Bailing out Chelsea’s turkey a bad idea

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by admin on July 30, 2014

By Richard Hofer

My old friend André Renaud has published a useful history of Chelsea’s struggle to retain its identity and quality of life (Valley Voices, July 16). André is also a known supporter of building a massive sewer and water system to benefit five per cent of the residents and several very large developers, and to bail out the stumbling Meredith Centre, which costs Chelsea taxpayers $1,000 per day just to stay open. It was built (probably) illegally, without a working sewer and water system or an operating sprinkler system or even a formal environmental impact study. Within a year, the roof had collapsed and the windows had to be torn out and replaced. Lawsuits over this turkey will keep lawyers happy for years.

Existing Chelsea residents and businesses use wells and septic systems. They pay their own way. There are some local problems. The best restaurant in Canada built its own sewage and water system. Cost to Chelsea taxpayers? Nothing. Other businesses have done the same. Local developers can easily do the same.

If Chelsea ‘needs’ a massive taxpayer-financed sewer and water system, it will have to be paid for through development. It would probably be cheaper just to extend the pipes from Gatineau, but the end result will be the same: high-density housing to pay the costs. Goodbye to the Chelsea we love, hello to suburbs and strip malls.

Chelsea recently hired a consulting firm to try to justify going another $25 million in debt for the sewer and water project. I had to laugh. Every Ottawa bureaucrat has seen this movie before. A small group pushing a dubious project pays ‘outside experts’ to justify the pet project. A thick report is duly produced. By independent specialists! Lots of figures! Lots of information! Coloured charts! Projections of great outcomes! Pigs can fly! This report is a minor classic of its kind. It is now on the Chelsea website (in French only).

Nowhere does it state the actual debt position of Chelsea today. It ‘assumes’ that government grants will flow like honey. It ‘assumes’ that developers will pay for 65 per cent of the costs. Agreements with the developers – if they exist at all – are, of course, secret. Read this report and weep.

Chelsea taxpayers do not know what our financial position is now.

Or what the mega project will cost.

Or how soon our taxes will double.

Sewer and water projects in Quebec. Hello? Is anyone listening to Justice France Charbonneau?

Perhaps André Renaud and I could agree that the honourable thing would be to put all the facts on the table, then have a formal municipal referendum so that everyone – not just those with special interests – could cast their vote.

The question: Should Chelsea borrow another $25 million for a sewer and water system, or should developers pay their own way?

Richard Hofer, a former councillor, businessman, and land developer, is a 35-year resident of Chelsea.

 

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