WEST LINCOLN – The deal has yet to close, but town council is already in a quandary over how to spend funds they expect to receive from the Niagara Region Wind Farm for damage it caused to municipal roads during construction.
While it remains unclear what the final sum is that they expect to receive, on Monday night West Lincoln councillors considered roadwork that could total nearly $6.1M.
The recommendation from staff was to spend $5,274,702 on a number of roads in the southeast corner of West Lincoln, nearest to the site of the wind farm.
The recommendation also asked for $150,000 from the wind energy road restoration fund for staffing assistance as well as $585,000 to repair the bridge on South Chippawa Road.
The plans would span nearly 70 kilometres of roadway, over 20 different roads in the municipality.
On June 19, council met for a special meeting in camera to pass a resolution authorizing the agreement with the wind company. The result was that a bylaw be approved to execute a release and settlement with NR Capital General Partnership, the company related to the Niagara Region Wind Farm.
“We will not be releasing the final number based on our solicitor’s recommendation,” said Mayor Doug Joyner. “The Township of West Lincoln is not done negotiations with the wind company.”
Coun. Jason Trombetta says the negotiations are between the town’s solicitor and the wind company. He says that prior to his departure, chief administrative officer Chris Carter was in negotiations with the company alongside the solicitor; no council members were involved in the dealings, he says.
Trombetta put forward an amendment to the motion during the regular council session on Monday, asking for the work on the South Chippawa Road bridge to be removed and in its place, work on roads in his own ward.
“There’s a lot of exterior roads that were damaged by this project,” said Trombetta. “Why are other wards forgotten in all of this?”
Councillors launched into an exhaustive argument after Trombetta put forward the motion about whether or not they should stray from the staff report, which held recommendations about which roads needed the work from engineers who studied the impact of the wind farm construction.
As part of a previous agreement between the town and wind company, the wind farm owners paid for damage to be monitored.
Trombetta says that there is no stipulation that they should use the money for only the roads damaged by the project, but further to that, he says that roads in his ward were affected too.
“We have to look at West Lincoln as a whole,” he said. “Why are we looking at one ward specifically?”
Both Trombetta and Coun. Mike Rehner voted against deferring the motion to another night and sending it back to public works for more lengthy discussion.
“This is a lot to dump on our plate here at one council meeting,” said Bylsma. “The hair on the back of my neck is getting raised.”
Couns. Joann Chechalk and Dave Bylsma said the decision was far too big to make that evening.
“We’re talking millions of dollars and we’re just doing it willy-nilly, on the fly,” said Bylsma. He stated that council should respect the science and engineering of the staff report and stick to their recommendations.
“I’m troubled that this is here,” Chechalk said. “I didn’t realize that this was going to cause further divisiveness.”
She suggested that in order to quell the “us vs. them” mentality between wards, the town should take from reserves or a loan to cover all the road projects being proposed.
Her greatest concern was that if a road that one of the engineers said needed repairs was neglected in order to pay for work on one that was not included in the report, it may lead to a serious safety situation.
“I am very afraid of taking out a bridge,” she said, explaining that they will be responsible if that bridge fails and someone is hurt.
Couns. Bell, Rehner and Trombetta voiced concerns that if they delay the decision, no road repairs would be made this season; however, as the night drew on, Bell put forth a second motion to defer the decision until a public works meeting in October.
“We’ve made a lot of tough decisions this year, this is just another one,” he said. “I don’t believe it’s urgent for us to get out there and spend that money tomorrow.”