Trail fail: the Grand Concourse robbery

Peter
Peter Jackson
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It was an understanding reached years ago, but now it’s up in the air because one of the parties has suddenly gone public to complain about it.
No, I’m not talking about the Grand Concourse. I’m talking about St. John’s trying to weasel out of its commitment to maintain the Team Gushue Highway.

Peter Jackson

It’s ironic Coun. Jonathan Galgay has been looking for a way out of an agreement reached long ago with the province. Why? Because both Galgay and Mayor Dennis O’Keefe hit the roof Monday over what they said was blindsiding on the part of the Grand Concourse Authority (GCA).

The Concourse is a labyrinthine trail system winding through the city. Executive director Addison Bown issued a news release Monday revealing the extent of city cuts to the authority.

The mayor was not amused.

“All and sundry were quite aware of the fact that this change would take place on Jan. 1, 2016,” O’Keefe said during Monday’s council meeting. “That’s been known by Mr. Bown and others for two years, so it should have been no surprise.”

O’Keefe called on Bown to resign, and Galgay said he would personally resign his own seat on the Concourse board in protest.

It’s hard to tell what was really agreed to, however, because Bown says there was more discord than concord.

“We have had several meetings with representatives of the city to address the budget cuts but to no avail,” Bown said in the release. “We were advised that there may be further cuts which would lead to the demise of the Grand Concourse.”

Think that’s far-fetched? Well, one of the possible actions O’Keefe floated Monday was to cut funding altogether. That kind of talk smacks of former PC minister Darin King, who famously cut funding for fisheries projects because he had an unrelated beef with the union that sponsored them.

Should the authority have raised concerns earlier? That depends. When you’re trying to wrangle the best deal you can, it’s not always fruitful to spar in public.

But O’Keefe’s tone Monday suggests the city took a take-it-or-leave-it approach to begin with.

Here’s what the city has axed:

It has abandoned maintenance of the Pippy Park portion of the trail, arguing that it’s a provincial responsibility. (We can expect more of these attempts to upload or download fiscal burdens as times get tougher.)

But it’s also cancelling funds to the authority for maintenance around city properties, opting instead to go it alone. The city also axed funds to groom trails in the winter, as well as a $200,000 grant for one-off projects.

This is a major blow, because it essentially steals much of the trails’ stewardship away from the authority. Bown is also doubtful the city can do it any more efficiently.

David Johnson — son of the late Paul Johnson, who founded the Concourse — sees this as a slight on his father’s legacy. And he said so in a concurrent statement Monday.

“Paul passed away only two months before the city’s new budget attempts to scuttle perhaps his greatest accomplishment,” he said. “I can feel his outrage from the grave.”

O’Keefe railed against Bown for conjuring the name of the late philanthropist, calling his remarks “totally out of line, totally reprehensible, totally abominable.”

Really? It seems Bown was only echoing the sentiments of the Johnson family.

Is there anyone left for this council to alienate? Seems they’ve covered all bases, except perhaps those whose idea of city living centres entirely around pro hockey.

 

Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s news editor. Email: pjackson@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Grand Concourse Authority, Concourse board

Geographic location: Pippy Park

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Recent comments

  • don
    January 28, 2016 - 20:51

    The Grand Concourse was initially established to develop and maintain a system of trails with in the city and outlining areas of St.John's. It was funded initially by private money and government, city provincial and I guess federal as well. What it has become is something quite different. Now its in direct competition with the landscape industry. Taking work from the same people who pay the taxes to allow the various levels of government to give them the dollars to compete with industry.... Is there not something wrong with this picture. The grand concourse should not be taking work from industry. It should stick with what it was set up to do . Develop and maintain the trail system. Nothing more. Why should industry have to compete with a government funded organization. How would Bigoods react if the city opened a grocery store next door and had all the labor and cost supported by the tax payer. . This is what the Grand Concourse is doing to the the landscape industry..

