A Tale of Two Cities

(with apologies to Charles Dickens)

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Gananoque, Ontario: Welcome to a parallel universe, where caucus meetings are illegal and all but a handful of council decisions must be reached in public.

Walking through the front door of Gananoque, Ontario’s 187-year-old town hall last week, we unknowingly entered a parallel universe where it’s illegal for a town council to reach a decision behind closed doors.

A universe where every file is simultaneously available to the public and council members.

A universe where, if four council members happen to show up anywhere, even to the local Tim Horton’s, one has to leave to avoid an unauthorized quorum.

A universe where anyone, even a visiting Quebec councillor, can get detailed financial information simply by asking.

A universe where half of all advisory committee members are unelected citizens with unobstructed access to any data they require to assist council in reaching informed decisions.

Welcoming us to the land of the Ontario Municipal Act was Melanie Kirkby, Gananoque’s treasurer. We had no appointment and she had things to do, but she took the time to answer our questions:

Gananoque’s OPEX? $8.5 million (Hudson’s is $12M.)
Revenues? $15M, including $1.4M from the OLG casino (Hudson hopes to take in $13.46M in 2018.)
Budgeted surplus? $500,000 (Hudson has no defined budget surplus.)
Accumulated surplus? $8M, half of which will be spent on a Town Hall annex to make the entire structure accessible. (Hudson has no accumulated surplus.)
Long-term debt? Zero! (Hudson’s long-term debt as of 2016 was $24.4M.)

Off the main hall was a council chamber that looked as if Sir John A. Macdonald had banged the gavel on the rickety desk. I asked Kirkby if caucus meetings were still held there.

She recoiled in horror. “Caucus meetings? They’re illegal in Ontario!” By law, all meetings are open to the public. In order to close a meeting to the public, council must pass a resolution that a closed meeting will be held, stating the nature of the topic under consideration. Only meetings dealing with public security, human resources, the purchase or sale of municipal land, litigation, training and matters covered by the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act can be closed to the public.

The Municipal Act goes further, imposing certain restrictions on any other meeting held without the public present by requiring that no vote be taken unless for a procedural matter or the giving of instructions or directions to municipal employees.

Kirkby explained the Ontario system in terms of Gananoque’s schedule. Regular council meetings take place on the 1st and 3rd Tuesdays of each month. The June 19 council meeting began at 5:05 p.m. with a closed session that ended at 5:55. One item dealing with an HR issue was discussed.

At 6 sharp, the regular council meeting began voting on resolutions stemming from the previous meeting of the Committee of the Whole (COW), a public working table which includes members of council and town staff. It was over by 6:10, including question period.

At 6:11, that week’s COW got underway with Kirkby, fire chief Steve Tiernan and supervisors or and managers from public works, community development, public utilities and parks and recreation in attendance. The town’s external auditors presented the 2107 audited financial statements, thereby releasing them to the public for discussion to a final vote to table them at the next regular council meeting. COW discussed half a dozen other ongoing files before adjourning for the night at 6:55. Those files will be turned into motions for presentation at the next council meeting after having spent two weeks in public circulation.

Kirkby explained how they used to leave the closed sessions to the end of the meetings but moved them to the front of the line so meetings wouldn’t drag on. And to think we’re happy with 10 p.m.

According to the 2016 census, Hudson and Gananoque are remarkably similar in some ways, polar opposites in others. Population-wise, Gan has six more residents than Hudson — 5,194 to 5,188. Hudson’s residents average four months older — 47.7 years versus 47.2.

Both towns are having to deal with aging infrastructure and whether growth and densification guarantee sustainability. Both wrestle with zoning issues.

Hudson faces a chronic water shortage, a $6 million roads infrastructure deficit and an uncertain future as an off-island bedroom community. The weekend-home, pied-a-terre market appears to be Hudson’s best bet — if it can find a sustainable infrastructure solution and redevelop itself as a destination by freeing its commercial core from zoning constraints.

Once Canada’s rivet capital, Gananoque’s industrial base has collapsed; tourism and condominium development to capture the wave of geriatric boomers fleeing the cities are its main hopes. With the pristine headwaters of the St. Lawrence at its feet, Gan’s problem isn’t water, but sewage treatment capacity. A proposed hotel next to the Shorelines Casino has been told it has to build its own sewage treatment plant.

According to the 2016 census data, Hudson is by far the wealthier community. Hudson has fewer private dwellings (2,386 to Gan’s 2,516) but 650 more detached single-family dwellings (1,975 vs. 1,315.) Average total household income: Hudson $121,000 to Gan’s $70,300. Hudson also collects roughly $500,000 in transfer tax.

