Backlash could sink Wakefield waterfront revamp
'The great majority of electors haven't spoken yet,' says mayor of La Pêche
A project to revitalize Wakefield's shoreline with a dock, boardwalk and new toilets has run into opposition after a municipal councillor from a neighbouring ward called for a public referendum on project financing.
Delays to the project could reportedly jeopardize a grant of $479,000 from the Canada 150 Infrastructure fund.
The opposition, however, is related to a loan from La Pêche, which promised $370,000 that would be paid back over a 25-year period.
But Michel Gervais, a councillor for the neighbouring ward of Lac des Loups, said the shoreline revitalization project would benefit only Wakefield residents, so they alone should pay for it through a local improvement tax.
He initiated a registry that gathered 684 signatures in support of a referendum by Wednesday evening. Though the signatures do not automatically trigger a municipal-wide referendum, council could move in that direction.
"Democracy has spoken," said La Pêche Mayor Robert Bussière.
"Now we have a decision to take. Do we go ahead to a referendum, abandon the project? Will there be another proposition? I don't know."
To be eligible for the nearly half a million dollars from the Canada 150 fund, the project must be completed by the end of 2017.
"I'd still love to see that project realized ... 684 people have signed that registry. The great majority of electors haven't spoken yet," said Bussière.
'A dangerous precedent'
Liane Benoit, chairwoman of the project's steering committee, said Gervais had stirred up opposition to the project by misrepresenting it.
"Mr. Gervais has misrepresented the project as being about floating sidewalks for Wakefield, which is completely contrary to what the project is," said Benoit, who added that the work would repair, refurbish and improve existing facilities and remove invasive species.
If each ward was to adopt this attitude toward projects in other wards, it would be virtually impossible for any significant project to move ahead anywhere in the municipality.- Liane Benoit
The Wakefield waterfront beautification plan also calls for three existing parks along a one-kilometre stretch of shoreline to be linked by a linear path, and a 200-metre section of boardwalk that would hang out over the water.
A group calling itself Comité de citoyens de La Pêche, which is opposed to the idea of putting the municipality in debt, offered to drive citizens to the town hall offices where they could register their support for a referendum.
They support the Gervais proposal that Wakefield ward residents pay for work to the bay through a local improvement tax.
But Benoit called the idea "a dangerous precedent."
"If each ward was to adopt this attitude toward projects in other wards, it would be virtually impossible for any significant project to move ahead anywhere in the municipality," said Benoit.
She pointed out that, had the same approach been taken a decade ago, the arena in the Masham ward might never have been built.
"It would be a race to the bottom," warned Benoit.
Chelsea's DM Design, whose portfolio includes stone and landscape work at Chelsea's Spa Nordik, was announced as the winning designer on Jan. 6.
A public consultation on the design will be held at the Centre Wakefield-La Pêche on Feb. 17.