Botched land deal still top-of-mind

Newly elected mayor dis­cusses is­sue at first meet­ing of new coun­cil

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY NI­CHOLAS MERCER nmercer@cb­n­com­pass.ca

Lead­ing up to the Sept. 24 mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion in Bay Roberts, the hot but­ton topic was the town’s sup­posed dou­ble-pur­chase of a par­cel of land off L.T. Stick Drive.

A week prior to the elec­tion, dur­ing a ques­tion-and-an­swer fo­rum with can­di­dates, res­i­dents learned the had town paid a res­i­dent a quar­ter-of-a-mil­lion dol­lars for the land in 2005, only to learn nearly four years later the man may not have had clear ti­tle to the prop­erty. To avoid a lengthy le­gal bat­tle with Crown lands, a di­vi­sion of the pro­vin­cial Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­ment and Con­ser­va­tion, the town de­cided in 2012 to again pur­chase the land as part of a larger par­cel.

The news sent shock­waves through the Trin­ity Con­cep­tion re­gion. When the story ap­peared on the web­site of The Com­pass, it gen­er­ated thou­sands of views and dozens of reader com­ments.

Read­ers were di­vided into two camps, with some say­ing coun­cil had at­tempted to cover up the botched land deal, while oth­ers sug­gested that blame should not be shoul­dered by the cur­rent coun­cil. There was also a view that the town’s le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tives were at fault.

The is­sue cast a dark cloud over the re­main­ing days of the cam­paign, with many de­mand­ing an­swers and ac­count­abil­ity.

Fol­low­ing the swear­ing in of the newly elected town coun­cil on Oct. 8, Mayor Philip Wood, who eas­ily held onto his post on Sept. 24, de­lib­er­ately broached the con­tro­ver­sial sub­ject.

“I made a com­mit­ment at the can­di­dates’ fo­rum to ad­dress it at the next meet­ing,” said Wood, who was not a mem­ber of coun­cil when the orig­i­nal 2005 land deal was signed.

In an ob­vi­ous at­tempt at restor­ing pub­lic con­fi­dence in the town’s lead­er­ship, Wood laid out the time­line for the events be­hind the pur­chase of the nearly 50 acres of land.

“It was im­por­tant for full dis­clo­sure at the first avail­able meet­ing,” he said.

Af­ter Wood was fin­ished, the mayor opened the floor for ques­tions, but cau­tioned that the mat­ter is still a very del­i­cate le­gal is­sue.

Coun. Char­lene Dawe-Roach, one of three new coun­cil­lors, asked whether the town had le­gal ad­vice to pro­ceed with the pur­chase based on a se­ries of af­fi­davits that tied the in­di­vid­ual to the land.

“Yes, we did,” replied chief ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fi­cer Nigel Black.

“It was ul­ti­mately the town’s de­ci­sion,” he added.

Coun. Bill Sey­mour then asked if the town was go­ing to make an at­tempt to re­coup the roughly $250,000 paid out in the orig­i­nal pur­chase.

Wood said the town has an open claim against the in­di­vid­ual.

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