Council needs to act

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Kemptville tax dollars at risk if wastewater plant expansion goes ahead despite uncertainties around prison plan

submitted by Kirk Albert and Victor Lachance 

Local taxpayers could be on the hook for millions of dollars unless North Grenville Council hits pause on a costly $40 million expansion of the town’s wastewater plant, a third of which is tied to a planned provincial prison that now faces increasing uncertainty.

Perhaps due to a court challenge, the timeline for the controversial prison project has been delayed by at least 18 months as Infrastructure Ontario recently revealed. The court case, if successful, will halt the whole project, while the new construction timeline increases the likelihood that a new provincial government could stop the whole prison project, as the Ontario Liberal and other parties have promised.

The danger for Council and North Grenville taxpayers is tied to the need to increase the previously planned $30M dollar wastewater plant expansion by a third more to accommodate the prison, at a new cost of $40M. In other words, the town and we taxpayers could be on the hook for an extra $10 million if the prison-related part of the expansion is not needed after all.

Provincial officials have tried to reassure North Grenville residents that we wouldn’t foot the bill for expenses associated with the proposed prison. Our mayor and councillors – who’ve claimed there is little they can do to stop the prison – have stated that if the province does not pay these or any other expenses, they will oppose the project. And yet in the absence of any firm financial commitments from the province for the extra wastewater capacity, and in the face of other significant costs associated with the proposed prison, such as policing costs, they still do not oppose the province’s plan.

Meanwhile, the two of us turned to lawyer Stéphane Émard-Chabot of Sicotte Guilbault, a leading municipal planning law firm, who advised us that the province may have acted illegally by ignoring its own Provincial Policy Statement and the local Official Plan, as it is obliged to do under the Planning Act. In August of 2022, we filed an application for judicial review of the legality of the province’s decision, and thereby seek to obtain a prohibition order to prevent the ill-conceived construction of the prison complex.

The Municipality of North Grenville is at a crossroads. The province has yet to say exactly how much money it will pay for its part of the planned expansion of the wastewater treatment capacity. Now that the timeline for the prison has been pushed back by nearly two years, and that this prison may never get built in our town, it would not be financially prudent for Mayor Peckford and councillors to sign us up for something that may not happen. Instead, it would be financially responsible and prudent for our Mayor and Council to pause the multi-million dollar wastewater plant expansion. Otherwise, they risk sticking the town’s taxpayers with the additional costs of a bigger than necessary wastewater plant, with additional ongoing costs that the province will likely leave us with if the court agrees that the Ford government’s Kemptville prison plan is illegal and subsequently isn’t built.

After speaking with North Grenville Council recently to express our concern that local taxpayers will be left with this huge bill, we believe that the municipality can no longer adopt a wait-and-see approach towards the provincial prison and hope for the best. Unless they get a cheque from the province for its share of the expanded wastewater capacity, North Grenville needs to press pause on the extra prison capacity until such time that the future of the proposed Kemptville prison is settled.

Kirk Albert is a member of the Jail Opposition Group, and Victor Lachance is a member of the Coalition Against the Proposed Prison.

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