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Councillors chat about current events at informal town hall

Councillor Phil St-Jean

By Sharon Harrison
In the third in a series of informal town hall discussions initiated by Picton ward councillor Phil St-Jean, Wellington ward councillor Mike Harper was his co-host.

The virtual/TV town hall was shown via a live television broadcast on Eastlink cable channel 10 and simulcast on the Picton Kinsmen YouTube channel.

The informal discussion is designed to reach out to the public to touch upon pertinent issues, local current events and resident questions submitted in advance. Topics included COVID-19 and the impact it is having on the community, lighting up the County, development woes, summer tourist activity, waste management and the municipal budget.

Councillor  Mike Harper.

Harper noted the impact COVID-19 had over the summer – regarding socializing, eating out in restaurants, visiting friends and so on. Though living in Prince Edward County presents more options than living in the city, he acknowledged it will be even more difficult moving into winter with the restrictions in place, especially if the area moves from level yellow to orange.

St-Jean noted family gatherings at Christmas will be impacted and encouraged people to take advantage of technology such as the internet ‘Zoom’ video program.

“There are some tough choices to make,“ said St-Jean. “People should really limit travel and visiting and try to respect that,” Harper added noting his mother was going to be on a ‘Zoom’ call for the first time in her life.

St-Jean recognized the increasing number of active cases locally.

“As a community, we have done very well,” acknowledged Harper, “but this is as bad as it’s been. It’s a wake-up call to double-down on cautious thoughtful behaviour: wear your mask, wash your hands, keep your distance, try to avoid travel.”

“The difference now with it being colder, is more people are indoors and that’s when things go crazy,” Harper said. “People will get the virus, so we really have to be much more cautious; we know 50 per cent of the transmission is from people who are asymptomatic.”

The two also spoke about challenges Wellington and the whole County faced this summer, describing it as a “crazy tourist season”.

“We got hammered,” Harper said, speaking to the number of city day trippers looking for fresh air and open space, excited to go Sandbanks with their family, only to find it full or closed and many instead descended upon Wellington beach.

“Every weekend on Saturday at about 11 o’clock as our beach was filling in and we start to close it to traffic and walk-in traffic, waves of people kept coming.” Crowding was also an issue during the week.

“It was a very concerning time, but fortunately we had the staff on it and we were able to draw on OPP, but it was a bit scary,” he said. “It was really the sheer magnitude of the crowds and what we saw in Wellington was like nothing before.”

Harper said local residents were rightly upset, afraid, demanding answers and looking for solutions. Sandbanks, he noted, was a significant part of the problem.

“We really need the province to step-up and help us manage their asset, and we need to look at day passes.”

St-Jean said the municipality is working on a short-term tourism management plan which he anticipated would be ready for next summer.

Even with a vaccine available, Harper said he expects continued mask wearing, social distancing, limiting numbers.

“It would be good common sense to be extra cautious. This is a virus that is transmitted so easily, there is still a danger even with a vaccine. I can see us continuing with this next summer preparing ourselves for a healthy number of tourists to come to Prince Edward County.”

He noted a three, five and seven-year plan on how to deal with tourism as a whole, is also under way.

“The public needs to know we recognized what happened this past summer and we don’t want to be reacting all the time to emergencies. We need to plan ahead and be prepared and we are going in that direction.”

As representatives of two of the larger urban wards, St-Jean noted both he and Harper have seen a tremendous amount of development pressure. Council passed an Interim Control Bylaw to restrict growth within the Secondary Plan for Wellington for 12 months, with a possible extension of another 12 months.

“It was a reaction to the way things have grown in Wellington, and the demands due to growth, such as the water tower and new underground infrastructure to service all the new developments,” said St-Jean.

Harper added development is a central issue for the residents of Wellington, but noted a certain amount of growth is necessary.

“We need more critical mass to be able to afford the infrastructure we have. In Wellington and Picton we don’t have enough people in the system to pay for it, to spread the operating base cost, and so we need to accept a certain amount of growth.”

Harper said where people get concerned is with the Wellington Master Services Plan with costs nudging $100 million and 8,000 people.

