Environmental problems caused by the federal government could end up costing Sidney residents, prompting a Sidney councillor to accuse Ottawa of being uncooperative.
Coun. Scott Garnett levelled the charge as Sidney is moving ahead with the renovation of Reay Creek Dam along Reay Creek. Transport Canada acknowledged earlier that its past activities on nearby Victoria International Airport had contaminated the pond created by the dam and is promising to clean it up. But officials with Transport Canada have so far refused to coordinate its remediation work with Sidney’s renovation work.
Jenn Clary, Sidney’s director of engineering, said the current cost estimate of $720,000 rests on the work being done with the federal government draining the pond as part of its remediation efforts. But she said conversations with federal officials have deemed this development “unlikely.” She added localized draining “may further inflate” the cost of the project. Sidney continues to speak to federal officials, she said.
This apparent refusal by the federal government angered Coun. Scott Garnett, who said he felt “very frustrated” by the behaviour of the federal government.
“I feel they have acknowledged that the problem exists with them and lies with them,” he said. “They should be willing to do more to work with us as a town to get this stuff all done together and I feel like they are not doing their part.”
Garnett also said it might be time for Sidney to work through local MP Elizabeth May to get the attention of the federal government. “With the new [incoming] minister [of transportation], we should keep the fire lit, so to speak,” he said. He also encouraged local residents to voice their concerns. Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith said a previous meeting with May was helpful, as she raised the matter directly with Marc Garneau, federal transportation minister, who then followed up with Transport Canada.
Randy Humble, Sidney’s chief administrative officer, said Ottawa is aware of the fact that Sidney would like to work with the federal government in 2020.
“They are not saying no, but they are saying there are challenges,” he said.
If Garnett represented one side of the argument, Coun. Peter Wainwright showed some sympathy for the perspective of the federal government.
“Transport Canada is concerned about the safety of having two large construction projects going on at the same site,” he said. “That is not a completely unreasonable concern.” That said, Sidney believes it can be done safely, and is willing to make compromises, he added.
He also tried to temper any political anger towards Ottawa. Federal officials cannot accurately evaluate the safety issues until they have final designs before them, he said. Until such time, federal officials will be able to deflect, he said. This makes it imperative for Sidney to complete the design work as quickly as possible, he said, an argument shared by Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith.
He said in a follow up email that additional pressure concerns the timing of the work as the the federal department of fisheries and oceans has limited construction on both projects to a window between June to mid-September because the creek and pond are fish habitat. Staff, he added, are in regular discussions with Transport Canada and the dam design work due in April will provide important information about whether the projects will happen simultaneously.
Council also announced it plans to hold a public information session early in 2020 to update the public on plans concerning the dam.
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