To borrow a term from Coun. Jamie Korab’s curling career, he threw a few rocks at the Water Street heated sidewalks idea Wednesday.
He questioned whether council actually gave a directive to staff to look into the idea after Coun. Sandy Hickman suggested it last year.
Korab said if he was any part of referring the suggestion to staff, he apologizes, because he doesn’t believe it should have been researched.
A thorough report on the feasibility of heated sidewalks on a small stretch of Water Street was released on the city’s website last week, with staff noting it would cost roughly 20 times what the city currently spends.
“It seems like a lot of time was wasted on this for no reason,” Korab said.
Coun. Debbie Hanlon agreed, calling it “a complete waste of time.”
City manager Kevin Breen said it was a judgment call, and staff felt they could look into the idea without spending an “inordinate” amount of time on it.
However, he said anything referred to staff should have a council directive so staff aren’t doing work on the whim of one councillor.
Hickman said council should not miss the point of what the city should be trying to do, and that’s looking for innovative ways to improve life in the city.
While council voted unanimously in favour of staff’s suggestion not to pursue heated sidewalks during the next phase of Water Street sewer upgrades, Hickman said he’s going to keep trying to find a way to make the idea work in St. John’s.
He said perhaps it could be taken up by private companies, or pursued in other parts of the city, such as Churchill Square.
Meanwhile, he said this was a learning exercise for the city.
“I’m not apologizing for bringing ideas forward,” he said, adding council agreed on this before staff began researching the feasibility.
Coun. Dave Lane said the idea of heated sidewalks has been discussed before, and now the city “can put it to bed” knowing the question of its feasibility has been answered with this report.
Report had no council directive
On Jan. 28, 2019, Hickman suggested the city conduct a heated sidewalks pilot project and asked staff to investigate the possibility.
A week later, on Feb. 4, 2019, Hickman again made the suggestion. After some discussion amongst councillors, it was agreed the idea should be deferred to the next committee of the whole meeting to determine whether staff should pursue the feasibility of a study. That didn’t happen.
A city spokesperson said Wednesday that a council directive to look into the feasibility of heated sidewalks was not issued. The spokesperson said city staff believed it to be a direction from council, although not presented in the form of an official directive.
After the Wednesday committee of the whole meeting, Korab said it has since been decided that staff need a council directive in order to look into ideas such as this.
“We’ve actually said now for staff to go and look at something, they need a directive. They need the will of pretty much all of council or the majority of council.
“So, when this happened before … basically people would say, can staff look at this? And then staff would go and look at it. But if one councillor, two councillors, did that at every meeting, then that’s going to compile, and staff are going to be spending time looking things up.”
A city spokesperson said that in the future a council directive will be required. The spokesperson said requiring a directive has been the practice for some time now, but a formal vote on the change could not be found.