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Cassellholme redevelopment in jeopardy. End could come Monday

'At this point, what is essential for Cassellholme to move forward is a letter of permission to move to construction from the Ministry of Long-Term Care. We can't move forward without that'

The redevelopment of Cassellholme is on life support today, with a possible funeral Monday.

That's when the Board needs approval from the Minister of Long-Term Care, Rod Phillips, to go ahead and beat a deadline with the developer to hold costs at the present level. Failing that, it could be back to square one.

The future of the plan has come down to politics, a tug of war between the Cassellholme Board and a group of mayors from the nine contributing municipalities which has thrown up a series of concerns, and stalled progress.

"We offered to meet with the municipalities," Board Chair Chris Mayne told BayToday, "but they all declined."

So on Nov. 10, a letter went out to the municipalities with three options. The first, and preferred, was that Cassellholme borrows the money for the redevelopment for the municipal portion, then applies the provincial guarantee to the provincial share of 55 million.

"It's the more efficient way to move forward," explains Mayne."It keeps that portion of municipal debt off the books, doesn't impact their ability to borrow, and doesn't impact their credit rating."

The deadline date for acceptance by municipalities was this past Wednesday. "No-one responded," says Mayne.

Cassellholme needs unanimous agreement from the nine municipalities to borrow money.

"If even one wants to throw a wrench in it then Cassellholme can't borrow," explained Mayne. "So the only option moving forward is to apply a levy. In that letter, all municipalities were advised that if we didn't receive consent to move forward by borrowing, then Cassellholme would move forward with the levy (option3)."

The Board had hoped to move forward with Infrastructure Ontario last summer but in July the municipalities rejected the proposal.

The Board then asked the contractor to hold the construction price till the end of September, but that added another $2.7M.

"The Percon (contractor) price officially ended at the end of September. They've been very patient and supportive and they further extended that same price to Nov. 30. That's why we're keen to move ahead with the levy in the next four days. We are right now at the wire.

"At this point, what is essential for Cassellholme to move forward is a letter of permission to move to construction from the Ministry of Long-Term Care. We can't move forward without that."

Mayne was hoping to have the letter in hand today, but that's been put off until Monday, if it happens at all.

"We're crossing fingers and toes that the Ministry will come back with the final authority to move forward first thing next week. That's a big deal for us. It literally is right down to the wire."

Mayne takes a long pause when asked if he is confident he'll get that letter.

"Confident, but I'm trying to be realistic. There are a lot of politics in play at this point. The municipalities have all voiced their opposition regardless of what answers we come back with or actions we've taken. The mayors' group never sent us a letter detailing their concerns. They have essentially turned their back on this proposal."

Mayne contends that's where politics has stalled the effort.

"Minister Fedeli and the Provincial Government, on one hand, are trying to advance long-term beds in the province. Here is a 264-bed project that, no question is needed, and has been submitted to the Province and approved at various levels. It falls down to the wire to the minister's office to make the political decision. Are they prepared to support the Cassellholme redevelopment or are they going to support the mayors' group which would see the redevelopment stall, potentially for three years depending on what the new proposal would be and who would be responsible to come back to the table with that new proposal that could include a new location and a new design?"

Mayne believes what the mayors are pushing for is an all-in cost of $90M instead of the current $121M. 

"To get anything close to that price is to remove beds from the redevelopment and the Board does not support that. It's all about stalling. I hope that's clear, it's not dithering, it's simply stalling and trying to postpone by any means the development moving forward as it's presently proposed."

Mayne credits Fedeli with a "huge effort" in removing obstacles to the redevelopment but feels it will take additional pressure from the MPP to keep the ball rolling.

"Our concern is he will support the position of the municipalities which means the end of this present proposal, going back to the drawing board, and essentially delaying everything by years. It's not something you can simply pick up and start again in six months.

"With the municipalities turning their backs on pretty much everything Cassellholme has offered and responded to, without some additional pressure from the Province to resolve the redevelopment, the municipalities will continue to stall any progress or discussion until the current proposal is no longer in hand."

That additional pressure on the mayors might not happen.

In an email response today a Fedeli spokesperson said, "MPP Fedeli is looking for a clear, joint direction from Cassellholme and the municipalities. That’s what he will continue to push for with the Province."

"This is an issue between Cassellholme and the 9 municipalities," said Fedeli. "Cassellholme has asked the Minister to proceed; the municipalities have asked the Minister to hold off. Once the Province receives clear direction from the people of Nipissing, we want to see this proceed.

"My office was asked for three things, and we delivered. They were: allow Cassellholme the right to borrow … and I delivered. They asked for $55 million as a provincial share … and I delivered. in fact an additional $10 million was delivered last October. They asked for the province to guarantee their share … and I delivered. Everything we have been asked to do to move this project has been delivered on. It’s now up to Cassellholme and the municipalities to come together and do their jobs."

Jeff Turl

About the Author: Jeff Turl

Jeff is a veteran of the news biz. He's spent a lengthy career in TV, radio, print and online, covering both news and sports. He enjoys free time riding motorcycles and spoiling grandchildren.
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