Homeless encampment, strategic planning goals main discussion points at St. Stephen council

John Gardner photo The Milltown hydroelectric generating station.

ST. STEPHEN – A resident’s letter about homeless encampments in town generated extensive discussion among St. Stephen council last week.

An encampment in the Elm Street Nature Park prompted the resident to pen the letter and council debated what could be done to address concerns, as well as the needs of the unsheltered community.

Deputy chief administrative officer Sean Morton said if a place could be found on municipal-owned land, it would be safer for residents and the unhoused, as well as easier for the municipality to monitor.

“If we don’t have someplace to send them, specific, they go where they want,” said Morton. “If we had them in one location that we controlled, we can manage the garbage. We can put out garbage cans, we can collect the garbage, we could put in porta potties, we could put in safe fire pits.”

The difficulty he acknowledged is finding that place.

“Where on town-owned property in the municipal district close to the things these people need and want, where would that be? If we can find that place, people liking it or not, we do have some control over, trying to mitigate a lot of the concerns that people have.”

Coun. Earle Eastman said that in discussions he and Coun. Wade Greenlaw had with the RCMP, the force made the same recommendation.

“(The RCMP) are talking the same talk you’re talking,” said Eastman. “One location. Easy to monitor things. Easy to keep things in control. Out of all the people we see here moving around, there’s only about four or five disturbers.”

“The statistics say, what, 63, but there’s four or five that give them all a bad name,” Morton said.

He continued to say that, from what he has learned from other places, “if they have a place that they know that they’re safe and is their own, they will police that, because they don’t want to get kicked out of there if we give them something, a place where they can keep their possessions, they will kind of police their own. They will help us. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s real. Another benefit to bringing them together.”

Morton said this is the third year he has been dealing with the issue and is seeking direction from council, saying “that’s what I’ve been looking for for quite some time.”

Council directed staff to develop a list of potential sites that meet necessary criteria for residents and the unsheltered community.

Kristan Cloney presented a summary of the Downtown St. Stephen strategic plan and said the organization has begun discussions with the municipality, chamber of commerce, Future St. Stephen and other stakeholders to implement parts of the plan.

Council completed a strategic planning session in late-April. Chief administrative officer (CAO) Jeff Renaud presented a summary document of the session, which included council, municipal staff, the chamber of commerce, Future St. Stephen and Downtown St. Stephen.

The summary outlined five immediate priorities and eight future desired initiatives. Included in the five immediate priorities are a strategic plan for Future St. Stephen, bylaw review, community safety options, options for the unhoused community, and social housing.

Renaud said the bylaw review will be part of his CAO report in two weeks.

The five priorities have timelines no later than July. Renaud said his future CAO reports to council will include updates.

“I would suspect by next month we’ll be having a conversation at committee of the whole regarding what’s moving from the next box up into the now box.”

Phil Landry, from NB Power, updated council on the status of the project to remove the Milltown Dam. The project remains on schedule to begin in July with anticipated completion by April 2024 before the annual spring alewife run.

During a special meeting before the committee of the whole, council dealt with items related to the restoration of the wastewater facility and refurbishment of the pool deck at the Garcelon Civic Center.

Council approved a consultant’s recommendation to purchase three air blowers for the wastewater facility at a cost of $363,699, inclusive of tax. Morton said the recommended blowers are larger in capacity by about 30 per cent and insurance may not pay the full cost.

“(The larger capacity) may have implications in terms of what the insurance company eventually covers because we didn’t replace exactly what we had,” said Morton, noting the larger blowers are needed to deal with the demands on the wastewater facility. The municipality may need to pay for a shortfall from the insurance payout.

Previous tenders for the pool deck repairs received no bids. The municipality received permission from the government to sole-source the project. Renaud said the cost presented was the worst-case scenario and that there were cost saving opportunities they would try to take advantage of. Council approved the project cost of $949,665.40, inclusive of taxes. Treasurer Tim Tozer said there is roughly $850,000 in available funding.

“We expect that this project will likely come in closer to $600,000,” said Renaud.

Director of community services Kevin Sumner anticipates the project to be complete by late summer or early autumn. Funds are coming from the Canada Community Building Fund. Another project will be delayed as a result of the pool deck project.

robertfisher@stcroixcourier.ca

Robert Fisher

Fisher is a writer/author, photographer and filmmaker. Itinerant observer of life. His dog, Lincoln, is a travel companion and has been coast-to-coast with him four times.