Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Fighting for Pelham’s Fire Fighters

It’s a date and a fire that is scorched in the hearts and minds of many members of Pelham’s Fire Service – November 8, 2004.

That’s the date of the devastating and tragic fire that claimed the lives of Monika Woerlen, 39, and her seven children Susanna Ruth, 11, Elena Jane, 10, Marcus Simon, 8, Samuel Benjamin, 7, Paul Anthony, 5, Nathan Matthew, 3, and 18-month-old Debora Lynne.

As you may recall from the tragedy, it was Pelham’s firefighters from Station #2 in Fenwick that were called to the West Lincoln fire, fought the blaze, and participated in the complex investigation. You may also recall that that fire is considered the worst fire involving children in Ontario’s history.

Why am I recounting that horrible tragedy?

I want to make the same point that Town Councillor Jim Lane, Town CAO Martin Yamich, and I made to the Honourable Peter Fonseca, Minister of Labour, at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) conference in Ottawa last week.

You see, the point is that part-time firefighters – like Pelham’s 105 dedicated volunteers – face the same perils as their full-time counterparts. They provide the same protection at a fraction of the cost. Part-time firefighters require the same initial training and annual certification as full-time firefighters. In today’s fire service across the Region, full-time and part-time often firefighters work side by side on “mutual aid” calls. Indeed, part-time firefighters are the backbone to the Ontario Fire Service.

Yet, under current Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) rules “Volunteer and Part-time Firefighters” are not covered like their full-time counterparts are for job related cancer or if the firefighter sustains a heart injury.

Often referred to as presumptive rules, the Government extended WSIB coverage automatically to full-time firefighters in May of 2007. But, since that time, they have not covered part-time firefighters in the same way.

We informed the Minister that Town Council had recently supported and endorsed the call to extend the same presumptive WSIB coverage to part-time firefighters.

The Minister indicated that the he is still consulting with the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, the Ontario Fire Chief, and the Ontario Fire Marshall’s Office to finalize the regulations related to part-time firefighters. While the Minister was unable to give a timeline to complete the consultations, he did indicate that it was a priority and that he had meetings immediately following AMO.

We asked that Pelham’s position form part of his consultations and that he keeps us informed.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Preserve the Fonthill Kame

If you’re anything like me, you drive up and down it a couple of times each day.

Or, you admire its soil as you plant trees in your backyard. Or, you farm on it and sell your special crops at the road or the Pelham Farmer’s Market. Or, you admire the spectacular view from it as you plan a round of golf.

What am I talking about, you ask? The Fonthill Kame-Delta, of course.

The what?

The Fonthill Kame-Delta is our rare, 75-metre-tall landmark that that was formed by retreating glaciers 13,000 years ago. It’s 6 km long and 3 km wide – nearly 1000 hectares – and boasts the highest point in the Niagara Region and the headwaters of the Twelve Mile Creek.

Microclimatic conditions create an ideal atmosphere for tender fruit production on the Kame including peaches, sweet and sour cherries, apples and pears.

The Fonthill Kame was originally identified in 1980 as a provincially significant area and became an “Area of Natural and Scientific Interest” (ANSI) in 1983. This ANSI designation restricts development for reasons of heritage, science or education.

In May 2009, however, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources recommended new boundary changes to the ANSI area. (Please click here for a copy of the notification from the MNR to the Town.)

While a new area to the south side of the Kame would be added to the ANSI, other changes would significantly reduce the protected area. In fact, only small portions of the main components of the Kame-Delta complex would be included and the landform as a whole would no longer be protected.

The area that the MNR proposes to remove from the ANSI encompasses much of what is called the Upper Terrace. The Upper Terrace to be removed stretches from across from EL Crossley High School, past Effingham, to Lookout Street and lies between Tice Road and Highway 20. This area is the most vulnerable to development pressure – especially in the form of aggregate extraction! (Click here for a copy of the map to see how the MNR is proposing to shrink the ANSI. Note: the Red outline is current ANSI boundaries; yellow-hatched is proposed.)

