The municipality of Chelsea told taxpayers that the community trail, now officially called the Voie Verte Chelsea, would cost $3 million, but the final price tag may be well-over double the original cost.
According to expense reports on the municipal website, the trail cost $4,946,369 million as of May 2022 and there’s still $2,065,196 million worth of work to go in 2022, 2023, and 2024.
Chelsea resident David Stockwell has been paying close attention to the trail since the project to turn 22 kilometres of disused railway stretching from the northern to southern borders of the municipality began in 2015. The retired federal government worker who was involved in major projects such as the construction of embassies, said that, in his experience, the first step in a major project is drafting and presenting a budget.
“I kept asking, ‘What’s the budget? How much is this going to cost?’” Stockwell told the Low Down.
He, and other curious Chelsea residents, finally got one in late-2018.
The former council in 2018 stated that the trail would cost $1 million in Chelsea taxpayer funds, $1 million in grant funding from the provincial and federal governments, and $1 million fundraised from the community by Les Amis de la Voie Verte Chelsea. But that $3 million preliminary estimate didn’t include the cost of various studies and drainage work the project required.
Stockwell said that he and other Chelsea residents interested in the project were skeptical about that price tag – that it was a lowball. These suspicions were all but confirmed through his information requests and the online expense reports.
“And there’s still stuff to come, this isn’t finished,” Stockwell said.
There are still two sections of the trail in landslide areas that aren’t complete, trail intersections with major roads need overhauling, more signage to come, and other work.
“I don’t know where they’re going to get that money,” Stockwell said.
He added that he isn’t against the trail but just wanted all this budget information to have been made available years ago during the project’s infancy.
“It was a budgetless project,” Stockwell said.
When asked about the trail budget, Chelsea Mayor Pierre Guénard said that the municipality’s assistant finance director is on vacation so he would wait until she’s back to answer why the trail has cost so much more than $3 million and about ongoing maintenance cost estimates.
According to the Amis de la Voie Verte Chelsea website, the group raised $125,000 directly from Chelsea residents and qualified for $130,000 in government grants for the trail. The fundraiser is ongoing at voievertechelsea.ca.
The $4.9 million in trail costs as of May 2022 hasn’t all come from Chelsea taxpayers. The municipality has successfully qualified for government grants totalling over $1.5 million.
For more information on the trail, visit the “Voie Verte Chelsea” page on the municipal website, chelsea.ca.