/Reeves share highlights of 2016 and look ahead to 2017 
Minden Hills Reeve Brent Devolin who's the Haliburton County warden for 2017.

Reeves share highlights of 2016 and look ahead to 2017 

By Chad Ingram

Published Jan. 5 2017

The Times asked Minden Hills Reeve Brent Devolin and Algonquin Highlands Reeve Carol Moffatt to share some highlights and challenges from 2016 and goals for 2017 with the paper.

Minden Hills

In 2017 if all goes according to plan construction will start and finish on a project a decade in the making says Minden Hills Reeve Brent Devolin.

“We’re going to build a fire hall” Devolin says. “They’ve been kicking that can around for a decade-ish.”

In November Minden Hills council awarded the contract for the $2-million project to Huntsville’s Greystone Construction. The facility will be built beside the county EMS base along Highway 35 on a piece of property Minden Hills purchased from the upper tier. The construction of a new fire hall has been discussed by a succession of councils with preliminary studies conducted during the previous council term.

Devolin says the new hall will be operational by the end of the year.

“2017 will see it started and completed” he says.

With the opening of the new facility the space occupied by the current Minden Hills fire hall will be opened up for other yet-to-be-determined purposes.

This year council will also get to work on strategic and economic development plans for the township through a framework laid out by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA).

“The people at OMAFRA are very expert in this” Devolin says. “We will have them coach us and lead us through the process.”

Some similar studies have been done in the past the last one a village development master plan completed in 2013 during the previous council term and the reeve says those documents will be drawn upon.

“We’re going to dust off some of the bodies of work others have done we don’t have to reinvent the wheel” Devolin says.

The township will also continue looking at expansion options for the Minden Hills Community Centre and S.G. Nesbitt Memorial Arena. A public input process for that project drew some criticism last fall after an indoor pool was not an option in any of the scenarios presented.

Devolin who will sit as warden of Haliburton County for 2017 says conversations about changes to county council and the role of warden are also on the menu for the year.

During her last meeting as county warden for 2016 Algonquin Highlands Reeve Carol Moffatt requested that the upper-tier council have a discussion about changing the role of warden which she says is becoming more and more about being an external advocate for the community and a liaison with upper levels of government.

Currently county council – which consists of the reeves and deputy-reeves of each of the county’s four lower-tier townships – votes annually on who will sit as warden for the upcoming year. One of Moffatt’s suggestions was that the warden’s term be extended to two years with option for renewal. Another was for the creation of a new position a ninth member of county council who would be elected by residents as warden and serve for a full four-year municipal term.

“My intention this year with the rest of county council we need to have a frank discussion about why we do what we do what’s the evolution that is going on elsewhere” Devolin says. “What’s becoming more the norm elsewhere is a two-year [warden’s] term. We’re going to talk about a bunch of stuff and I would say there is nothing that will be out of bounds in terms of discussion.”

Reflecting on 2016 “the biggest highlight of the year the housing initiative” Devolin says referring to the Pinegrove Place affordable housing complex being constructed by the Kawartha Lakes Haliburton Housing Corporation near the S.G. Nesbitt Memorial Arena. Residents are scheduled to move into the 12-unit building later this year.

“Really we haven’t done any of that kind of building in over 20 years” Devolin says. “We’ve had multiple housing studies that say we need 200 housing units or equivalent of all housing types of which that’s one type.”

While Minden Hills council had agreed to pay up to $300000 for preparatory work for the project it would end up dishing out some $540000. Some work – including the relocation of a quonset hut and roads work – ended up costing more than anticipated and the township also paid some $110000 to connect the building to the township’s water and sewer system something staff said they only discovered in the fall was to be the township’s responsibility.

Devolin points out the work is not just for the 12-unit building currently under construction but a second phase of the project the housing corporation has planned for the future. Together both phases will provide more than 30 units.

“Basically we have it ready at Pinegrove Place for phase one and phase two” he says.

Devolin lists a 25-year plan for the Scotch Line landfill 10-year asset management plans for vehicles roads and structures and an emergency management plan for township as other accomplishments of  2016.

“It’s a huge comprehensive body of work with department heads and others that assesses all kinds of risk” he says. “In 2016 it was an awful lot of work by all department heads and others. It’s sort of one of those things we hope we never have to use it but the fact it’s fully evolved gives me comfort.”

