One of the townspeople who lead the opposition to a controversial road project in Happy Valley-Goose Bay said Wednesday he was “confused, disappointed and frustrated” that council sent the project to tender without considering amendments that would address residents’ concerns.
Jamie Abbass, who helped collect over 400 signatures on a petition to change the project, and addressed council a couple of times on the issue, told SaltWire Network he believes a fierce division among councillors has impacted decisions regarding the project.
“I feel like that there’s a lot of infighting going on between the two councillors who support us and the other four. I feel like they don’t want to revisit the decision, there’s something going on there that’s causing them to dig their heels in so much,” Abbass said. “Everything we’ve done has been polite, respectful, and well thought out.”
The project was approved on July 28 following an unusual marathon six-hour council meeting. It got heated at times, with two councillors — Jackie Compton Hobbs and Lori Dyson-Edmunds — vigorously opposed to the motion to move forward on the project with the proposed location and buffer zone.
Impacted residents and other councillors expressed various concerns, with most debate centering around the distance from the nearby homes and the effects it would have on the area that include the removal of trails and greenspace and the diversion of tractor-trailer traffic from Corte Real Road to the area.
Council eventually voted to put out a tender on the project with a 14-metre buffer zone, at an estimated cost of $2,122,463. Two million of this amount is cost-shared between the provincial and federal governments and the town. Anything above the $2 million is entirely funded by the town.
When easements are included, the road would lie about 25 metres from property lines.
An initial proposal had been for a three-metre buffer, which was not agreed upon by council.
Abbass and a number of other residents offered to pay the cost for the consultant to look at another option with a larger buffer zone, but an attempt to add it to the motion at the meeting was defeated.
Cost concerns over a larger buffer zone have been cited time and again during the last few months in relation to this project.
Abbass told SaltWire in a past interview that if the town doesn’t have the money now to install a larger buffer zone, then the project should be delayed or done in phases.
Deputy Mayor Bert Pomeroy told SaltWire thought the concerns haven’t changed, there could be a risk with putting the project off for a year.
“We’re in the middle of a pandemic and it’s risk,” he said. “The cost could be much higher next year, there could be very little paving projects on the go. Some of these roads are in very bad shape and we have the money to do it now.”
Pomeroy said he understands people’s concerns, but the town has to look to what’s in the best interest of the community overall in the long term. Moving the road further back could jeopardize future development in the area, he said, which also has to be taken into consideration.
“I understand people wanting to have green space in their back yard and not have development there, who wouldn’t?” he said. “But that’s not something I can agree with and neither did the majority of council.”
The two councillors who voted against the proposed motion told SaltWire they found a number of things frustrating about the meeting, how it played out, and the vote to move forward on the project.
Compton Hobbs and Dyson-Edmunds agreed with Abbass in saying they felt some councillors were not willing to move on their position, despite the opposition of impacted residents.
“To me they had their minds made up long before we went into that meeting, they had their minds made up May 21 when the option was brought forward to council,” Compton Hobbs said. “They never looked back.”
Compton Hobbs said the residents did everything they could to get their concerns heard, including a rally, a petition, and a number of letters sent to council, and, as far as she’s concerned, they fell on deaf ears.
When asked about the perception of division among the council on the issue, Pomeroy said he felt it worked both ways.
“They weren’t willing to listen to us either,” he said. “It’s not about infighting, it’s about protecting the long-term future growth and development in our community and providing public safety. It’s as simple as that. Not everyone is going to agree with every decision council makes.”