An­other ex­am­ple of failed gov­er­nance struc­ture

The Compass - - OPINION - — Terry Roberts

Bar­ring any ma­jor prob­lems, it’s now very likely that within a cou­ple of years, a new sta­dium will open its doors in the Town of Har­bour Grace and the ven­er­a­ble S. W. Moores Me­mo­rial Sta­dium will fade into his­tory.

It will come four or five — maybe even six — years af­ter the provin­cial govern­ment first an­nounced it would pay up to 70 per cent of the cap­i­tal cost, with the re­main­der to be paid by the town.

But when the keys are handed over to town of­fi­cials, it’s also a cer­tainty that the fa­cil­ity will not have been built to the size and scope of what had ini­tially been en­vi­sioned.

Will it ri­val the im­pres­sive are­nas in Tor­bay and Clarenville?

That re­mains to be seen, but it’s un­likely if you con­sider the con­tro­ver­sial and un­cer­tain path this project has taken since it was first an­nounced in late sum­mer 2011.

For sev­eral years, cost es­ti­mates for the project topped the $21 mil­lion mark, with hopes for two ice sur­faces, seat­ing for 1,200, a walk­ing track, space for town of­fices and much more, per­haps even curl­ing.

But ques­tions about whether the town of just over 3,100 cit­i­zens could af­ford the fa­cil­ity emerged even be­fore the ink was dry on the news re­lease.

And while the process for build­ing sim­i­lar fa­cil­i­ties in Con­cep­tion Bay South and Par­adise have pro­gressed nicely, not a sin­gle shovel has clawed into the ground in Har­bour Grace.

Why? Largely be­cause there have been ques­tions about whether the town could af­ford the fa­cil­ity. The provin­cial govern­ment has or­dered sev­eral re­views of the town’s fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion, and only re­cently did se­nior govern­ment of­fi­cials state pub­licly that it was on­side with the project.

But the once-en­thu­si­as­tic tone is now con­sid­er­ably un­der­stated, with town of­fi­cials con­firm­ing last month it hopes to build the arena at a to­tal cost of some $14 mil­lion. That’s more than $7 mil­lion be­low fig­ures that were be­ing bandied about un­til just re­cently, and con­sid­er­ing the rate at which con­struc­tion costs have in­creased since 2011, the im­pact of this re­duc­tion will be sig­nif­i­cant.

So will area res­i­dents have to set­tle for a stripped down ver­sion of what was orig­i­nally pro­posed? We al­ready know that hopes for a two-ice sur­face fa­cil­ity have been tossed, and in­stead of 1,200 seats, town lead­ers are now say­ing the seat­ing ca­pac­ity will be less than 800.

So de­spite re­as­sur­ances from town lead­ers that the new fa­cil­ity will be on par with other next-gen­er­a­tion sports com­plexes in east­ern New­found­land, it’s be­com­ing bla­tantly clear that cor­ners are be­ing cut so tax­pay­ers in Har­bour Grace are not over­bur­dened by the cost of this project, and fu­ture op­er­at­ing costs.

It’s re­as­sur­ing that town lead­ers are act­ing re­spon­si­bly and not bit­ing off more than the town can chew. But is all this nec­es­sary? Should a small town of 3,100, nes­tled amongst a gag­gle of 11 other towns along some 40-plus kilo­me­tres of coast­line, have to shoul­der this fi­nan­cial bur­den on its own?

Clearly not. It’s yet an­other ex­am­ple of the in­ef­fi­cient and in­ef­fec­tive gov­er­nance struc­ture in Con­cep­tion Bay North.

From Sal­mon Cove to Bri­gus, there are some 25,000 cit­i­zens (2011 Cen­sus) and a dozen in­cor­po­rated towns. That’s right on par with the Town of Con­cep­tion Bay South, which was cre­ated in 1973 fol­low­ing the very suc­cess­ful amal­ga­ma­tion of nine com­mu­ni­ties along a coast­line of 20 kilo­me­tres.

Imag­ine if the 12 com­mu­ni­ties in CBN were united as the Town of Con­cep­tion Bay North? Would we be nickel and dim­ing this project? Ab­so­lutely not. Would the project be well un­der­way. Very likely.

Imag­ine shar­ing the cap­i­tal cost for this project on a re­gional level, and then imag­ine the type of fa­cil­ity that could be built.

Imag­i­na­tion is a won­der­ful thing.

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