Premier, activist agree on priorities
by Frank Armstrong, staff reporter
|Perhaps for the first time ever, local environmental champion Janet Fletcher agrees with Premier Mike Harris.
In the wake of the tainted water crisis in Walkerton, Harris has suggested local governments make infrastructure a priority, and direct money to water and sewage projects before focusing on low-priority programs like community centres and theatres.
Fletcher said yesterday it’s “ludicrous” for Premier Harris to blame municipalities for not spending money on crucial projects when the province has downloaded so much responsibility on local governments.
However, Fletcher said, Harris may be on the mark when it comes to Kingston.
“I hate to give him any support, but Kingston’s a pretty good example of what he’s talking about,” she said in an interview.
Fletcher, a founding member of the Environmental Bureau of Investigation, successfully took the City of Kingston to court over pollution leaking from the former municipal dump at Belle Park.
She said the municipality seems to have its priorities skewed.
“They always seem to be focusing on what’s going to make them a little money and neglecting what they should be spending the money on.”
She’s talking about the multi-purpose facility proposed for Block D and a $4.5-million facelift planned for Market Square.
“To go forward with something like Block D and invest any money in it right now means it is taking away from the [environmental] priorities they have facing them É which they continue to ignore.”
Fletcher points to the $265 million that is needed to upgrade the city’s antiquated sewer system, to stop leachate leaking from Belle Park and to replace an outdated underwater pipe that pumps sewage across the Cataraqui River.
Installed in 1955, the pipe was considered at the time to have a 45- to 50-year life span. If it broke, the pipe would release massive amounts of untreated raw sewage into the river.
Utilities Kingston engineers believe there is little immediate risk and the utility is waiting for mid-July, when councillors will choose a consultant to design a plan to deal with the problem. Engineers expect to have a solution implemented in three to four years.
Leonore Foster, chairwoman of the city’s transportation and environment committee, said the municipality has made sewers and other infrastructure improvements a priority.
“If you look at our capital budget over 10 years’ time, we are spending millions and millions and millions of dollars to deal with some of the environmental problems,” Foster said.
Over the next decade, the city plans to spend $83 million on the Cataraqui River pipe, $53 million on downtown sewer infrastructure and $20 million in its new suburbs. “We know what needs to be spent and we’re doing it,” Foster said.
Mayor Gary Bennett doesn’t believe Premier Harris was pointing a finger at Kingston.
“There are no plans for us to take money that would be invested in infrastructure into the Block D development,” Bennett said.
The only local tax money that will go toward Block D would be taxes generated by the condominium and hotel complex planned for the site, he said.
For Block D, the city will be asking for government funding through the Ontario SuperBuild fund, a pot of money that matches public funds with private investment.
As for the Market Square project, Foster said only about 36 per cent of the cost will come from city coffers.
Nonetheless, said Foster, a member of the marketplace task force, it will be money well spent. “Once it’s revitalized É tourism will be attracted, we’ll gain more money in our coffers and [have] more money on infrastructure programs,” she said.