Re­gion’s water­front pro­gram chal­lenged

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - Local - AL­LAN BEN­NER Al­lan.Ben­ner@ni­a­ 905-225-1629 | @aben­ner1

Two projects could be re­ceiv­ing $650,000 from the Re­gion’s water­front in­vest­ment pro­gram, de­spite be­ing de­scribed as hav­ing a shaky con­nec­tion to the water­front.

Ni­a­gara Re­gion coun­cil­lors ap­proved dip­ping into pro­gram funds to chip in $250,000 to help Lin­coln pay for the de­vel­op­ment of a new Jor­dan His­tor­i­cal Mu­seum to be built on Twenty Mile Creek; while a $400,000 grant was ap­proved for the Mil­len­nium Trail be­side the Hy­dro Canal in Ni­a­gara Falls.

“It’s a ten­u­ous con­nec­tion to the water­front,” said St. Catharines Coun. Bruce Timms, while con­sid­er­ing the fund­ing at Wed­nes­day’s plan­ning com­mit­tee meet­ing.

Al­though Timms sup­ported the projects — both lo­cated on the banks of nearby wa­ter­ways — he again raised con­cerns about the pro­gram that led to the staff rec­om­men­da­tions to sup­port the fund­ing re­quests.

At a pre­vi­ous plan­ning com­mit­tee meet­ing in April, Timms said the water­front in­vest­ment pro­gram could no longer ful­fil its orig­i­nal man­date, which was to build a re­serve to al­low the Re­gion to pur­chase lake­front prop­erty and en­sure pub­lic ac­cess to Ni­a­gara beaches. He asked for a re­port from re­gional staff on ways to change that.

This week, Timms re­it­er­ated his hopes of re­view­ing the pro­gram.

“I would like to pur­sue some­thing at a future date to change that prac­tice,” he said.

Al­though the lake­front en­hance­ment strat­egy was ini­tially ap­proved in 2014, two years later re­gional coun­cil merged the Re­gion’s lake­front and water­front en­hance­ment strate­gies to cre­ate the water­front in­vest­ment pro­gram — shift­ing the fo­cus away from pur­chas­ing lake­front prop­erty to in­stead put the em­pha­sis on eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. The new pro­gram lists 22 wa­ter­ways through­out Ni­a­gara where mu­nic­i­pal projects worth more than $1 mil­lion may be el­i­gi­ble for fund­ing, and both the Hy­dro Canal and Twenty Mile Creek are in­cluded on that list.

“I’m not happy with the way the pro­gram works,” Timms said at this week’s meet­ing.

“This is re­ally about an eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment strat­egy and how the Re­gion can help var­i­ous mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties do a mu­seum project or do a trail project.”

Wel­land Coun. Ge­orge Marshall shared con­cerns about the changes to the pro­gram.

“That wasn’t the in­tent when this first started. It was ma­jor lake­front only, then,” Marshall said. “Now we gen­er­al­ized it and yet lim­ited it.”

Marshall said he was “as­ton­ished” that only two ap­pli­ca­tions were sub­mit­ted for the fund­ing be­fore the pro­gram closed March 30, adding he, too, would wel­come a re­view.

Timms asked for con­cept plans for both projects, as well as scores the ap­pli­cants re­ceived for spe­cific cri­te­ria in the fund­ing pro­gram.

“Hid­ing th­ese scores from the de­ci­sion maker is not in the best in­ter­est of the ap­pli­cant, the pub­lic or this coun­cil. I would like to see that process changed for the next one,” he said.

Projects are awarded up to 50 points out of 100 for eco­nomic im­pact, and up to 35 points for project de­vel­op­ment and im­ple­men­ta­tion.

“There are no points for water­front con­nec­tion, but this is called the water­front strat­egy,” Timms said.

Plan­ning commissioner Rino Mostacci said cri­te­ria scor­ing isn’t typ­i­cally pro­vided at the com­mit­tee level.

“That’s ac­tu­ally the process. It’s not to have coun­cil go through the scor­ing, ad­ju­di­cate the scor­ing, dou­ble check the scor­ing and val­i­date it. That’s not what the process is about,” Mostacci said.

Fort Erie Coun. Sandy An­nun­zi­ata said giv­ing re­gional coun­cil ac­cess to the scor­ing ma­trix “is wrought with com­pli­ca­tions with re­spect to parochial­ism.”

Timms, how­ever, said his re­quest for the scor­ing in­for­ma­tion was for trans­parency, and he never in­tended that coun­cil should be in­volved in the scor­ing process.


The Mil­len­nium Trail in Ni­a­gara Falls, a por­tion of which is shown in this file photo, will be re­ceiv­ing about $400,000 in Ni­a­gara Re­gion fund­ing through the Water­front In­vest­ment Pro­gram.

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