By Stephen Kimber
February 10, 2008
Moratorium less than more
An Annapolis Valley anti-quarry group says the province’s decision to green-light a nine-acre quarry for Upper Granville flies in the face of a clear recommendation for a moratorium on such projects by the review panel set up to consider plans for a controversial mega-quarry on Digby Neck.
B. Spicer Construction applied for a licence to operate its quarry on the North Moutain in May, nearly six months before the release of the panel’s final report. Its proposed project was also small enough that, under then-existing rules, it didn’t have to go through an environmental assessment.
Despite that, area residents formed a lobby group called the West Annapolis Valley Ecological Society (WAVES) to fight plans for the quarry.
In October, they were encouraged when the Digby Neck review panel coupled its conclusion that the government should reject that much larger quarry proposal with a number of other, more general recommendations, including a call for a moratorium on all quarry development on the North Mountain until a coastal management plan was completed and a proposal that environmental assessments be carried out on all quarry proposals, regardless of size.
The citizens group thought it had won.
While the province quickly accepted the panel’s recommendation to scrap the Digby Neck proposal, it remained silent on the other recommendations.
Until its sudden, recent approval of the Spicer quarry, that is.
A department spokesperson says the government is following up on at least one recommendation — an interdepartmental committee is being set up to come up with a coastal management plan — but the Spicer quarry won’t be affected even if the government imposes a moratorium. That’s because its application was already in the works before the review panel reported.
So… there could still be a moratorium. But it won’t be a complete moratorium. Does that make it a less-atorium?
Signs of the times
Facing increasing competition from big box stores in what he calls the most competitive retail market per capita in the province, the manager of the Colchester Co-op has appealed to its more than 5,500 members to “remember us” when they go shopping.
“We’re battling for survival,” general manager Peter Steele told the Truro Daily News this week.
The member-owned cooperative, which has been operating in the town for more than 50 years, used to send members an annual dividend cheque out of its profits. But there are no longer profits. “We want that to change,” Steele says.
He also wants consumers to know “we are the local guy. We are the place where your money actually does stay in the community.”
So far, reaction has been positive. There was an uptick in sales this week, notes Steele, who sees it as a hopeful sign. “It lets me know people care. They… really want their Co-op to succeed.”
Can you say hanging chad?
King’s County Council is considering a proposal to take this fall’s municipal elections high tech.
Intelivote Systems Incorporated of Dartmouth — the same company that will be managing Halifax Regional Municipality’s electronic voting this fall — made its pitch to council last month.
The company’s vice president of market development, Michael Pollard, told councilors its system not only allows residents to vote by paper ballot, telephone or over the Internet but also saves the municipality the headache of having to manage its own voters’ list.
Better, “you’ll get a participation rate increase,” he told them, adding that new voters “may come from a demographic section you’re not used to —young people.” Coupled with the fact that electronic voting can be easier for seniors and people with disabilities, he predicted 70–75 per cent of eligible voters would actually cast ballots.
All that, and green too! Pollard said the cost — three dollars per voter — could be offset by government funding to support initiatives that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Council has asked staff for a recommendation by its February meeting.
Adding fat to the fire… regulations
Community halls in Nova Scotia may be forced to shut their doors, or at least close their kitchens — which for many would amount to the same thing — if they’re forced to live up to the letter of new National Fire Safety Regulations.
The regulations require that any “small assembly type buildings” that operate kitchens install a “fire suppression system.” That probably means putting in a $15,000 commercial cooking hood instead of a couple of fire extinguishers. Many local community halls, which depend on their kitchens to help raise funds to keep operating, won’t be able to afford the added expense.
“This is a mighty big request,” Ellershouse Coun. Tom Brown told fire inspection officer Tim Leslie during a Hants municipal council meeting last week.
Leslie recently conducted 11 on-site inspections of local halls and had to tell some of them that their standard fire extinguishers “may not be enough” to meet the National Fire Codes.
“We’ll have to close down any hall that cooks,” Brown lamented.