That’s why Niagara Regional Council recently recommended that the ANSI be maintained. (Click here to see the letter that Regional Council endorsed.)

And, based on the Region's position, the Niagara Escarpment Commission also came out against the changes. (Click here to see the letter that the NEC sent in July changing their position.)

That is also why I led a delegation that included Regional Chair Peter Partington and Town Councillors Dave Emmons and Jim Lane to meet with Natural Resources Minister Donna Cansfield this week to request that the Ministry not reduce the ANSI. I also met with our MPP, Tim Hudak, about the matter. (Click here for a copy of the powerpoint presentation to the Minister.)

If you would like to support our efforts and pressure the Minister, please contact me at Town Hall or via email at for more information.

August 24, 2009:
The majority of Pelham Council voted to defer a decision to "support and endorse" the Region's position, pending a letter from Minister Cansfield. On a recorded vote, it was Mayor Dave and Councillor Jim Lane against the deferral; Councillors Cook, Durley, Emmons, Papp, and Urbanowicz voted for the deferral.

Sept. 15, 2009:
The Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority has sent a letter to the MNR against their proposed changes to the Fonthill-Kame. (Please click here for a copy of their letter.)

Oct. 19, 2009:
The Minister of Natural Resources replied to Mayor Dave's Presentation at the August Association of Municipalities of Ontario Conference. (Please click here for a copy of her letter.)

Nov. 2, 2009:
The August 24 deferred resolution to "support and endorse" Regional position came back to Town Council. On a recorded vote, Council voted to ask the Ministry of Natural Resources NOT to change the existing ANSI boundaries. Those in favour of the motion were Mayor Dave and Councillors Emmons, Lane, and Urbanowicz. Those against the motion were Councillors Cook, Durley, and Papp.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Update on 32 acres of Town-owned Land

Many Pelham residents have asked me about the 32 acres of Town-owned land at the corner of Rice Road and Highway #20.

In May 2008 Council declared the property – except land required for storm water management – as surplus and directed staff to dispose of it. In the meantime, an Interim Report from the Recreation Facilities Committee recently recommended building a “new Recreation and Community Centre in east Fonthill area.”

But, under its current zoning and because of the Secondary Planning process, the property is not (yet) worth the original purchase price and nothing can be done with the property. Let me explain.

In January 2005, the previous Council purchased the 32 acres for nearly $3.53 million – or an average of $110,000 per acre.

This purchase was based on a December 2004 appraisal that stated its valuation was based on “Extraordinary Assumptions.”

For example, the appraisal assumed that the site accessed full water and sewer servicing. Residents of Rice Road will remember that the Region did not officially connect water and sewers until more than two years later in fall 2007.

The appraisal also assumed that the property was severed from a main parcel of 74 acres. The severance occurred at the deal’s close on March 31, 2005.

But, the major “Extraordinary Assumption” appraised the property as if it contained 8.2 acres of commercial land along Highway 20, and 23.4 acres of business park lands. The appraisal pegged the commercial at $195,000 per acre, and the business park at $95,000 per acre.

In reality however, the entire property was – and still is – officially designated “business park.”

Can’t Council just change it, you ask? Well, it’s more complicated than that now.

You see, the previous Council almost changed the property’s designation in April 2006 when it was poised to approve the Town’s East Fonthill Secondary Plan. (The East Fonthill Secondary Plan is a statutory planning area that covers most property east of Station Street from Highway 20 along Rice Road to south of Merritt). Instead they accepted the majority Landowners Group demand, stopped the planning work, and turned that Secondary Plan process over to the Landowner’s Group. Then, in June 2006, the Province locked-in all “business park” lands.

So, how is this Council moving forward? This Council hired an expert to work directly with the Landowner’s Group to complete the Secondary Plan; we anticipate this coming forward before the end of this year.

The Town will also hold an Open House in the early fall to unlock the Province’s “business park” rules by completing a “Municipal Comprehensive Review.”

Finally, Council will determine the requirements for the development of the Town-owned lands during a special workshop in late-August.

These next steps will be critical to help Council decide how best to redesignate, sell, or make use of the lands.