BY SAMUEL PICCOLO
Nearly four months after the Voice first asked for tender documents pertaining to millions of dollars of construction work in East Fonthill, on May 30 the Town of Pelham fulfilled part of the newspaper’s Freedom of Information (FOI) request.
At Council last week, Councillor Gary Accursi asked Clerk Nancy Bozzato whether the matter of tenders in East Fonthill has been addressed fully.
“That particular request was released,” responded Bozzato, saying that the request had taken such a long time because the Town was working with “third parties and Upper Canada Consultants.”
Though the Town has provided the Voice with some tender documents, it still has not provided corresponding resolutions from Council approving the successful bids. These resolutions are required under the original contract between the Town, UCC, and Fonthill Gardens, an East Fonthill developer.
In addition, the Town provided a duplicate copy of a bid for one project, and no copy of a bid for the another. After the oversight was brought to Bozzato’s attention, she provided an amended version of the Town’s FOI response just before the newspaper went to press on Monday.
The Voice continues to review the documentation that was provided by the Town with construction experts.
“It’s unfortunate to see that our clerk is spending a significant amount of time dealing not only with the original FOIs but having to deal with the appeals,” said Accursi at Council.
If an FOI request is denied, applicants have the option to appeal the decision to the Ontario Privacy Commission.
“If we’re successful at the appeal, is there any recourse for us to recover the cost, anything to prevent the frivolous appeal?” asked Accursi of Bozzato. Bozzato said that the Town does not have such an option.
Accursi’s comments drew the attention of Voice publisher Dave Burket.
“It is troubling that Councillor Accursi seems to think that it’s ‘unfortunate’ that Town staff have to spend time on FOI requests,” said Burket.
“Freedom of information is one of the hallmarks of democracy. The fact that government has to provide it to citizens—and the media—isn’t a shame, it’s the law.”
Step forward on Poth
Town Council approved a detailed design plan for repairing the Poth Street culverts last week, a step forward in reopening a road that has been closed since April 2017.
The Town spent some $50,000 dollars on studies from consultant GM BluePlan last year, which concluded that deep pilings were needed to support a replacement pipe and that a fix would cost at least $1 million dollars.
But on May 7, council heard a report from a different consultant, Spriet Associated Ltd., which said that the repair was likely in the $350,000 range.
“We think there is a solution,” said John Spriet. “It’s called digging a hole, uncovering the old pipes [and putting new ones in].”
Steve Burt, a subcontractor who presented with Spriet, said, “I’ve never heard of a deep foundation supporting a pipe. To put a pipe in the ground you just need a granular base there, and make sure you’ve got granular backfill around it properly compacted.”
On May 21, council discussed using funds approved for the now-deferred Pelham Street reconstruction for a Poth repair. Last week, Director of Public Works Andrea Clemencio provided an updated timeline, saying that the challenge was aligning the plans received from Spriet with council meetings.
“A challenge appears to be a narrower road allowance than previously thought, and making sure that we’re not getting into a custom-length pipe. This kind of thing would take it from a June to July date. Once the design is done with a revised construction estimate, we could come for the approval of funds,” said Clemencio last week.
“Tendering takes about four weeks at least. At the same time we could start applying for the fish permit. Once that comes together, the construction length time is anywhere from four to six weeks…[A repair] is possible this summer.”
Though councillors expressed their satisfaction that finally progress was being made on Poth, Councillor John Durley made mention of the substantial delay.
“This has gone on a long time. Maybe we need a ‘How Might We’ so that this doesn’t happen again,” he said, referring to the “creative problem-solving process” the Town uses.
“There’s no reason to go from $1.5 million to $350,000. We were looking at information that was incomplete, it was a big waste of time, and a long time not having the road open for residents.”
Last August, when Director of Public Works Andrea Clemencio asked council to approve a further $5,000 to $10,000 for soil testing, there was some pushback against the idea that such work was needed.
Then-Councillor Marvin Junkin was the most forceful at the time.
“I’m a little puzzled,” he said. “Why [do] we have to spend more money on a geotechnical investigation…the reason those culverts failed didn’t have anything to do with twisting or leaning. The fact of the matter is that after forty years they rusted out, their life was done.”
Clemencio told Junkin and the rest of Council that bedrock needed to be found that could support provincially legislated loads.
“I’ve lived out in the country, I’ve been a farmer my whole life,” responded Junkin. “You have something that lasted for forty years—and I’m sure they didn’t do geotechnical studies at that time. They probably just went down to what they thought was solid ground, put two feet of gravel, and put in these culverts. It just blows my mind that something that was done forty years ago without all these surveys…lasted its lifetime.”
Despite the initial protestations of Junkin and others on council, Clemencio received the extra money for testing.
In November, Council heard a report from GMBluePlan Engineering on the project, and Clemencio recommended that $1.2 million in the 2018 budget be considered to cover the cost of replacing the structure. The cheapest proposed solution, said Clemencio, was a steel bridge, plate-box culvert on footings and piles.
Council ultimately elected not to fund the project in the 2018 budget.
The delays have also frustrated Poth Street residents. A windstorm in December felled a tree across the road a ways down from the culvert, temporarily blocking-in some residents. The next day one of these residents, Bruno Villalta, who is 75, went to Town Hall to speak with staff about the issue.
