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Trail fail: the Grand Concourse robbery


Published on January 27, 2016
Peter Jackson

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.

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.