A major challenge of 2016 was the situation at Bob Lake south of Minden.

Residents of the lake approached council after their boats were stranded in the lake by a landowner who barricaded a long-used boat launch on his property.

For many years there was a misunderstanding including by Minden Hills township that the launch was publicly owned. However it is located on private property and citing legal concerns after he was told he had an unsafe boat launch the owner blocked access to the site with a chain barrier and later a line of flagstones.

Residents came to council saying their boats were being held hostage on Bob Lake. There is no public launch on the water body.

Eventually council was able to negotiate an agreement with that landowner and lake residents were given an 11-day window in early October to remove their vessels. That process cost the township nearly $10000 not including staff time.

“There’s no single file that invested more time in in 2016” Devolin says. “Bob Lake is a perfect example of things that happened in the past where there was no ill intent. A private dam was built on properties that were substantially owned by a logging enterprise. There would have been verbal commitments and handshakes of which there’s no public record.”

The reeve reiterated it was an apparent comment by one lake resident to the property owner about litigious issues with the launch that spring boarded the sequence of events.

“That’s what started this whole thing” Devolin says. Devolin has said repeatedly he’s working on a long-term solution but will not disclose details.

On a personal note being elected warden by his county council colleagues was an accomplishment for Devolin making him the first Minden Hills reeve to fill the position since Jim McMahon in 2005.

“A dozen years is a long time for Minden to not have the seat at that table” he says.

Algonquin Highlands

A few bumps in the proverbial road during 2016 aren’t deterring Algonquin Highlands Reeve Carol Moffatt.

“We’ve certainly had a bit of a roller coaster year around a few big issues such as the office addition and the two well problems but we’re confident in how those are working out and the township remains successful progressive and responsive” Moffatt wrote in an email to the paper.

Algonquin Highlands council awarded the contract for an addition to the municipal building on North Shore Road to Woodbridge’s Maram Building Corp. in April.

The $580000 project – which includes more workspace for staff as well as accessible washrooms and front entranceway – had initially been scheduled to be completed by the end of the summer but work halted after the contractor defaulted on the job.

The expansion remains incomplete with council meetings taking place at the Stanhope Firefighters’ Community Hall down the road while some staffers work out of council chambers located in the municipal building.

The township had to dig a new well at the public works garage in Dorset after water from the first well was unusable due to high sodium levels. At the community hall high iron levels were the problem.

“The overall highlight for Algonquin Highlands has to be the completion of the airport project with the MNRF base opening an aviation mechanic moving in a development plan in the works and our victory in the Todd Brothers lawsuit” Moffatt wrote. “There were some pretty frustrating times on this project in the last six years but patience strategic decision-making and a bit of give-and-take by all involved resulted in an excellent partnership with a solid future and much opportunity.”

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry officially opened its new $12-million fire response base at the Stanhope Airport in August with staff working out of the building since the spring. Its local fire response base had previously been located in Haliburton Village. Todd Bros. Contracting Ltd. sued Algonquin Highlands township after council cancelled an unpopular runway project at the airport.

Todd Brothers was hired in 2009 by the council led by reeve Eleanor Harrison for construction work on a new runway as well as rehabilitation of the existing runway. While the rehab work was completed the construction of a new runway controversial in the community was rescinded by the next council led by Reeve Carol Moffatt.

The federal and provincial funding that had been approved for the runway project was redirected to the township’s portion of the MNRF base project at the airport.

Todd Brothers was seeking nearly $180000 in damages representing 10 per cent of what the company was to be paid for work on the new runway.

In 2009 before the company’s tender was accepted Todd Brothers signed a waiver dictating that the company would “not seek any compensation for . . . work identified but not completed . . . in the event that the township cannot proceed to any of the phases as a result of matters beyond the control of the Township of Algonquin Highlands or delays resulting from the review being completed by the CEAA (Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency) . . . any other public issues/concerns or the withdrawal of funding from applicable sources.”

The company argued the decision to rescind the project was an entirely political one and therefore within the township’s control. However the judge who heard the case concluded the decision was made because of public concerns with the project. He ruled the township was entitled to rely on the waiver. The Supreme Court of Canada then dismissed an appeal from the company on that ruling.

On other highlights for 2016 Moffatt referenced a number of projects completed by the township.

