1. Snow and ice operations
Halifax councillors are pissed, and rightly so.
Yesterday, council spent nearly seven hours discussing the disastrous response to last winter’s snow and ice storms, with each councillor listing specific failures and general complaints about the management of winter operations. To their credit, councillors demonstrated a deep understanding of the issues, and in particular how city government had failed residents, put their safety at risk, placed people already living on the margins in even more precarious situations, and basically terrorized the populace for two months.
One after another, councillors said an unusually difficult winter was not to blame. Bill Karsten pointed out there was a severe ice storm the week he was first sworn into office, in 2004. Others noted that the winter before last was difficult as well. A visibly and refreshingly angry Matt Whitman said Haligonians have been experiencing rough winters since the town’s founding in 1749, and the Mi’kmaq for thousands of years before that.
All seemed to recognize that the back-to-back heavy snowfalls in mid-March were in fact exceptional events that would take many days to clean up from, but the real problem came many weeks before, with the “flash-freeze” storms that left up to six inches of ice on sidewalks. Barry Dalrymple pointed out that city crews used to deploy equipment just before storms arrived but with the contracting out of snow clearing operations, plows have been coming many hours after a storm has passed. Jennifer Watts noted that once the initial ice was allowed to set, the battle was lost. Then ensued a long discussion about graders that can break the ice — the city owns just one, although it can theoretically access “four or five” more, said Darrin Natolino, the manager in charge of of winter operations. While lack of equipment might explain why the ice wasn’t broken up, Watts said that there was no excuse for not placing gravel and grit on the ice for increased traction: “We were told the ice would be black with grit. It wasn’t. It was clear ice, for weeks at a time.”
Moreover, as Linda Mosher pointed out, it was possible to keep the sidewalks clear — in fact, even after the worst of the ice storms, the sidewalks at Dalhousie University were completely ice-free.
Perhaps the most bizarre part of the discussion was Natolino’s claim that his department had only missed meeting the clearance standards six of the 68 winter events. On further questioning by Steve Craig, however, an absurd logic was revealed. The standards call for various levels of street, sidewalk, and bus shelter clearance within 24 and 48 hours after the end of a snowfall. If those timelines aren’t met, then the department is said to have failed to meet the standards. But, if before the time requirements expire there is another storm, then the timeline resets. That is, if crews fail to clear secondary streets within 48 hours, and another storm comes 47 hours after the previous one ends, then the time requirements apply to the ending of the second storm. So, if there are three or four storms one after another, a street could go five or six days without being plowed, and yet the standards are said to have been met.
In actual fact, long before big snow dumps of March, the sidewalks in much of the city had simply been abandoned. There was no effort to remove new snowfalls, much less the previous ice build up. That made it impossible for people to get around without walking in the streets, and people using wheelchairs or with other disabilities were shit out of luck. Watts told of impoverished people in her district, too poor to pay for a cab, who could not get to the grocery store for food or the drug store for their medications.
Many councillors directed their anger at CAO Richard Butts. Councillors said yesterday’s discussion should’ve happened in March, before the budget was passed in April, so that any changes in policy or standards could be budgeted for. But because the budget was passed, and because contracts for this winter had already been negotiated, council could take no meaningful action to affect this coming winter’s operations. “Our ability to come back with any recommendations that can be implemented this winter will be very low,” said Butts.
We could very well see the entire disaster unfold again this winter.
The anger at Butts was palpable. Councillors repeatedly said they recognized that crews went the extra mile, working 12-hour shifts for weeks at a time without a day off; the problem, said councillors, was not with the workers, but with management, which didn’t have the resources and policies in place to properly deal with the winter.
And it’s not just winter operations. “We can’t cut grass or paint lines on the street either,” said Whitman. “I wonder if there’s any season we’re good at.”
I had several off-the-record conversations with councillors yesterday, and was told that there is a desire to outright fire Butts. I count at least seven councillors who would do so right now, and three or four others are probably on the fence. A council majority — nine — is needed to fire Butts, but besides that, there are some procedural issues. Butts has a strong contract, and any firing that isn’t linked directly to cause will mean severe financial penalties for the city; building that cause might seem a non-issue in the face of the failed winter operations, but the lawyers might have a different view of things. And another difficulty, I’m told, is that Mayor Mike Savage supports Butts.
