Emotions in check at civilized Chelsea, Quebec public consultation

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by admin on November 18, 2010

There was no screaming, no name-calling, only the odd angry accusation in Chelsea, Quebec.

For a public meeting – called by a frustrated developer to protest a perceived lack willingness by the Chelsea municipality to have an “open and honest discussion” – it was a civilized affair.

Surprising perhaps even the organizers themselves, the discussion stayed focused, even friendly and funny at times, and by the end, the participants came away with something useful.

After short presentations from panelists on Chelsea’s most contentious issues, and feedback from the 130 audience members on their top concerns about the radical changes facing their community, organizers came away with a list of priorities to hand over to council. The point was not to have a debate, but to highlight these concerns.

Not surprisingly, much of the Nov. 15 public meeting focused on a water source and sewage treatment for the area, with some additional discussion on the comprehensive development plan (PPU). The Chelsea residents filled the chairs at the Larrimac Golf Club and lined the sides of the room to voice their concerns on municipal issues and development.

“It’s questionable whether the municipality is actually open,” said Common Ground Developer Carrie Wallace, who also co-organized the meeting with developer Sean McAdam. Despite this sentiment, the meeting was surprisingly low-key. People divided into groups for discussions to narrow down the top issues in the community.

At the end of the night, these issues were put on posters and people were invited to put their “top-priority” blue stickers on the posters. It resulted in 86 people voting on the issues, and the signs peppered with the most dots were “water and sewer” and “municipal debt and costs.”

Surprisingly, the Meredith Centre drew few votes. The proposed $9.8-million community sports and culture complex, complete with an arena and slated to be built Old Chelsea Rd., has been one of the most contentious issues in the area, with one Chelsea resident at the Nov. 15 meeting proposing a moratorium.

Financial analyst Richard Hofer also had a few harsh words on the proposed business plan for the centre.

“Anyone who wants to take a look at that business plan really ought to,” he said, pointing to his Meredith Centre figures that show the project cost “to be seriously over budget.”

“It’s a disgrace,” said Hofer.

“I find it hard to understand the facts and figures in that budget,” retorted Chelsea resident David McCulloch, who said he has always been an advocate of the Meredith Centre. “I’m curious to know where those (Hofer’s) numbers came from.”

Water and sewage were also hot issues. In the midst of proposed developments, a water source is needed. While council has proposed a municipal water line, it’s been met with opposition as people have questioned costs and looked to other alternatives.

In his introductory speech, panel member Dr. Scott Findlay, a biologist, questioned whether the current decision-making process on water is transparent.

“It’s a polite revolt,” Chelsea resident Joseph Potvin later told the Low Down. “I have a very clear impression that the people who showed up here are absolutely determined to make an impression.”

During the group discussions, Mayor Caryl Green circled the room with a sheaf of notes. During her introductory message, she told the crowd that she was not there to answer questions on specific issues.

“I’m listening,” she said, mentioning that council would consider the public’s concerns. “It’s all part of the process of consultation.”

Green announced dates for upcoming consultations with council. On Dec. 2, there will be a meeting about the Meredith Centre, on Dec. 7 a meeting about the comprehensive development plan (PPU) and a Dec. 14 meeting about sewage.

This announcement, at least for the Common Ground developers, is long overdue.

“Obviously, we feel this is a victory for tonight,” said McAdam.

Wakefield Mill co-owner Lynn Berthiaume moderated the event. A group of panelists -   Findlay, Wallace, Hofer, and Visioning Chelsea chair George Claydon – followed Green to introduce their concerns.

The next step is another public consultation to discuss the top issues and compile a report for council. McAdam says there are not yet any details on this future meeting.