Har­bour Grace pre­scribes poi­son pill

The Compass - - OPINION -

It was a closed meet­ing, but one can just imag­ine the look on the faces of Car­bon­ear town coun­cil­lors dur­ing an im­por­tant gath­er­ing with their coun­ter­parts from Har­bour Grace last week.

Car­bon­ear lead­ers came to the meet­ing on Nov. 20, fully pre­pared to sign on for a joint project with Har­bour Grace to help fi­nance the mu­nic­i­pal share — an es­ti­mated $3.8 mil­lion — of a pro­posed new $21-plus mil­lion sports arena, and pick up an equal share of any deficits in­curred by the fa­cil­ity each year.

And like any equal part­ner­ship, they were ex­pect­ing a say in ev­ery as­pect of the plan­ning, con­struc­tion and op­er­a­tion. Since they were con­sid­er­ing in­vest­ing pre­cious tax dol­lars in a project ear­marked for a neigh­bour­ing com­mu­nity, this does not seem like an un­rea­son­able ex­pec­ta­tion. And let’s not for­get that some mu­nic­i­pal lead­ers in Har­bour Grace have noted in the past that the town could not af­ford the arena on its own.

What’s more, Car­bon­ear coun­cil­lors were putting their own po­lit­i­cal necks on the line by even sug­gest­ing a joint ven­ture, since more than a few Car­bon­ear tax­pay­ers have raised ques­tions about the prospect of help­ing pay for an arena in Har­bour Grace. Af­ter all, plenty of work is still needed on roads and other in­fra­struc­ture in Car­bon­ear, and mu­nic­i­pal taxes are ex­pected to in­crease in 2013.

But any hopes of mov­ing for­ward on a joint ven­ture quickly went off the rails when Har­bour Grace Mayor Don Coombs in­formed his coun­ter­parts from Car­bon­ear that the arena would be built on Jamie’s Way, and that Har­bour Grace would pro­ceed with the project, with or with­out any help from neigh­bour­ing towns. Smack! That was the sound of jaws hit­ting the floor. We’re told the tone of the meet­ing quickly changed, and it was ad­journed far ear­lier than most had ex­pected. Up to late last week, no fur­ther talks had been planned, and there’s a chance that Har­bour Grace may once again be sad­dled with the full cost of the project, fur­ther wor­ry­ing al­ready anx­ious tax­pay­ers.

By uni­lat­er­ally de­cid­ing on a lo­ca­tion, Har­bour Grace had in­jected a poi­son pill into the pro­ceed­ings, and sig­nalled they were in­ter­ested in a equal part­ner­ship, but only on their terms.

This is not the way to form a re­la­tion­ship, es­pe­cially when you’ve been ac­tively court­ing other towns for help, and one Car­bon­ear coun­cil­lor sug­gested that the level of trust be­tween the two par­ties had evap­o­rated.

In a show of good faith, Har­bour Grace lead­ers would have been bet­ter served to leave all the de­ci­sions in the hands of a board con­sist­ing of elected of­fi­cials from both towns, user group rep­re­sen­ta­tives, and var­i­ous ex­perts.

Jamie’s Way may well be se­lected as the pre­ferred site, but at least there would have been con­sul­ta­tion and in­put from a broad range of voices.

So once again, the project is on shaky ground, and that’s the last thing we need.

— Terry Roberts

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