By Ryan King
Community News Reporter
PORT AUX BASQUES – The most recent town council meeting was held on Wednesday evening, Jan. 19 at the Port aux Basques Volunteer Fire Department Fire Hall. This was the first council meeting of 2022.
Municipal Service Awards
Mayor Brian Button presented three awards from the province for their years of service in municipal government. MNL recognized former mayor John Spencer (16 years), Councillor Jerome Battiste (16 years), and former councillor Chester Coffin (20 years).
“On behalf of Minister Krista Lynn Howell it is my pleasure tonight to present awards to these individuals for their outstanding service and their years of service to municipal government; not only to their community, to their province.”
More lighting is needed on the causeway in the Grand Bay area. Work appears to be moving forward as Town Manager Leon MacIsaac said that holes will be dug to install new lights closer to the road.
“The order is in. They’re going to be placing some new holes in the area. I haven’t drove through to see if the poles are in place, but that is the plan.”
Grand Bay West Beach damage
Last week’s storm caused damage to Grand Bay West beach and the walking trail. However, some of the damage done to the walking trail was mitigated by the rock-filled gabion cages the town had installed along a portion of the trail.
“I do believe they have eight in place and filled,” said MacIsaac, and while he had not been over to examine the gabion cages, he did not believe they were moved by the storm.
Deputy mayor Mark Andrews said that he had spoken to the owner of the barn along the walking trail.
“He said that the cages saved some of the stuff going out in the ocean, but the waves were breaking over.”
The parking lot and fencing of the beach saw some damage from the storm. Coun. Melvin Keeping pointed out that installing a concrete barrier for the beach parking lot had been on the agenda but the town did not get to that item during the summer.
Train Museum roof
The roof of the Train Museum is in need of repairs, which has become more urgent given the amount of harsh weather recently. MacIsaac said that they are working on quotes to replace the roof.
“It’s been made tight for the winter, as tight as possible,” MacIsaac said. “We have several quotes to replace the roof come the spring. And the recreation director is currently pressing out for the fence or barrier system for the ATV trail, as well for the 6×6 and linking chains, to keep vehicles and ATVs off the grass.”
Storm damage relief
Mayor Button pointed out that just like the previous town council meeting, this current meeting followed a storm that caused damages around town. Staff were still out assessing the damages.
“We’re not tallied up from the last one and we’re looking at more from this one,” said Button.
“Both storms are possibly going to overlap for the amount of damage that we received,” agreed MacIsaac.
Button said that the town was hard pressed to tackle all the issues arising from the recent storm, as there was only so much equipment and staff available.
Fixed Link lobbying
A resident wrote in to encourage the council to increase their lobbying efforts to gain a greater understanding of what talks are ongoing between the province and the federal government on plans for a fixed transportation link between Newfoundland and Quebec. The resident added this project could impact the future of Port aux Basques as the mandated constitutional lifeline for travellers, goods, and services coming into the province.
Mayor Button shared that there was a virtual meeting with Minister Gudie Hutchings on the matter, including what they expect from Marine Atlantic on the fees. He added that a sit-down meeting is needed on the issue, something that remains complicated by current COVID-19 restrictions.
Coun. Keeping suggested they send letters to the Prime Minister and Minister of Transport. Coun. Jim Lane urged council to push harder on the matter to support the region’s interests.
“We should request that the Minister of Transport or someone investigate the actual cost to the Newfoundland people that they’re charging on the ferries with regards to cost recovered,” said Lane.
“We also got to get our provincial side of our government on board and be a part of it,” said Button. “I know they’ve spoke out over the last little while on different issues of it, but they need to come on board with that too. There’s more that goes on in the province, and this is a big piece, and sometimes it gets lost in the shuffle.”
A resident wrote to council regarding an invoice for garbage collection in the amount of $1,319.67. He explained that he did not want to avail of the garbage collection service as he had the means to collect the garbage himself. He also added that he had been charged fees for four apartments that have been vacant for a few years, for which he requests a credit be taken off the invoice. He pointed out that Western Regional Waste Management said they do not care how the garbage is brought to them as long as it is bagged properly.
MacIsaac informed council the resident had approached the town in April of 2021 regarding the fee structure. This fee structure was adopted by the previous council and sent to all property owners.
“If you were a commercial property owner, you had an opportunity to respond by March 1 of 2021. The individual did not respond in that period of time. However being that he is residential property, not commercial, he wouldn’t have been entertained, I don’t believe, through the Marine Mountain Zone Waste Management Committee.”
MacIsaac explained the resident was informed that he had been taxed for years on a residential basis, not a commercial basis. The fee structure is applied to commercial properties and residential properties, and the residential fee is based on the number of units. He added that the fee structure is not set by the town.
“The previous council directed him that if he wished to be considered commercial rather than residential and not pay the garbage fee he certainly could. He never did send in the letter. However, he was advised at the last meeting that the commercial rate is nearly three to four time higher than what his residential rate is. He did not indicate that he wanted a change of rate application made to him; he just did not want to pay the garbage fee.”
MacIsaac added that property is either residential or commercial. If he did not want to pay the garbage fee, then it has to be commercial and taxed likewise, or he remains residential and pays his garbage fees. Regarding the vacant rental properties, Coun. Lane stated the onus is on the owner to inform the town when a property is vacant.
MacIsaac said that an inspection of the properties will be needed to confirm they are vacant before stopping the collection fees.
“He gets credit from the day that we inspect the building.”