One might assume that a community of outdoor recreational enthusiasts like Chelsea would get along great with Gatineau Park, but the municipality and the National Capital Commission, which manages the park, have a love-hate relationship.
First off, the love.
Gatineau Park offers hiking, running, camping, swimming, downhill and cross-country skiing, road and mountain biking, and rock climbing opportunities galore.
Gatineau Park accounts for 60 per cent of the municipality of Chelsea’s territory, so the park is just a short walk, ride, or drive away for most residents.
Chelsea consistently pumps out top-notch young athletes – like Olympian Katherine Stewart-Jones, who grew up skiing in the park. The mayor of Chelsea himself, Pierre Guénard, can usually be found cross-country skiing in the winter and road biking in the summer.
Tourism is an economic driver in Chelsea. People come from far and wide to visit Gatineau Park to see the vibrant autumn colours, ski, bike, or snowboard in the park, or just to walk the peaceful trails. Chelsea businesses rely on those tourists who grab a bite to eat before or after their park outing or need to pick up ski or bike gear on their way into the park.
Gatineau Park is intertwined with life in Chelsea.
And now, the hate.
The NCC has not been paying full payments in lieu of taxes to Chelsea since 2018.
A former NCC official said that the commission would pay up if the payment in lieu of taxes dispute advisory committee ruled that it should pay. The committee ruled in Chelsea’s favour in February 2021. Not very neighbourly.
The $1.4 million dispute is still winding its way through federal court.
The ongoing closure of Gatineau Parkway has turned Chelsea roads, such as Chemin de la Mine, Notch, Kingsmere, and Old Chelsea, into the main points of access to the park.
This impacts Chelsea in more ways than one.
Mayor Guénard said that those roads were built to accommodate residents commuting to and from work, not tourist crowds like the ones seen over the past few years. This extra traffic could make road repairs and rebuilds more and more frequent — on Chelsea taxpayers’ dime.
It also makes commuting a burden for residents. Good luck going on a grocery run during tourist season if you live in Kingsmere or Meech Lake.
Good neighbours don’t impact their neighbours without consultation and they certainly don’t go to court when they owe their neighbours money. Sure, the park is an asset but it’s time the National Capital Commission started being a better neighbour to the municipality of Chelsea and its residents by consulting with its neighbouring municipalities and their residents about things that could affect them – don’t we all give our neighbours a heads up or invite when we’re gonna throw a party that could keep them up? It’s easy to be a good neighbour, but the NCC doesn’t want to play nice.