treated for serviced residents) as well as non-serviced properties drawing it in to their own systems.

I can’t tell from this distance (not being in the inner sanctum nor an expert) who is right or wrong when it comes to phosphorous measurement, mitigation and ultimate impact. But when it’s an issue of science vs science, the scent of excrement-infused fertilizer wafts from both sides.

The reality at hand is that neither North Bay nor East Ferris will be able to defend a development freeze in this Progressive Conservative climate, not with an appeal process rigged tighter than a carnival bottle toss. Expect more homes to be built using the best septic system design technology – a right won when the Northshore Road war raged in the council chambers 20 years ago.

Bullock was right to suggest municipal staff have many tools at hand to maintain and improve the quality of water, including more vigorous monitoring of the old systems in existing homes.

That said, the outgoing elected officials punted the issue to the people elected or re-elected in the October 24 poll. Same for the user fees schedule for the short-term rental bylaw taking effect Jan. 1, with a notice of motion pushing the discussion to the next meeting.

Good thing there is a thick buffer of vegetation to filter all this noise out, that’s all I’m going to say for now.

Wallace and his Laurentian Heights passion to avoid cost-sharing of the municipal infrastructure investment on the slope has been interesting to watch for the past two decades.

You could have heard a pin drop in the chamber as he stepped into his presentation, which outlined, in his interpretation, a 2008 agreement with the city that shields him from contributing to the oversized trunk sewer for his fourth phase of escarpment housing.

Not a question was asked, nor comment by councillors made, as he hammered his views home in a way that sounded like crib notes for a future lawsuit claiming lost profits. Knowing a bit about how the city works and their history with Wallace, it didn’t sound like a winning strategy to stall construction on 20-odd pre-sold offers on lots. The hot market is waning as interest rates rise.

I’m no lawyer but tend toward judgmental and I’m not convinced it would be a good idea to let one developer avoid contributing to such public expenses – especially for gigantic homes overlooking the commoners. Wallace would have to walk me through the fine print to convince me otherwise.

Council came out of the in-camera session with a motion directing staff to not accept Wallace’s version of legality and continue “negotiating” the pre-service agreement.

I don’t have skin in that game, would never live on a hill, and think everybody should contribute to the infrastructure they profit from so in this case, the jury is not out. Perhaps Wallace should just eat what amounts to less than $300,000 as a "goodwill" gesture to the community.

As for McDonald’s so-far uncelebrated exit stage left, the post-mortem of his three-term legacy will require more thought and dissection. The first term was a wash due to his inability to organize a dysfunctional council, the second was tainted by hiring/firing decisions and the third featured a rollercoaster ride featuring a pandemic, unnaturally booming economy and inflationary disease.

It's going to be difficult to cut through the gristle and bone to conclude whether he earned an esteemed place in local history – or a statue for the pigeons.

What do you think?

Dave Dale is a veteran journalist and columnist who has covered the North Bay area for more than 30 years. Reader responses meant as Letters to the Editor can be sent to [email protected]. To contact the writer directly, email: [email protected] or check out his website