  • Audacity
    January 28, 2016 - 15:33

    he paths and trails of ones youth are pretty much sacred. it's beyond public health and wellness, access to RIGHTs of way. they are messing with something so dear to the citizens born and come from away and so important to the international image of the city, people come from all over the world to walk the East Coast Trail and expect to be able to walk through St. John's to get from one area to another. What are they going to try next, say we can't walk onto and off Signal Hill National Historic trails to and from Grand Concourse trails. Starting to get the vital importance of what has been built and what a slap in the face it is to those whose blood, sweat and tears built it and those who funded it as part of their very lives legacy. From a comedy source, which escapes me at the moment, this is BEYOND! BEYOND!!!!

  • Spaz
    January 27, 2016 - 21:10

    The only thing that would be funnier is if O'Keefe, Galgay, and Breen were wearing gold Icecaps chains around their necks and "go Galway" t shirts.

  • Ron
    January 27, 2016 - 17:58

    I would like for the telegram to get a list monthly of trips that are taken by all councillors and senior staff and publish it along with the cost per trip , where they go and for what purpose. I was associated with councils for 20 years and I can assure you that most of these trips , I would say 95% easily serve absolutely no purpose ( especially those to the sunny south ) except to give them a free vacation at the taxpayers expense. I did not take a single free trip in 20 years and felt ashamed every time one of these free trips was announced by council. The money saved could be donated to the trail system or the SPCA where it would serve a useful purpose. If the council want trips let them pay for them like everyone else.

  • Ron
    January 27, 2016 - 17:57

    I would like for the telegram to get a list monthly of trips that are taken by all councillors and senior staff and publish it along with the cost per trip , where they go and for what purpose. I was associated with councils for 20 years and I can assure you that most of these trips , I would say 95% easily serve absolutely no purpose ( especially those to the sunny south ) except to give them a free vacation at the taxpayers expense. I did not take a single free trip in 20 years and felt ashamed every time one of these free trips was announced by council. The money saved could be donated to the trail system or the SPCA where it would serve a useful purpose. If the council want trips let them pay for them like everyone else.

  • Jeanette
    January 27, 2016 - 16:54

    The Mayor doesn't seem to understand how much the Grand Concourse means to us. Loyalty, trust and transparency are missing from City Hall and we all feel that we have been stabbed in the back.

  • Tax payer
    January 27, 2016 - 15:55

    The Mayor says that he cut $439 thousand from the Grand Concourse saving tax payers this money. Yet the maintenance on these trails and sites that he has taken the responsibility away from the Grand Concourse still has to be done to keep these sites from falling in disrepair. He says these sites will now go to public tender or be maintained by City staff. At what cost? Companies will be looking to do it at a profit. Grand Concourse is a nonprofit organization. The City workers can't keep up with the work it has now let alone taking on some 30+ more sites. So, how is the City saving tax payers money if these sites are going to cost more money? Does any of this make sense? Time for the Mayor and Councillors to sit down and rethink their budget.

  • Brian
    January 27, 2016 - 14:27

    The mayor stated that the council would tender out some of the work and he was sure that they would get good value for their money from private enterprise. I thought that private enterprise had at its core reason for being--profit. Profit means making as much money as possible . That means making as much money as possible for the least cost.

  • EDfromRED
    January 27, 2016 - 09:50

    If this Council had it's way St. John's would consist of nothing but Big Box Stores, Fast Food Restaurants and Graveyards.

  • Bob Hallett
    January 27, 2016 - 09:28

    You have perfectly summarized why myself and so many others have been battling the Mayor & Council on the budget and its ancillary issues. They ignored the recommendations of their engagement process, imposed early retirement on a whole layer of knowledgable staff, and then created a budget which solved a spending problem by imposing a ruinous tax increase. In response to a storm of protest, their only reaction besides astonishment has been (a) silence, or (b) defensive and petulant personal attacks. It is shameful and pathetic, and unworthy of a democracy.

  • kev
    January 27, 2016 - 09:02

    Hockey clubs and sprawling new suburbs don't pay for themselves, y'know, something something go forward basis. (they literally don't pay for themselves)

  • Newsy
    January 27, 2016 - 08:59

    Well said Peter. This Council has made it a priority to be as combative and defensive as possible, with every stakeholder out there. Shameful that EVERY single one of these councillors and the Mayor have failed to show leadership here. I wish we could recall the lot of them.

    • anna
      January 27, 2016 - 09:18

      their silence is deafening