For now, Butts has his job. But there is an election next year, and there is no way councillors will wear the blame for another major failure in governance. It doesn’t even have to be another bad winter; just about any city screw-up will see Butts ejected, no matter what the cost.
2. Nova Star
Nova Star Cruises, which operates the Yarmouth ferry, has found winter work for the boat, running the hour-and-a-half route between Ramsgate, England, and Boulogne, France for Euroferries.
But the Isle of Thanet Gazette reports that:
THANET council has denied there is any truth in an announcement by Euroferries, claiming the firm would start a Ramsgate to Boulogne service this autumn.
The company released a statement today, claiming it would start a ferry service using a new $165million ship within months.
Euroferries board adviser, Per Staehr, described the link as a: “a tremendous advantage to the ports of Ramsgate and Boulogne.”
However, Thanet council says a cross-channel ferry service from Ramsgate run by Euroferries is not imminent.
Euroferries had initially pledged to launch a cross channel route from the port in 2009, although the service has yet to materialise.
The company announced in November last year it intended to build a new coach terminal at the port to provide passengers with a link to London.
The last firm to run a passenger ferry service from Ramsgate, TransEuropa Ferries, went into administration in May 2013, owing Thanet council more than £3 million in unpaid berthing fees.
This raises lots of questions, like, Couldn’t you just take the Chunnel? And, Why would there be additional seasonal work in the fog-bound, cold winter English Channel; isn’t that the off season? And, Is this some sort of scam?
Regardless, if it really exists, the winter work “will help make the route between Portland and Yarmouth more economically viable” said Nova Star CEO Mark Amundsen in a news release, but not so fast, reports the Yarmouth Vanguard:
Nova Star Cruises was aiming for 80,000 passengers in the 2015 sailing season, but passenger counts show that to date the service is still a long way from that target. As of the end of July, Nova Star had carried 21,871 passengers.
Geoff MacLellan, the province’s Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, said Tuesday the figures are very disappointing and concerning. He said Nova Star Cruises won’t hit their revenue targets “unless there is an extreme spike in traffic between now and the end of the season.”
But comparing July 2014 to July 2015, Nova Star only carried 298 more people this year. MacLellan said that stagnant number is not what the province wanted to see, or was expecting to see.
“We’re being increasingly concerned about the fact that they won’t have the revenues to cover the costs, with the two biggest costs being the operation of the vessel and, of course, the charter fees,” MacLellan said.
3. Paige Farah
“The driver who struck a 72-year-old man in a Halifax crosswalk this weekend is speaking out, sharing her remorse and making a plea for the man now fighting for his life,” reports CTV’s Kayla Hounsell. “‘If you are somebody who believes in God, I ask that you pray for him and his loved ones,’ said Paige Farah in a video posted online.”
“I turned off the Armdale Rotary and within the same second of losing my sight to the direct blinding sun in my eyes, I struck a pedestrian with my car,” she said in the video.
“I was immediately paralyzed by the absolute deepest and heaviest fear I have ever felt in my chest.”
Speaking exclusively with CTV News, Farah says she didn’t share her story in search of sympathy, but hopes it might help unite people to make Halifax’s streets safer.
“Does it mean looking at ways that we can design our streets to have crosswalks in a less high-traffic area?” she said.
She says she wants people to stop and recognize that though they might be doing everything right, other distractions may arise that, in a moment, could steer them to tragedy.
“I also want to do my role in reminding people just how fragile life is,” Farah said.
Farah has since taken the video down, but on her Facebook page she explains:
I just got out of an interview with CTV, which I agreed to give only after lots of teeth pulling and some genuine conversation about the direction of the interview first. I have taken down my original video, not because I regret my initial instinct or anything I said in it, but because it has served it’s purpose and is no longer necessary. I have had a horrible experience with media in the past, which is why I was compelled to explain what was going on as authentically as possible with my own voice in an unedited full video.
My initial instinct when asked to do this was “hell no”, and I felt that it would be selfish and naive to take the spotlight anymore, however some very strong points about the impact was brought to my attention and I put my trust in that.
If you could do me one thing, it would be to tell the people close to you that you love them and take all precautions necessary when leaving your house or on your travels, whether it’s by walking, driving, cycling, or flying. Protect yourself and consider the health and safety of others.
4. Tour Tech East
Tour Tech is known for providing sound and lighting equipment to big acts passing through Atlantic Canada, including most recently, Journey. With fewer mega concerts on the go, the company has been going through a rough patch, including a roof collapse at their headquarters this past winter.
