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Mitchelmore questions why Flower’s Cove accepted funding; mayor wanted different terms

This map of Flower’s Cove shows where the town wanted to have road and water work completed. The orange line shows where Grenfell Avenue is located, the black line shows the waterline the town wants to have upgraded. - Contributed
This map of Flower’s Cove shows where the town wanted to have road and water work completed. The orange line shows where Grenfell Avenue is located, the black line shows the waterline the town wants to have upgraded. - Contributed - Contributed

Debate over Flower’s Cove road rages on

St. Barbe – L’Anse aux Meadows MHA Christopher Mitchelmore is doubling down on his criticism of the Town of Flower’s Cove.

In a Facebook response to The Northern Pen’s Aug. 15 story, “MHA critical of Flower’s Cove council in Facebook post”, Mitchelmore questioned why the town of Flower’s Cove applied for road and water work if it could only afford road work.

“If the Town only wanted cost-share roadwork at 50-50, similar to the Town of Anchor Point, then they could have applied for only this if they felt financial constraints, as they have more than $150,000 cash in the bank,” he wrote. “It would have been part of the Transportation and Works tender that was awarded earlier this year to Marine Contracting.”

Mitchelmore then questioned why the town confirmed its acceptance once it was approved for a 50/50 cost-share at a total cost of $1.3 million.

These new comments came after a Facebook post criticizing the town earlier in the month.

Flower’s Cove Mayor Keith Billard told The Northern Pen that when the town applied for Municipal Capital Works funding, it paired its road work with water work hoping it would mean a 90/10 cost-share arrangement, this being the ratio for water projects. But it was approved for a 50/50 cost-share arrangement, the ratio for road work.

In other words, instead of having to contribute 10 per cent of the total cost on both road and water, the town would have to contribute 50 per cent.

The Town of Flower’s Cove provided The Northern Pen a letter, dated Oct. 23, 2017, sent by town manager Bruce Way to Eddie Joyce, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Environment at the time.

In the letter, the town council did formally accept the province’s offer “for water upgrades with combined road paving.”

However, the letter adds that it accepted the offer at a cost-share ratio of 90/10, even though the province’s offer was at 50/50.

In other words, the province and the municipality were not on the same page for what the ratio would be.

The Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment has told The Northern Pen that if the majority of the work submitted in an application for a water/wastewater project is determined to be road work, then the ratio is changed to 50/50, prior to project approval.

If road work was incidental to the water/wastewater project, then the ratio would be 90/10.

The town has been trying to alter the arrangement since it became clear it would have to contribute $600,000 under a 50/50 ratio.

Billard maintains the town could not afford this. A couple of banks/loan agencies were contacted, but the full loan amounts could not be provided and/or monthly interest rates were high, so the town declined to accept the offers.

Billard also stresses that the town has not received the $600,000 from the federal and provincial governments as their contribution to the project, believing that Mitchelmore’s Facebook post gave the public this perception.

He says the town has between $160,000 to $170,000 in the bank, but it is budgeted for infrastructure work.

Why the town wants road and water split

The MHA questioned why the town now wanted road and water work divided over two years.

“I find it hard to comprehend the Town can not do this project as applied, and would require it to be split into two projects. Yet, next year it could afford to do the water project,” he said in his Aug. 15 Facebook post.

Billard told The Northern Pen this would be less costly for the town and they still could get the necessary work done.

Under his proposed arrangement, road work in 2018 would cost the town $300,000 at a cost-share of 50 per cent.

The town’s cost-share for water work would then be 10 per cent in 2019. It would no longer cost the town 50 per cent as it did when grouped with road work.

Billard says this is possible now as the work won’t have to touch the part of the waterline that runs underneath the pavement, which he says remains in good shape even though it’s 40 years old.

Harsh words

Billard also had strong words for Mitchelmore and his decision to take to Facebook to question the town council.

He accused Mitchelmore of no longer being a “constituency man” but a “party man”.

“He’s supposed to help us, but now he’s a party man,” he told The Northern Pen. “He’s not helping the area like he should.”

Mitchelmore felt he was prioritizing his constituents by speaking out.

“I’m certainly representing my constituency, as my constituents are the ones raising this concern,” he told The Northern Pen. “I’m having to clarify to them that the road is a town responsibility.”

Timeline of Events

• Sept. 2017 – Town of Flower’s Cove approved for a $1.3 million project to do road and water repairs in 2018. Per the Municipal Capital Works cost-sharing ratios, the town would contribute 50 per cent of the cost at $600,000, while the federal and provincial government would contribute 25 per cent each.

• Oct. 2017 – The Town of Flower’s Cove accepted the amount but only under a 90/10 cost-share ratio.

• Spring 2018 – Flower’s Cove Mayor Keith Billard pushed to alter the arrangement and have road work completed in 2018 and water work in 2019. He maintains the town cannot afford $600,000 at 50 per cent of the cost.

• Spring 2018 – The town council is pushing to have road work paved this year at a total cost of $300,000, of which it would pay 50 per cent.

• Spring 2018 – Council is pushing to have water work done in 2019 at a cost share of 10 per cent for the municipality.

• Summer 2018 – Billard believes it is possible to do these as two separate projects as he says the Grenfell Avenue waterline that needs to be upgraded runs parallel with and not underneath the pavement. The town sent The Northern Pen a map to illustrate this.

• Summer 2018 – However, the Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment has confirmed that it is developing a request for proposal to hire a consultant to do a preliminary design of the water system and see if the work can proceed without interfering with the road, as Billard believes. The Northern Pen contacted the department but did not receive an update on the status of the RFP as of Aug 17.

• Summer 2018 – Chris Power, Western Regional engineer for Municipal Affairs, told Billard in a July 26 email that, if approved, it could be paved either this year or next year depending on the contractor’s schedule.

• Summer 2018 – He also informed Billard that changing the scope of work would require approval from the Small Communities Fund Committee. This is a federal committee that oversees the allocation of funding for municipal projects.

• Summer 2018 – Billard insists the scope of work will remain the same but it will just be divided over two years.

• Summer 2018 – Billard feels these steps taken by the Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment are unnecessary and are contributing to the delay in work commencing on Flower’s Cove road. With a contractor in the area, he believes the work could commence sooner.

• Aug. 3, 2018 – Straits – L’Anse aux Meadows MHA Christopher Mitchelmore, posted to Facebook questioning why work wasn’t underway despite the poor road conditions. He suggests the town is at fault for the delay: “It is not Government of NL or the Federal Government delaying the project.”

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