“It seems… we're asking ordinary citizens for too much,” added Coun. Shirley Pineo, who asked Leslie: “What if we don't follow what you suggest, who’s liable?”
But Leslie stuck to his guns, telling councilors: “It’s wrong for me to walk away now and do nothing… This was all supposed to have been done. Now it’s a big eye-opener for a lot of people.”
It could get bigger. Under the regulations, every small assembly building, including churches, is supposed to be inspected every three years. Hide the hot dogs.
Bring back the baby bonus
The good news is that the bad news isn’t as bad as it seemed. But it’s still not good.
Cape Breton Regional Municipality’s population is expected to fall from its current 106,000 residents to 93,000 by 2021. But that’s more than the 76,000 predicted in an earlier study.
“Things are looking a little better but they’re still declining,” CBRM planning director Doug Foster told the municipality’s planning advisory committee last week.
But even the modest good news isn’t really good, he added.
The reason for the projected population decrease is that there’s been a “startling decline in the number of residents of child-rearing age” as people in the 20–34 age group flee Cape Breton in search of better economic prospects elsewhere.
At the same time — and the reason that the overall decline is less than expected — the municipality is luring many over-40s, who’d previously left, back home. Which means the increasingly aging population is “going to put up our dependency ratio even faster in terms of an ageing population.”
Colourful councilor Vince Hall told fellow committee members the municipality is “dying of a terminal illness,” He called on the province to develop “a provincial population strategy” instead of concentrating all its efforts on attracting immigrants to settle here.”
Sounds like a cash-for-babies plan to me.
Smoke and Mirrors
They traded counter-proposals and then counter-rejections, and still couldn’t come to an agreement. So Amherst Town Council has now offered a short olive branch to its Cumberland County counterparts — its fire department will continue to answer calls from county residents for one more year, provided the county agrees to accept the terms of its last counter-offer.
The current fire protection agreement between the two is scheduled to end in July.
Money has been — and is — the issue. Amherst’s original starting point was that the county should pony up $280,000 a year to cover the extra costs its firefighters incur. The county’s first counter offer was for $55,000.
Uh… Not even close.
When the two sides sat down face to face last week, they managed to whittle the difference down to $100,000, give or take, but that wasn’t enough for any long-term agreement.
So Amherst’s council made its in-the-meantime, one-year offer — provided the county agree to its revised $174,000 price tag.
Even though its own last offer was for just $70,000, the county seems ready to take the bait. “It looks like it’s an opportunity to take advantage,” Warden Keith Hunter told the Amherst Daily News, noting that the county’s alternative is to set up its own fire department. “Rather than (the county having) to rent a fire hall, we can get them to provide the service until we can get our fire department up and running.”
The Apple Core
Thanks to dramatic increases in construction costs and a federal government that has zipped its purse, the group behind King’s County’s ambitious Apple Dome — a multi-million-dollar multi-multiplex supposed to feature a 1,200-seat arena, walking track, curling rink, library, banquet room, fitness centre and outdoor swimming pool — has had to rethink its construction timetable.
George Moody, the chair of the volunteer organizers, says the Dome — officially the Kings Mutual Century Centre — will now be developed in phases using what the architects calls a “modular concept.”
“When we started this project, it was going to cost $9 million to get everything we wanted,” Moody told a public meeting. That cost has now almost doubled to $17 million. The new budget for just Phase One of the project — the foundation, arena and installation of structural and electrical infrastructure for future phases — will total $9.4 million.
The group has so far fundraised $5.2 million, including $2 million from the province. And Moody is still hopeful it can squeeze $3 million out of Ottawa before it’s over.
Perhaps then they can have the whole apple and not just the core.
Stephen Kimber is the Rogers Communications Chair in Journalism at the University of King’s College. His column also appears in Thursday’s Daily News.
SOURCES: Amherst Daily News, Annapolis County Spectator, Cape Breton Post, Hants Journal, Kings County Register, Truro Daily News.