It’s unclear how fewer megaconcerts leads to a roof collapse. Regardless:
“Our intent was to work on ACDC coming up, the Dutch Mason Blues Festival this weekend coming up, all these events after this are all affected, the Canadian Country Music Awards. We’re employing local people to do all of this work,” said [company president Peter Hendrickson].
A spokesperson for the Business Development Bank of Canada told CBC Tour Tech East failed to show how the company would be profitable going forward, but Henderickson disputes this. He said that information was sent to the bank via Deloitte weeks ago.
Hendrickson is still trying to find ways to keep Tour Tech East in operation, including trying to find investors that could buy out the Business Development Bank of Canada.
5. Dutch Mason Blues Festival
Tour Tech East will have to look elsewhere for concerts… “Organizers of the Dutch Mason Blues Festival say most of the concerts scheduled for this weekend in Dartmouth have been cancelled because of poor ticket sales,” reports the CBC. “However, the concert featuring Bonnie Raitt and James Cotton at the Dartmouth Sportsplex on Aug. 8 will go on as scheduled.”
6. Historic properties
Last time I walked through Historic Properties (a few weeks ago) it was about half-empty, the vacant storefronts screaming “struggling mall!” But Armour Group, which leases the property from the city, wants to expand the operation, if it can get an extension on its lease, reports the Chronicle Herald:
In exchange for the options, the company has pledged to undertake $2.5 million in “public realm” projects, which include the addition of a performance pavilion for artists, increased seating and improved signage to help increase pedestrian traffic through the site.
The company is also planning to expand some existing buildings to increase restaurants, retail shopping and office space, and to improve the building systems.
7. Wild Kingdom
“Residents of a small community on Cape Breton’s west coast poured buckets of water over 16 beached pilot whales and waded in neck-deep water in an effort to save the mammals after they became stuck on the rocky shores of St. George’s Bay, a local resident said,” reports the Canadian Press’s Aly Thompson:
Linden MacIntyre, a former journalist who lives about a kilometre from the site in Judique, N.S., said he believes the whales were beached at McKays Point off Shore Road sometime early Tuesday morning as the tide went out.
MacIntyre said 11 whales survived, but five died, including a small whale and a larger whale that was about three metres long. Late Thursday afternoon, the Fisheries Department said 10 whales survived and six had died.
MacIntyre said about 25 people poured buckets of water over the whales, but the rough surf was keeping them wet, so their main concern was propping the heavy whales upright and keeping their blowholes uncovered so they did not drown.
MacIntyre said the freed whales were reluctant to leave without the rest of their pod.
“I suddenly found myself standing up to my neck in this pod of very large critters,” said MacIntyre. “When the big guy realized he had what was left of the family, you could see the whole lot of them making their way out in this tight little group. It was kind of like they were having a discussion as they went.
“You could see the dorsals and the tails as they sadly swam away towards the horizon. I just stood there and said, ‘This is something you don’t ever forget’.”
1. Cranky letter of the day
Dartmouth Natal Day has a tradition of bringing people together to share in celebration and fun. Festivities and events require a lot of behind-the-scenes help and this volunteer is very disappointed that our local police did not have their community spirit hat on when they ticketed me for parking in a spot with a 15-minute limit.
After working the Natal Day road race from 6:30 a.m. till 10 a.m., I collected the garbage and equipment to return it to the start/finish line at the church hall. Police prevented me from entering the area, so I parked at the Esso station in a designated parking spot so I could walk to the hall to help out again. When I returned an hour later, I was greeted with a parking ticket. I hope it made the Esso station’s owner and the officer’s day to penalize me for my good deed.
Tom Harmes, Eastern Passage
North West Planning Advisory Committee (7pm, that four-pad arena in Bedford with the name of a fucking bank plastered on it)—the committee will discuss a proposed residential development in Sackville.
No public meetings.
In the harbour
Dallas Express, container ship, arrived at Fairview Cove this morning, sails to New York this afternoon
Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro cargo, arrived at Pier 41 this morning from St. John’s
CSCC Tianjin, car carrier, arrived at Autoport this morning from New York, will sail at 10:30 to sea
ZIM Ukrayine, container ship, New York to Pier 42
Torino sails to sea
I’ll be on The Sheldon MacLeod Show, News 95.7, at 4pm.