The Wellington Secondary Plan indicates a certain amount of designated land (mostly north of the Millennium Trail) for residential development.

“If all of that was to happen it would potentially be 8,000 people over 15 years,” said Harper. “We are talking about an infrastructure that is going to need to be upgraded anyway, even without any growth,” as the water tower and pipes are outdated and the waste water plant is getting tired.

The Interim Control Bylaw, for the next year, means the muncipality will not entertain any new applications. However, three significant developments are already in play.

“There is a lot of going on and there are more lining-up and I think the Interim Control Bylaw basically gives us a chance to pause and to reflect whether our Secondary Plan is sensible, realistic and does it serve our purposes and is that the kind of community we want?”

Harper said the idea of having Wellington under construction for 15 years has people concerned about how it would be managed and paced and create a liveable community in the future.

“Growth pays for growth,” said St.-Jean. “The developers have to be our partners because our tax payers should not ever have to fund somebody else’s business.”

St-Jean said it also involves better planning with the community vis-à-vis commercial opportunities.

“It makes no sense to build massive housing developments without having the supporting infrastructure, places to shop, buy gas, etc. I do not want to see Prince Edward County become a suburban area like Belleville and I think we have a lot to offer here and part of that is balanced community that is both residential, commercial, and employment focused as well.”

Harper clarified that the developers are paying for all the expansion aspects, noting that people are concerned they will have to pay for it.

“We will pay for our share of the infrastructure that we would need to have replaced anyway even if there was no development,” he reiterated. “We do need a new functioning water tower, and we would as residents have to pay for that anyway, but the developers will be paying for the lion’s share of the costs of that infrastructure because of its expansion of pipes.”

He said residents are now facing a decision of how much growth are they willing to entertain.

“We need enough growth to get the critical mass to pay for things which are sustainable,” he said. “At what point are we entertaining too much growth? We look at development outside the settlement areas and rural severances as an example.”

He said the Provincial Policy Statement also governs a lot of what development takes place saying, “put the people where the pipes are.”

The Wellington Farmers’ Market was a huge success again this summer, despite pandemic restrictions.

“It’s a really good example of people coming together, being resourceful, being determined to do something,” Harper said. “They struggled with what to do with protocols, but to their credit they worked out a system and it went off without a hitch. For a lot of people, it was a great summer because they didn’t lose their market.”

St-Jean noted the Picton Town Hall board of management organized two farmers’ markets.

“It was hugely successful with around 750 people per day. This tells me people want something to do, and if it’s done safely following all of the guidelines.”

“It dovetails with the brand of Prince Edward County,” said Harper. “We are about markets and farmers and arts and crafts and coming together and socializing in a nice environment.”

St-Jean explained council members are responsible for participating in and assisting with a committees and boards as part of their duties.

Harper talked about the Quinte Waste Management board he sits on, noting the subject of waste doesn’t interest many people, but is one he finds “fascinating”.

The board is made up of eight area municipalities and Harper represents Prince Edward County.

He said people cannot continue to consume and produce the same level of garbage and recycling as is happening because landfill sites will get full.

“We do have to change. We need to look at how our behaviour should change and what individuals can do.”

Diverting as much waste materials as possible from the landfill helps save, not only the environment, but it saves money too because it’s cheaper to deal with recycling than it is garbage, he added, noting a lot of recycling materials are sold, such as plastics, newspaper and aluminum, while others more more difficult to sell.

Some good news is the province will be adopting a full producer responsibility model in the next three years.

“It means that the manufacturers will take responsibility for the can or for that cardboard box and we are putting the emphasis on the manufacturers to be responsible for the cost of recycling, which in turn will trigger new kinds of packaging and new ways of consumerism.”

On the lighter side of the evening, the two noted that as an unconventional Christmas approaches, they are impressed by those who are festively decorating their houses.

“That’s impressed me considerably that everybody is lighting up their houses and their yards and picking people’s spirits up,” said St.-Jean.

The video is available on the Picton Kinsmen YouTube channel at

Filed Under: Local News

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