 

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Charge for parking!

 

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Sandy Beach, Saturday, June 16: Why would Hudson not charge non-residents for the privilege of using the beach so that the Town can recoup the cost of securing and maintaining this lakeside jewel?

While Hudson debates whether to charge people for using the Jack Layton Park (JLP) boat launch and how to police and control access to Sandy Beach, here’s food for thought.

Between 2:45 and 3 p.m. Saturday, June 16 we conducted a 15-minute survey of people using the boat launch at JLP.

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This St. Lazare resident and her partner launch and recover their kayaks from a small beach next to the motorboat launch. Why not give non-motorized users separate access to they don’t have to drag their craft across gravel and wait for a pause in the motorized boat-launch traffic?

We began by asking them where they were from. Two respondents — a couple kayaking and the owner of a 23-foot Sea-Doo runabout — were from St. Lazare. The others hailed from Les Cedres, Huntingdon and Lachine.

Asked whether they spent any money in town, all said no.

Asked whether they would pay $50 to use the launching ramp, all said they would go elsewhere.

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Lachine resident reloads his boat after a morning on the lake. If the town jacked the launch fee to $50, he says he would stop coming even though he prefers the Lake of Two Mountains to his home waters. Lachine charges $10 per vehicle and $10 per trailer so that boaters can use the launch ramp for free — and at their own risk.

The Lachine resident has been using the ramp for three years, including the season the town charged for the use of the ramp.

He said he finds the Lake of Two Mountains more interesting for boating and fishing than Lac St-Louis but wouldn’t return if the town charged $50 for use of the ramp. Lachine, he pointed out, doesn’t charge for use of the ramp. Instead, Lachine charges $10 per vehicle and $10 per trailer. Boaters using the ramp do so at their own risk.

 

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Because there is no supervision or control of who parks where, vehicles with trailers monopolize the free parking without regard for how they park. Result: other vehicles are blocked from leaving or finding parking.

Next, we tallied the number of vehicles with and without trailers in the parking lot.

We counted 20 vehicles with trailers and 40 vehicles without trailers.
Let’s say the town charges $10 per vehicle and $10 per trailer.
At $10 per vehicle and $10 per trailer, that amounts to $800 for one afternoon.
Since many won’t spend the whole day on the water, it’s a fair assumption this past Saturday would have pulled in $1600.

Multiply that by 32 weekend days and we come up with $51,000.
Assume rainy weekends will be more than offset by revenues from holiday weekends, when the ramp is in constant use from dawn to dusk.

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Another reason to police parking at Jack Layton Park.

Assume another $42,500 for weekday use. Conservatively, parking for JLP and Sandy Beach could bring in $100,000 a year.

The only expense would be a parking attendant and gate at the park entrance on Halcro.

The benefits of charging for parking rather than for using the boat launch?

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Beachgoers can enjoy a sunny Saturday on Hudson’s waterfront without spending a cent. Shouldn’t they at least pay for parking?

Non-residents enjoying Sandy Beach should be paying for the privilege as well as subsidizing the cost of parking-lot operation and park/beach bylaw enforcement. We biked to the far end of the beach and noted the number of off-leash dogs (the vast majority), coolers of food and alcohol, and overflowing garbage cans the Town pays to empty. How many bought their food and drinks locally before heading to the beach?

Trailer parking
These boaters know the secret to not being boxed in.

Hudson residents pay dearly for all of this, so they should be alone in enjoying free parking by applying for a decal.

Beaches and greenspaces in our region— Pointe du Moulin, Oka Provincial Park, Plage Saint-Zotique, Plage Saint-Timothée, Base de plein air — all charge for vehicle access. Some offer reduced rates or free access to their citizens. Some exchange special access privileges.

To summarize, wouldn’t it be preferable to see Hudson’s lakeside jewel of a greenspace covering the cost of maintaining and securing it for Hudson residents? I can’t understand the mindset of those who say it will end up costing the town more to charge than to give it away.

Don’t believe us. Do the math. Take your own survey. God knows we have the Parks and Recreation staff.

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This lengthy rig managed to occupy four parking spaces, but he’s blocked in by another rig parked in front of him. Good luck getting out.

