Region’s waterfront program challenged
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.