Coun­cils give cabi­net min­is­ters an ear­ful

Plenty of needs laid out in two-hour meet­ing with Hawkins, Joyce

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY AN­DREW ROBIN­SON

There was no short­age of is­sues to bring to the ta­ble dur­ing a lengthy Con­cep­tion Bay North Joint Coun­cil meet­ing with two pro­vin­cial cabi­net min­is­ters in at­ten­dance.

Trans­porta­tion and Works Min­is­ter Al Hawkins and Mu­nic­i­pal Af­fairs Min­is­ter Ed­die Joyce didn’t shy away from an­swer­ing ques­tions on a mul­ti­tude of top­ics, some of which didn’t fall un­der their re­spec­tive port­fo­lios.

Mul­ti­ple coun­cil mem­bers at the meet­ing last Wed­nes­day in North River brought up the state of roads in their towns. Coun. Pat Mackey of North River said his town has been wait­ing years for up­grades to the main road. He said there’s a feel­ing in com­mu­nity not much gets done be­cause North River is al­ways on the edge of the MHA’s dis­trict.

“One of the last meet­ings we were to, they were talk­ing about putting in speed bumps in com- mu­ni­ties,” he said. “We don’t need to do that, be­cause all of our cul­verts are col­laps­ing. It’s an is­sue. I in­vite you to drive up the road while you’re here.”

Har­bour Grace Mayor Terry Barnes also brought up the need for road im­prove­ments on Harvey Street, and Cupids Coun. Kevin Con­nolly, who has pro­fes­sional ex­pe­ri­ence deal­ing with road­work, ques­tioned whether pro­vin­cial in­spec­tors are ad­e­quately as­sess­ing the qual­ity of work com­pleted.

Con­nolly also wor­ries con- trac­tors are skimp­ing on the amount of tar used for road con­struc­tion, given the cost of tar has in­creased con­sid­er­ably over the years.

Ac­cord­ing to Hawkins, his de­part­ment is deal­ing with 1,500 re­quests for road­work, and that alone would cost gov­ern­ment ap­prox­i­mately $1 bil­lion. As it stands, his de­part­ment has $62 mil­lion to spend this year on roads. That comes from $570 mil­lion bud­geted for all in­fra­struc­ture projects.

“One of the first things I did when I be­came min­is­ter in De­cem­ber (2015), I sat down with my staff and said, ‘ One of the things I want to do is to take pol­i­tics out of this role, be­cause we all know the history.’ And I’m go­ing to be blunt on this. A lot of the times, you get a kilo­me­tre of road done in this par­tic­u­lar dis­trict, you get a kilo­me­tre done in this one, a kilo­me­tre done in this one, a kilo­me­tre done in that one over there. So you get four kilo­me­tres done, and then ev­ery­thing else in be­tween should have been done.”

Hawkins said his de­part­ment has worked with re­gional di­rec­tors to iden­tify the roads most in need of work. From there, gov­ern­ment is fo­cus­ing on a five-year plan that Hawkins em­pha­sizes will be “ev­i­dence-based.”

“There will be con­sul­ta­tions with mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s in­put,” he said. “Your re­gional di­rec­tors, it’s very, very im­por­tant. You need to get in con­tact with your re­gional di­rec­tor and make sure they’re fully aware.”

Fed­eral help

Hawkins is hope­ful the pro­vin­cial-fed­eral Build­ing Canada Fund might also help ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties more with re­spect to roads than in years past.

Pre­vi­ously, most roads in New­found­land and Labrador didn’t qual­ify for fund­ing un­der the pro­gram. That’s be­cause fund­ing cri­te­ria re­quired qual­i­fy­ing roads to han­dle at least 10,000 ve­hi­cles daily. With some lob­by­ing, that fig­ure was re­duced to 1,000 ve­hi­cles a day.

“What we have to do now, with some of the cri­te­ria changes, we’re mak­ing an ap­pli­ca­tion plus a busi­ness case for some of the roads to fit into the Build­ing Canada Fund,” said Hawkins, adding it’s un­likely those ef­forts will bear fruit in time for the cur­rent con­struc­tion sea­son.

Else­where, con­cerns about li­brary clo­sures, wa­ter and sewer ser­vices and waste­water treat­ment were brought up. Men­tion was made of lo­cal ser­vice dis­tricts need­ing to pay their fair share of taxes to help all mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties. Joyce said gov­ern­ment is cur­rently un­der­tak­ing a re­view of that is­sue, with re­gion­al­iza­tion also be­ing in­cluded in the dis­cus­sion.

To­wards the end of the meet­ing, Coun. Gord Stone of Har­bour Grace high­lighted the need for gov­ern­ment not to over­look the value of in­vest­ing in projects with a po­ten­tial to cre­ate eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties dur­ing un­cer­tain times. He made those comments with re­spect to the town’s ma­rine in­dus­trial park pro­posal, though he also talked about projects hap­pen­ing else­where in Con­cep­tion Bay North.

“What we need to rec­og­nize and get sup­port from you and gov­ern­ment tonight is you have to look at the Con­cep­tion Bay North pearl, as I call it. About 40,000 peo­ple live out here. We have a lot of seniors homes be­ing built, res­i­den­tial ar­eas be­ing de­vel­oped, we’ve got the har­bour in Bay Roberts, the har­bour in Har­bour Grace, and all the other po­ten­tials.

“What we need from gov­ern­ment is to look at our pro­pos­als from the dif­fer­ent towns and rec­og­nize the po­ten­tial for jobs, longterm jobs and de­vel­op­ment in rough times.”

AN­DREW ROBIN­SON/THE COM­PASS

Trans­porta­tion and Works Min­is­ter Al Hawkins, centre, chats with Bri­gus Coun. Lorne Youden and Spa­niard’s Bay Coun. Brenda Sey­mour fol­low­ing last Wed­nes­day’s Con­cep­tion Bay North Joint Coun­cil meet­ing in North River.

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