I arrived at this open house expecting the complete opposite of open houses on AT matters I`ve been to in the past. That was because at this open house, I knew people were actually going to show up.
And show up they did, when I arrived shortly before 6PM, there were already more than 50 people in the lobby of the church, glazing over signs and pamphlets, talking with MMM Consultants.
Glazing over the signs myself I took a few notes. First of all, their "criteria" on which this project was based.
1. Maximum 5% grade.
2. Maximize tree protection.
3. Flood protection for a 1:100 flood.
A couple more points but....you get the jist. WTF? Who decided a little pedestrian bridge needed protection from a 1:100 flood that area residents say only floods for two weeks? The other completely, completely shocking thing about this criteria, was the complete lack of environmental assessment Nothing. Here we have a natural habitat, and no environmental consulting. Oh...but they'll try and minimize how many trees get cut down. Yeah okay.
I've spoken to these MMM consultants before. They won't anwer anything. They are completely useless. They don't know of budgets, of timeframes, of details regarding safety or snow removal or how it affects anybody else other than cyclists. Which is complete crap becasue, how do you make plans and proposals without budgets, time constraints, or general parameters of a project?
I avoided them and was interested in taking a picture of the nice and misleading artists' rendering, which I have posted under my photos. Following that I went downstairs.
They had a board at the back set up with drawings some school kids had made as well as letters they had sent to Bill Woroby at Public Works. Most of them said the same kinds of things, such as:
"Kids of all ages go to Omands Creek just to go down the hill on a toboggan. Have you ever gone down the hill?" Emma
Yes indeed, MMM consultants and related engineers. Some consulting you did....some imagination you had.
And then I met and talked to Kevin Nixon, the Active Transportation Coordinator. He stated there was "comprehensive public consultation" to find heavily used active transportation routes so they could focus on those ones to upgrade. I asked him if he likes seeing this many people come out, to which he responded "absolutely." He also stated it was difficult to get input from neighbourhoods, and that they had changed their strategy "to go to them, not them come to us." They apparently do this by going to malls and setting up kiosks.
I gotta say, if this is their idea of consultation, it's bullshit. How can they accurately gather information at shopping malls? Moreso, it seems that absolutely nobody knew about this particular bridge until February, in which a small group of a handful of residents were consulted, and their concerns ultimately ignored in the plans, the City instead shoving through the 1-million-dollar 4-metre-wide bridge, if only because it takes advantage of shovel-ready stimulus cash from the feds.
And that's exactly the answer we got from Bill Woroby all night long, that this was the only project approved by the feds, this was the only way we could use the money for a new bridge.
And we heard time and time and time again from residents speaking up, that they would rather see the money not used at all or the existing bridge and path simply upgraded. And time and time and time again Bill fired back with not being able to use the funding for any other project.
Plus, who would have guessed they got a blanket statement from the government that does not require them to do any environmental assessments of any kind for any of the 37 proposed projects?
Seems a little counter intuitive don't it? Building green infrastructure, for cyclists, less emissions....but at the environment's expense? What is this here, Russia?
That was honestly, the two big shockers of the night. 1) The City is glued to the idea of building this bridge and nothing else, only because the money is there and if we don't use it we don't get it, and 2) there is no environmental assessment or environmental considerations being done, despite it being a sensitive ecological area.
So it boils down to this....the City says "yes, lets build, we have the money." The residents say "no, we don't want it." The City says "....too bad." The residents fire back, "but why can't we just upgrade the park as it is?" The City defends their position, "no, we don't have federal funding for that."
The Feds approved a one million dollar bridge that goes over a bloody creek, but how much would it cost the City to simply repave the existing path and fix the existing bridge? A hundred grand? Not an option.
Harvey Smith however was more, shall we say, optimistic. In speaking with him afterwards he stated "I've been assured by the head of Public Works that if it was registered clearly by people here, that the bridge will not be built." Interestingly enough, Harvey also said after the meeting was over, that "I've never been in a public meeting where little kids had a voice." And he said it like he meant it and like he believed it would have an impact.
The kids, they all had the same points....the loss of their beloved hill, the loss of habitat, that kind of thing. They referred to the creek in general as a "valley" instead of a hill. Many people who got up to speak also proclaimed that when they were kids they tobogganed and slid and rolled down the very same hill.
It will remain to be seen: do we live in a Democracy, or not?
After today's open house, if this bridge gets built, we live in a city ruled by the iron fist of beuracracy.
The only way the City can possibly demonstrate that it actually does do public consultation? Is to axe this plan completely and simply upgrade what is currently there, without federal help. Anything else is contrary to what this neighbourhood wants.
Time will tell.