Council hears ‘constructive’ criticism

Duane Hicks

With the town slated to do a total rebuild of Colonization Road East from Scott Street to the overpass this summer, a local resident has put forward some suggestions to help the project run smoother for everyone.
Merv Ahrens, who “endured and survived” last year’s King’s Highway reconstruction project from York Avenue to Wright Avenue, feels there’s several things the town should do in future so as to minimize problems and protect local businesses, residents and tourists.
His foremost recommendation is better communication.
“Citizens directly affected by [road] construction and sidewalk closures, interrupted drinking water services, etc., need regular, accurate updates delivered in a timely fashion to their homes,” Ahrens told council at its meeting Monday night.
He added that while there were a few, general updates via the radio and newspaper, “those that were directly affected were in the dark.”
Another suggestion was ensuring the requirements of the Ontario Safe Drinking Water Act are enforced rigorously.
Ahrens said he only received one drinking water advisory during last year’s construction yet there were multiple disconnects/reconnect—an instance where the temporary watermain was ruptured—and changes to temporary water lines.
His other suggestions included:
•communicate to all businesses and residents contact information for a Town of Fort Frances’ employee who is charged with monitoring all aspects of the project, as well as provide a 24-hour construction company emergency contact person/phone number;
•avoid using public parks and green spaces as marshalling/storage yards for construction supplies, etc. (during last year’s construction, the public lost usage of the Legion Park and west end sports field); and
•strictly enforce end-of-project construction contract deadlines to minimize protracted inconveniences to all businesses, residents, and passing visitors/guests (last year’s project was supposed to be done by early September but it ran through to early November).
Some town staff and councillors did not agree with Ahrens’ observations.
Coun. Ken Perry said Ahrens “insinuated” that the town or Bay City Contracting was not following the Ontario Safe Drinking Water Act and, as far as he knows, “that’s just not true.”
Fort Frances CAO Mark McCaig agreed safe drinking water is a very serious matter, and questioned why Ahrens waited until now to voice his concerns.
But Ahrens noted he immediately contacted public health officer Brian Norris.
Operations and Facilities manager Doug Brown stressed the microbiological testing that took place after complaints came in showed there was no problems with the water; it was potable.
Brown stressed there’s a layered process the town uses and they document every public complaint they receive. But Ahrens went directly to the health unit, bypassing the town.
He added if anyone has a Public Works emergency, such as a water concern, they can call 275-9754.
Brown also disagreed with the assertion there wasn’t enough communication, noting affected residents and business owners were invited to an open house before the construction started.
Brown personally provided seven updates at council meetings throughout the summer and fall, and sent out e-mails whenever there was a change in the detours (this updated information was published in the Daily Bulletin or Times).
“We don’t usually hand-deliver every little change on a construction job to people,” he remarked.
“If there’s an expectation of that, it’s unrealistic,” he stressed. “People got to get the job done.”
Brown also said Ahrens, who lives on Webster Avenue south of King’s Highway, was on a temporary water line but was not among the property owners abutting the highway work.
As such, the contractor didn’t go and talk to him directly—and Brown was unhappy the contractor didn’t do so.
In response to Ahrens’ last recommendation, Brown admitted construction contracts sometimes do exceed deadlines.
In this case, the town’s records showed the sewer main to be replaced was a 15” pipe. But when the contractor dug down, it was 18 inches in size and new pipe had to be ordered.
That said, the town can—and does—levy penalties if contractors can’t finish a job before the contract stipulates.
Mayor Roy Avis noted all information in relation to Ahrens’ letter was reviewed at the last Operations and Facilities executive committee meeting, and “I think that we covered most of the bases at that time.”
“We don’t want to get into a ‘he said, we said,’” he stressed. “We just want to make sure that all the facts are in a row and we can move forward in a positive manner.”
Ahrens thanked mayor and council for paying attention to his observations and his forward-looking suggestions “to possibly make our community more safe and attractive.”
“I am happy to be a tax-paying resident in Fort Frances, and I hope all citizens in our community will be treated with dignity and respect,” he added.
“We can grow together and we can ‘Fight the Blight!’”