Hudson’s controversial Bylaw 526.8 is not on the order paper for Monday’s December council meeting, but that won’t stop its supporters on council from trying to add it to the agenda.
Those who call this a Trojan Horse may be close to the truth.
Adopted as a draft bylaw without prior notice at the October council meeting by a 4-2 vote, 526.8 in its original form would have imposed a 30-metre buffer around any part of Hudson designated as a wetland, regardless of size or location.
As originally written, the bylaw would have had a major impact on as much as a quarter of Hudson’s 2,200 residential properties. Owners of hundreds of properties backing on wetlands characterized in the 2008 Teknika HBA and 2016 CIMA+ studies would lose the right to so much as cut their grass except with a push mower. Hudson Yacht Club would have been barred from using their parking lots. Whitlock Golf Club would have lost the use of at least six holes.
Any request to exclude one’s property would require a biologist’s report and a survey.
Upon learning of the restrictions to their rights as property owners and the potential impact on the value of their properties as well as on the town’s tax base, residents responded with anger and concern. On Nov. 18, more than 120 people attended a public consultation on the proposed bylaw.
Note: Public consultations are required by law prior to a zoning bylaw’s final approval but because this bylaw would modify Hudson’s existing zoning bylaw 526, it is not subject to approval by referendum.
Mayor Jamie Nicholls opened the consultation with a lengthy preamble, during which he said council was split 3-3 and that he would break the tie in favour of the bylaw’s adoption. He then inferred that residents who lost the use or value of their properties could be compensated with monies from a $20 million fund run by Ottawa.
Not true, Vaudreuil-Soulanges Liberal MP Peter Schiefke wrote in a text sent late Thursday.
Schiefke said it came as a surprise to hear from numerous Hudson residents following the consultation that the mayor had told those at the meeting that “20 million dollars of federal funding was secured to purchase private and public lands in Hudson….This is simply not true at the present time,” the MP added.
This past Thursday, the mayor appeared to back off his plans to proceed with final adoption of Bylaw 526.8. “After much discussion with caucus members […] the provisions of the bylaw in article 726 which expanded the protective band surrounding wetlands from 10 to 30 metres have been modified,” he posted on two of his Facebook pages. “The protective band will remain at the original 10 metres in the amended bylaw to be presented at the December session of council.”
But since then, the mayor and his supporters have been publicly pressuring councillors to adopt an amended Bylaw 526.8 at Monday’s December meeting, specifically Article 725: Constructions, works, backfill or excavation works, dredging or extraction works in a wetland. Art. 725 allows “works intended for a construction, other works including backfill and excavation, dredging and extraction in and enclosed wetland” once it is authorized by the provincial environment ministry. If there is no ministerial certificate of authorization (CA), “only the construction of a bridge or footbridge, on stilts or posts, without backfill” is authorized.
The developers of the Pine Beach project hold a valid CA. Without the 30-metre buffer, Bylaw 526.8 now permits the development of Sandy Beach according to a revised plan submitted by the developer. At the same time, it blocks the 134-door Willowbrook development in Como because developer Habitation Robert is still waiting for a CA.
Given the mayor’s insistence prior to being elected on the need to block Nicanco’s 256-unit Sandy Beach development, what transpired to change his mind?
As the result of email exchanges with the mayor and others, and with facts drawn from publicly available sources, the following scenario has emerged:
In late August, the mayor attended a three-day Union des Municipalités summit in Wendake, Quebec, where leaders of Quebec First Nations met with mayors of Quebec municipalities. The summit highlight was a public apology by Oka mayor Pascal Quevillon to Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Simon for comments Quevillon made concerning the handover of some 60 acres at the centre of the 1991 Oka Crisis.
Mayor Nicholls has confirmed in an email that he and Simon spoke and agreed to convene a meeting of the two councils — and that he informed caucus upon his return.
On Sept 24, the mayor posted a live video to two of his Facebook pages indicating that he was in Kanesatake for a meeting at the band office. The nature of any discussion taking place and with whom wasn’t reported to council.
Earlier this week, Vaudreuil-Soulanges MP Peter Schiefke confirmed that Nicholls had approached him at a Nov. 21 MRC event to discuss funding options for the purchase of wetlands, including sections of Sandy Beach already protected under the town’s 2017 development agreement with the developers.
