New Customs facility faces funding shortfall

A shortfall of just over $1 million and a disagreement over an exchange of land are plaguing construction of the new Canada Customs facility in Fort Frances.
“There is no more money being directed to the project at this point,” said Richard Pell, federal manager of Strategic Management for Canada Customs and Revenue Agency.
No one has been able to explain where the extra $1.05 million will come from to cover the shortfall and a different proposal may have to be found.
The Town of Fort Frances and the Ontario government both maintain they will not be financial contributors to the project.
“This is not a community project, this is a federal/private company project that will benefit Northwestern Ontario,” said CAO Bill Naturkach.
“It is not a Fort Frances facility, it is a regional project,” he stressed.
Ottawa has contributed $500,000 to the project and does not plan to contribute more. Meanwhile, Abitibi-Consolidated Inc. and Boise Cascade Corp. already have contributed their maximum–a combined $4 million.
Abitibi-Consolidated said in a statement today that leaving the existing tourist information building where it is now is being proposed as a way of saving costs.
The statement also noted a D-day of March 31 was confirmed for the “preferred” option, which includes a relocation of the tourist facility.
If a solution has not been found by that time, then parties involved will begin negotiations for options that could be funded by the available budget.
“We were told by both the company [ACI] and by Customs Canada in separate conversations that the project, as proposed, has until the end of March to be consummated,” Naturkach said.
“If not, then that proposal is gone,” he noted.
The optimism local MP Robert Nault expressed in an interview with the Times last week did not seem to be reflected by Mayor Glenn Witherspoon.
“The reality is if it doesn’t become reality by the end of this month, the plan is to build a double-deck customs right on the bridge,” the mayor said.
During a teleconference last Wednesday morning, a request also was made by Canada Customs that the town contribute land to the project, which the town turned down because it said it would lose out financially.
“We had been asked several times by the proponents of the project to contribute land and we’ve said repeatedly ‘no,’” Naturkach said. “We will not give away land.
“When you tabulate what is going to be given to the project for its needs versus what we will get back, there is a shortage of land,” he argued.
“It was a question now asked officially three times–three times asked three times denied,” he added.
Customs Canada also asked the town to make a change to an existing zoning bylaw, which requires a buffer zone of 30 feet between an industrial area and a commercial/residential area.
The town had been asked to push the committee of adjustment to make a variance within that bylaw. Pell said that the variance already had been deferred by the committee of adjustment and he was asking that a decision be made.
But the town also turned down that request, and Naturkach said the town will continue with its usual committee procedures.
There has been no confirmed solutions to any of the current problems.
“The ball is clearly in their court. It’s their project. If they don’t have the solutions to the answers, then it may not proceed,” said Naturkach.
As such, whether the facility will go ahead as proposed, or whether a less costly alternative will be looked into, seems to remain up in the air.
“We remain hopeful to proceed with construction of a new facility this year and we’re waiting for a position from council,” Pell said Monday
“The on-bridge scenario is the least desirable for us,” he added.