$120,000 for nothing

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I visited the Bradbury Park well site off Côte St. Charles Wednesday, May 23 to see the results of Samson’s test wells. These are photos of the test cores. Each of the piles in the photo represents five vertical feet. The ideal core forms a fairly solid, compact pile that looks like it was formed with an overturned bucket. The cores that look like mud pies indicate a mix of fine sand and silt, which quickly clogs intake screens. This is what happened to the adjacent Bradbury well barely two years after it began pumping.

The following account was compiled from information on the public record or freely available to enterprising residents.

The next to last item on the agenda for tonight’s June 4 Hudson council meeting — authorization for drilling piezometer – Wells 483, etc. — will mean nothing to most people. But for those following Hudson’s chronic water shortage saga, it’s confirmation of the latest failed attempt at finding a solution.

One of the last acts of the previous council was the approval of a $1.4 million loan bylaw to cover the cost of locating, authorizing, drilling and connecting a new well.  At some point in the decision-making process, it was decided to concentrate the search for a new well in the same area of the Viviry Creek watershed where Hudson’s two producing wells are located.

Every step in that process was approved by council, beginning with $14,000 to consulting hydrogeologists Akifer to pinpoint the location of two drilling sites. Another $7,000 went to environmental consultants Sagie to steer the project through the environment ministry’s approval process. Another $36,500 went to Daoust for site preparation on a very short deadline, followed by $63,434 to Forage Samson, the winning bidder on the actual drilling of the wells.

Samson began drilling operations on Daoust’s temporary road below Hillcrest the third week in May.  The contractor quickly concluded from core samples the site would not support a well capable of producing 600 gallons per minute on a sustainable basis. There was plenty of water starting at a depth of 150 feet—  but the sand matrix was too fine and laden with silt to guarantee sustainability.

The best comparison is with a Slushie, those concoctions of sugar syrup and crushed ice consumed through a straw. If the ice is too coarse, you end up with a cupful of ice and no liquid. If the ice is too fine, it clogs the straw — essentially what happened with the nearby Bradbury well barely two years after it started pumping.

A second borehole confirmed Samson’s concerns. I have not seen the contractor’s drilling report but I strongly suspect it recommends against further drilling in the Viviry wetland because of the unsuitability of the water-bearing sand.

In other words, Hudson taxpayers paid in excess of $120,000 with nothing to show for it but another summer water ban.

What does Quebec have to say about the Town of Hudson’s annual well quest?

This morning I put that question to Hudson’s regional representative for the Sustainable Development, Environment and Fight Against Climate Change (MDDELCC).

“Every year, you spend more money and get no f**king results, just another interesting report,” he said. “When are you going to come to your senses, run a pipe into the lake and build yourself a treatment plant?”

With a provincial election this October and a federal election next fall, he added, there’s no better window of opportunity to pressure the politicians for subsidies. “Stop wasting time and taxpayer’s dollars!”

This evening’s Item 11.1 seeks council’s approval to conduct test drilling in one or more of the piezometers (test wells) surrounding Well #483, the town’s single major source of drinking water. I find it ironic that after all this time and expenditure on outside expertise, we’re considering a solution first suggested by former technical services director Trail Grubert some 10 years ago.

Hudson’s potable water system is supplied by four wells.  They have a combined production capacity of 3,547 US gallons a minute. Each well’s health and productivity is monitored in real time by a system of piezometers, or test wells, located throughout the municipality and the results logged by municipal employees. Summer demand peaks at 4,750 GPM, representing a 30% shortfall and the reason behind the annual summer watering ban.

The two wells providing most of Hudson’s drinking water — #483 and Bradbury — are located in the wetlands along Viviry Creek. Well #483, Hudson’s equivalent of Old Faithful, began pumping in 1983. It replaced Well #2, located next to the Wellesley entrance to Bradbury Park.

Well #2 still produces, but was condemned on the advice of the environment ministry because its water exceeds provincial norms for iron, manganese and chlorides.

The Bradbury well, barely 10 years old, is producing at below its rated capacity despite repeated efforts to unclog its 60-foot intake screen. Had today’s well-sustainability technologies been in effect when it was drilled, it’s doubtful Bradbury would have ever been connected.

In the west end, two wells supply Hudson Valleys and Alstonvale. This system can be fed water via a connection at the top of Mount Victoria but isn’t configured or permitted to feed water to the town’s filtration plant and reservoir at the top of Fairhaven.

How critical is Hudson’s drinking water situation? Serious enough to question whether the town can guarantee a four-day supply for its 5,200 residents in the event of a failure of either of its two main wells. Until Hudson finds a sustainable long-term solution for its chronic water shortage, we can forget about future development.

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