“We transitioned the Dorset landfill to a transfer station including solar compactors” she wrote. “We built a new public works garage at Dorset; and we applied for FIT solar installations for municipal buildings such as the new airport hangars and the new public works garage both of which we purpose-built for that reason. We made continued investments in all three community centres built a new township website and installed webcams at the airport and the Dorset Tower. The tower webcam is just waiting for the Eastern Ontario Regional Networks’s municipal broadband installation – participation in which is also an accomplishment. Our new culture and environment committees are up and running bringing a new dynamic of public participation to our existing volunteer corps. We’ve been able to purchase new vehicles and equipment in the fire public works and building departments. We’ve seen success in the downloaded septic program and the trails department is busier than ever. Our fire services are well-trained and staffed by some pretty amazing people.”

Moffatt says access to high-speed broadband Internet will remain the greatest challenge in 2017 for both Algonquin Highlands and the upper tier of Haliburton County.

“When it comes to what’s ahead the biggest and most frustrating challenge at the upper and lower tiers has to be high speed” she wrote. “The Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus and EORN of which the county is a member participated in the CRTC hearings from whence the recent ruling was made about high speed being deemed a basic service and while that’s admirable progress it remains to be seen if and how the federal government will implement the ruling and if and how the telecom companies will participate.

“Affordability as well as the logistical application of that high speed in sparsely populated areas like ours will be a challenge and I fear that on the heels of this good news will be a pitched battle over cell towers which are likely to be the preferred method of providing high speed in our area as opposed to fibre-to-the-home which is simply too costly. As well there’s a 10-year timetable which isn’t helpful to fostering immediate and short-term development but we’ll take the win and advocate as best we can.”

Dealing with the implications of provincial policy as well as the effects of climate change are other perennial challenges Moffatt says.

“Ongoing challenges will include staying resilient in a continually shifting landscape” she wrote. “Big impact issues that will need our continued attention include aging infrastructure; increasing costs such as electricity fuel and policing; and joint and several liability. It remains to be seen what the rural small community impact will be from the implementation of legislative initiatives such as the Eastern Ontario Growth Plan cap and trade the new Waste-Free Ontario Act (Bill 151) and the provincial hauled sewage review.

“We need to be much more attentive to changing weather patterns in terms of having a realistic understanding of what the impacts are – right here today in Haliburton County. Wetter springs drier summers and more snowy winters are anticipated to become our new normal so we need to be considering what that’s going to mean for infrastructure management land use planning emergency measures lake health and of course everything that’s connected to water levels. These are all integral pieces of our lifestyle and economy puzzle. We’re already seeing undesirable changes and we’re probably going to have to make some difficult – and likely unpopular decisions around some of these concerns.”

At the upper-tier level Moffatt is pleased her county council colleagues are prepared to talk about about potential changes to county council and the role of county warden. During her last meeting as county warden for 2016 Moffatt requested that the upper-tier council have a discussion about changing the role of warden which she says is becoming more and more about being an external advocate for the community and a liaison with upper levels of governments.

Currently county council – which consists of the reeves and deputy-reeves of each of the county’s four lower-tier townships – votes annually on who will sit as warden for the upcoming year. One of Moffatt’s suggestions was that the warden’s term be extended to two years with option for renewal. Another was for the creation of a new position a ninth member of county council who would be elected by residents as warden and serve for a full four-year municipal term.

“Looking ahead I’m pleased that county council supported my suggestion to have exploratory discussions around the warden’s role and I believe there’s a greater discussion about capacity to be had at the same time” Moffatt wrote. “I have some concerns that the community is on the cusp of being unable to accommodate what its citizens and visitors want from it; that we’re creating a demand faster than we can fulfill it. We’ll need to really think through where we’re going and what we want to be.

“I was honoured to be the warden for a second time and truly appreciate the support I received from staff and the public in that role. As opposed to highlighting specific projects or initiatives I believe our biggest accomplishment is the ongoing collegial and collaborative working relationship that exists between and among county councillors and staff members.”

Moffatt was also warden in 2013.

“Overall it’s been another good year in Algonquin Highlands and we’re going into 2017 with enthusiasm and confidence” she wrote. “I’m grateful to work with such a solid team so within that framework my primary goals are continued progressive collaborative decision-making and ensuring that we stay on our toes in asking the right questions and staying adaptable.”