Schiefke says he explained to the mayor that the compensation assurances made to residents at the Nov. 18 public consultation were unfounded. “[…] the fund that Mr. Nicholls referred to at his consultation meeting […] was likely the Disaster Mitigation Fund (DMFA) that was created to reduce the socio-economic, environmental and cultural impacts triggered by natural hazards and extreme weather events in communities at high risk.”
Schiefke says he told the mayor that it is unclear whether the DMFA will be reactivated — and if it does, Hudson residents would be on the hook for 60% of a minimum $20 million project.
Moreover, Schiefke added, the town has yet to take any action to explore the possibility or open a file.
“I shared with Mayor Nicholls that an official exploratory meeting with my office would be beneficial, and that the City of Hudson would subsequently have to submit an official request for funding to Infrastructure Canada when the application process reopens. Neither the meeting, nor the submission has occurred to date.”
Schiefke also confirmed that the mayor had discussed partnering with an indigenous community to raise the federal contribution to 75% as long as the land is deeded to that community. The mayor then explained his vision for a visitor’s centre on Sandy Beach focused on indigenous culture and healing.
In an emailed response, the mayor confirmed that he met with Schiefke “and that I wanted to discuss all options for the conservation of natural infrastructure on our territory. Again, the conversations were exploratory in nature and touched many different areas.”
The next day, Nov. 22, the mayor approached Sandy Beach developer Marc Perreault without a mandate from council to discuss paying financial compensation for land already protected under a 2017 development agreement. Alternately, Nicholls suggested its outright acquisition with monies from a federal program to fund natural infrastructure promotion and protection projects.
On Saturday, Nov. 23, I called Perreault for his version of events. He had not returned my call by the time I posted this.
In an emailed response to my questions Wednesday afternoon, the mayor said no promises were made. “It was simply an exploration should the disaster mitigation and adaptation fund be renewed.”
Nicholls said it was Schiefke who had brought forward the possibility of the $3 billion fund’s renewal.
“Nothing is set in stone,” the mayor added. “Citizens want us to explore it. Any formal engagement would require a majority of council.”
Schiefke says he reminded the mayor that even if Infrastructure Canada accepts Hudson’s application (See DMAF terms and conditions, below), Hudson’s taxpayers would be on the hook for 25%. Nicholls assured him he had the money.
It would be the first time in Canada that a non-indigenous municipality purchases public or private land in order to deed it to a First Nations community. At that point it would no longer be a part of Hudson, but the sovereign territory of the community it is deeded to.
This afternoon, Schiefke said his interest lies in seeking clarity and reiterated his standing offer to the municipalities in his riding. “As has been the case over the last four years, my office is always open to supporting municipalities as they pursue funding opportunities for projects that will benefit our shared citizenry.”
To access more information about the DMFA fund and the criteria involved in the application, please visit: https://www.infrastructure.gc.ca/dmaf-faac/index-eng.html
DMAF terms and conditions ( my highlights are in bold)
Eligible projects under DMAF include:
• New construction of public infrastructure including natural infrastructure; and
• Modification and/or reinforcement including rehabilitation and expansion of existing public infrastructure including natural infrastructure.
Eligible investments aim to reduce the socio-economic, environmental and cultural impacts of natural hazards and extreme weather events when considering current and potential future climate change impacts.
Projects must meet at least one of the national significance criteria, including reducing impacts on:
• critical infrastructure and essential services;
• health and safety of Canadians;
• significant disruptions in economic activity;
• costs of recovery and replacement;
• vulnerable regions.
Projects must have a minimum of $20 million in eligible expenditures.
Eligible expenditures may include design and planning, capital cost, as well as costs related to meeting specific program requirements. Land acquisition is only eligible for natural infrastructure projects and under some conditions.
• Project bundling is allowed for projects including multiple assets that work in a complementary manner to reduce the risk within the same time period.
• Projects must be completed by 2027-28.
Note: Expenditures related to all emergency services infrastructure, relocation of entire communities, land acquisition as a sole project component, are not eligible under DMAF.