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Port Stanley News RSS Feed  Editorials Ratepayers Ultimately Foot the Bill

by Francie Dennison
Ratepayers Ultimately Foot the Bill
Photos taken by Brenda Murray March 9, 2015

You may or may not have noticed that the municipality has cleared out scrub trees, invasive species phragmites, and weeds from the berm, leaving it looking clean and rather bare. This has upset some people, but not as upset as Bayham ratepayers likely are about now.

Beginning on March 9, 2015 I have received a flurry of emails about the clean up work being done on the berm by the municipality, wanting to know why the trees were being cut down, if they were going to plant new ones, and what was to be built on the berm. Keep in mind, as part of the harbour divestiture deal, Transport Canada is supposed to remediate the berm to park like standards.

In response to one of those emails, CAO Don Leitch responded "The area is being cleared as it was becoming an eyesore, and people were dumping garbage in the brush. The phragmites (commonly referred to as reeds) growing there were also removed, as they are an invasive species that the Municipality is working to control and eradicate."

Why the municipality would wait four years before doing any kind of "eyesore" clean up on the berm, I don't know, but it takes me back to the time when Elgin Military Museum Executive Director Ian Raven pitched Central Elgin Council to locate the Ojibwa submarine on the berm. "We have a multi-million dollar investment that's looking for a home, and with your harbour divestiture issue, you seem to have a home that's looking for a multi-million dollar investment," he told them on June 14, 2010.

Based on figures from a Quebec location in a larger urban centre that sits on the Trans Canada highway, Raven projected figures of 100,000 visitors a year and 40 full time employees with an annual payroll of $500,000.

Though Central Elgin Council did not as yet have any firm plans for the berm development, they did not buy into the proposal - to the chagrin of many Port Stanley residents - so the Ojibwa project ended up in Port Burwell as the guest of the Municipality of Bayham. The Municipality of Bayham guaranteed a $6 million letter of credit for the Ojibwa project to the Royal Bank of Canada.

Well, the numbers from Ramouski, Quebec did not translate to Port Burwell, Ontario. The Ojibwa project started off seriously in the hole when the $1.5 million grant to cover the cost of moving the submarine was lost to them because they failed to get it moved on time. To make matters worse, the Elgin Military Museum borrowed against the $6 million letter of credit because original cost estimates for the project were vastly exceeded when final invoices arrived and additional but unanticipated work was required to be done. The museum is now in default of its repayment obligations toward the $6 million loan and the Municipality of Bayham is on the hook for the entire $6 million if the museum does not come up with the money by March 20, 2015.

The emails I received regarding the berm clean up complained that the cleaned berm "feels like a grave yard" and lamented the habitat loss for "all those poor hibernating animals" and wanted to know what was going to be built on the berm. Personally, I think it looks much better clean, although a little barren just now.

As far as has been publicly announced, there are no firm plans for the berm other than to turn it into a park. Many residents have bemoaned the loss of tourist revenue they think would have flowed into Port Stanley from the Ojibwa project, but as time has proven, we dodged the bullet on that one.

Municipality of Bayham residents are likely going to end up on the hook for that "multi-million dollar investment" Ian Raven pitched to Central Elgin Council and, according to Bayham Administrator Paul Shipway, that could translate into a 10.5% levy hike next year for Bayham ratepayers.

For those who have various ideas as to what should be done with / built on the berm, and who want to pitch them to Council, be careful what you wish for because you aren't the only ones that will be paying for it.

Last Updated: Thursday, 11 August 2016 12:21:19 PM EST

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