“I talked to [Director of Public Works] Andrea Clemencio and the CAO [Darren Ottaway],” says Villalta. “And I was told that there wasn’t any money, and that it wouldn’t be done until 2019.”
Villalta says that he asked the two what he was supposed to do, explaining that his wife is in a wheelchair and that he has a heart condition. A fallen tree or heavy snowfall could mean that an ambulance couldn’t reach them.
“And the CAO told me, ‘Well, you could sell your house and move.’”
Ottaway did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Pelham’s Public Relations and Marketing Specialist, Marc Macdonald, confirmed that Ottaway and Villalta spoke, but that the CAO asserted he did not tell Villalta that he could sell his house if he was unhappy.
But despite Ottaway’s denial, he expressed a similar lack of interest in a Poth repair on other occasions.
In written comments to Council, Ottaway asked, “Is this repair going to create wealth? Do the nine parcels generate wealth?”
In an audio recording of a meeting with several Pelham residents in January, Ottaway is heard to say, “Even if we had fifty billion in the bank, I’d be hard pressed to recommend that project to Council at this point. It doesn’t make any practical sense, whatsoever…Sulphur Springs is not a priority for us right now, and neither is Poth.”
Ottaway said that residents of Poth need only turn the other way out of their driveways.
“In order to meet the regulation, we’ve got to spend a million bucks.”
Ottaway said that he was just posing a question: “Is it a responsible use of taxpayers’ money to replace a culvert for one person because they chose to live in an area that is in a rural setting?”
Ottaway asserted that he was only asking the question, not responding to it. But in the same meeting, he seemed to give an answer.
“They’ve exercised their constitutional right to live wherever they want, and yet now their expectation is that everyone else has to pay for that,” he said. “I don’t think that’s fair.”
Ottaway called a home in the area a “bad investment.”
“You chose to live there,” he said, addressing a hypothetical Poth resident. “That’s your problem. I’m sorry, that may sound harsh.”
Ottaway said that residents in rural areas are subsidized by Fonthill residents, since the taxes paid by rural residents aren’t even enough to cover the cost of plowing snow on their streets.
Villalta has routinely attended Council meetings where a repair of his street has been discussed, and was in the audience last week.
“Finally it looks like they are going to do something,” he said.
River Road residents
want new addresses
Council heard a petition last week from residents of River Road, who want the Town to amplify their request to Canada Post to change their mailing addresses to align with their civic addresses.
“We were unfairly given a mailing address different from where we live,” Jennifer Hadrevi, a resident of the road, told Council. To demonstrate, she explained that her civic address is on River Road in Fenwick, with a Fenwick postal code, but that her mailing address is just “River” in Welland, with a Welland postal code.
“This disparity causes numerous issues and safety concerns,” she said, describing how there is a River Road in Welland 15 kilometres away that results in confusion.
“There was a break-in at a house on the street and it took four hours for police to find it,” said Hadrevi. “There was a fire on the road in 2007 and in the confusion fire trucks were dispatched to both.”
She said that government institutions use the Canada Post database, and that residents of the road have had issues with Elections Canada too, which registers them to vote in the incorrect riding and forces them to seek a manual override.
“We pay Pelham taxes. We’re located in Pelham. We would like to have the same privilege as others,” she said.
Hadrevi said that one resident of the street has three children, two of which were permitted to attend schools in Pelham but one who was required to go to a Welland school.
“Your house insurance and car insurance are determined by the postal code on your driver’s license,” she said, further detailing issues with signing up for rewards cards, and utility service calls.
“Clearly we can do better. It’s not rocket science. It’s a mailing address. It’s where you live, not where Canada Post assigns you,” she said.
Hadrevi also presented to council the results of a survey completed among 42 addresses along River Road.
Voting in favour of the address change were 62 percent, voting against 21 percent, with 17 percent not responding. Those who voted in favour, Hadrevi said, cited concerns about emergencies in which emergency services may be incorrectly dispatched.
Among the residents who voted against requesting such a change, the justifications ranged from the inconvenience and cost of notifying the necessary bodies of a change in address.
“They were concerned about the cost of mail forwarding for a year, and a basic resistance to change,” said Hadrevi.
“Many have already made accommodations—they mail things to their work address or rent a PO box in town.”
Though council did not vote on a resolution, Mayor Augustyn spoke at length to the matter, saying that he had discussed possible address changes with a representative of Canada Post at a conference the previous weekend.
“He indicated a couple things,” said Augustyn. “This is not unique, and they’ve recently helped some other communities in re-jigging the mailing addresses.” Augustyn mentioned specifically the towns of Puslinch, near Cambridge, and LaSalle, near Windsor.
“The goal, according to [the Canada Post employee], is to have all addresses within the civic boundary. These are hangovers from the rural route days,” said Augustyn, who said he was told that Canada Post offers change of address free for a year if residents follow a specific process.
“I give that for information when staff are formulating a report on this,” said Augustyn.
Councillor John Durley cautioned residents that the end result of their request may not be what they desire.
“Canada Post is trying to get away from door-to-door delivery,” he said. “You might get a super mailbox in the middle of the river.”