The Cogswell interchange’s days are numbered after a regional council vote on Tuesday.
The process to tear down the aging series of overpasses is tentatively scheduled to start in January, with Dexter Construction getting the $95.7-million contract to bring out the wrecking ball and then realign the street grid.
As the Halifax Examiner reported last week, the transformative project for the entrance to downtown Halifax is now $27.4 million over budget, but project manager Donna Davis and project director John Spinelli aren’t concerned:
“Staff is of the opinion that the lowest bid, while higher than estimated, reflects fair market value and is confident in recommending the award to Regional Council,” Davis and Spinelli wrote [in the staff report to council].
The budget increase is chalked up to “the influence of inflation and higher construction costs since the time of the original project estimate.”
Davis and Spinelli recommended against any cuts to the project scope to reduce the budget, noting the cost is expected to be offset by the sale of the new land parcels created, which will eventually bring in millions in new tax revenue over a 10-year period.
“Any modification to the public realm components of the project would have a negligible impact on the overall project cost but a significant impact in terms of the social and economic impact of the project,” the managers wrote.
At council on Tuesday, Davis highlighted the social impact of the project, noting it will be the first time HRM has made diversity a requirement in a contract.
Davis said the municipality worked with groups like Black Business Initiative, the Mi’kmaw Economic Benefits Office, 902ManUP, and the Mi’kmaw Friendship Center to develop criteria to make sure Black and Mi’kmaq people get work out of the project.
The resulting “Workforce Development Plan” sets targets of “10% of all apprenticeships and 20% of all labour provided by individuals from equity seeking groups.” There’s also a “Supplier Diversity Plan,” with a target of “10% of all subcontracts for goods and services going to businesses owned, managed and controlled by persons from equity seeking groups.” The contract establishes an advisory committee “to work with staff and the contractor to oversee and support the development and implementation of those plans.”
Councillors told Davis and Spinelli they wanted to make sure affordable housing was included in the eventual development on the site, where there will be several parcels sold to developers.
The motion to award the contract to Dexter Construction and for first reading to amend the streets bylaw to require underground wiring in the area passed unanimously.
Parking boot bylaw becomes law
The previously unregulated practice of immobilizing vehicles on private lots, better known as booting, will now be subject to some new rules.
Council passed the second reading of By-law V-200, Respecting Immobilization of Vehicles on Private Property on Tuesday. Municipal staff originally proposed fines of no more than $60 and a 30-minute time limit for companies to have someone on site to remove a boot.
After hearing from business owners in the industry, council modified the rules, opting for a maximum fine of $100, in line with the current fee, and a 45-minute time limit.
Those modified rules passed on Tuesday. They also include requirements for clear, visible signage in parking lots, with a phone number and the cost to have a boot removed.
Employees removing the boots will have to wear a uniform, drive a vehicle displaying the company name, and carry identification. The employees will also have to become special constables, meaning they’ll be subject to background checks.
Campaign finance breaches discussed
The city clerk says Halifax can’t fine candidates for breaking the campaign finance bylaw.
Council received an information report on its campaign finance rules, adopted in 2018, at its last meeting. That report, previously accepted by council’s Executive Standing Committee, painted a rosy picture of compliance with the campaign finance bylaw during last fall’s municipal election.
When candidates’ disclosure statements were released in January, the Examiner pored over them and found numerous breaches. Among the worst: Coun. David Hendsbee received a corporate donation in contravention of the bylaw (and then HRM covered it up with white out); another candidate in Hendsbee’s district, Nicole Johnson, received too much from one donor; former councillor Steve Streatch received a corporate donation; and several candidates’ statements were missing or late.
As the Examiner reported last month:
The report to council … written by municipal clerk Iain MacLean and legislative assistant Krista Vining, mentions none of that, save for an underplayed acknowledgement that candidates were late filing.
“The Clerk’s Office completed a review of candidates Campaign Statements and identified some common themes across the filings, including: missing information or formatting errors in the contribution information provided (contributors’ full name, address format contribution date); and five Candidates were late filing,” the report said.
Based on the dates on their statements posted online, the Examiner identified 11 candidates who completely missed the deadline to submit one or more of their forms: Clinton Desveaux in District 3 filed Jan. 15, 2021; Ibrahim Manna in District 4 filed Feb. 24; Bill Carr in District 9 filed Jan. 6; Mohammed Ehsan in District 10 filed March 23; in District 11, Matthew Conrad filed Mar. 16, Bruce Cooke filed Mar. 26, and Dawn Edith Penney filed Mar. 24; John Bignell in District 12 filed Jan. 25; in District 13, Tom Arnold filed Mar. 23 and Iain Taylor filed Jan. 6; and Jay Roy in District 15 filed Jan. 5.
The Examiner counted 14 other candidates who filed some or all of their statements one or more days late, but still in December, for a total of at least 25 late filings. (Due to redactions, it’s impossible to read the dates on some forms, so there could be more.)
The report said the clerk’s office is reviewing the 2020 election in preparation for 2024. It plans to revise the campaign statements, “including forms that have gone through a user accepted testing process;” confirm staffing levels for accepting the statements, “including increasing the number of Commissioners of Oaths able to take oaths and receive these Statements;” assign someone to be available to answer candidates’ questions about the forms; and revise the communications strategy around campaign statements.
Coun. Shawn Cleary brought the information report forward to council on Tuesday to ask why there was so little acknowledgement of the lack of compliance.
MacLean, the city clerk, said the municipality isn’t equipped to investigate breaches of the bylaw or fine candidates found to be in contravention. He said they threatened a few late-filing candidates with police action, but they eventually got all the forms.
As for the kinds of breaches the Examiner identified, MacLean said staff just didn’t think they were a big deal.
“We look to see if there are egregious pieces of it, but we have made the decision to leave it posted and make it available for anyone to make a complaint,” MacLean said.
“We did not see anything that warranted the returning officer to make a complaint regarding these forms.”
Coun. Kathryn Morse said she’d like to see more enforcement to get people to play by the rules, especially because some candidates were so late. She questioned why there’s no automatic fine for missing the deadline.
City solicitor John Traves said “there needs to be due process” before someone is fined under a bylaw.
In contrast, HRM recently mobilized dozens of police officers to enforce another bylaw, respecting parks, and evicted homeless people from tents and shelters, handing out tickets for more than $200.
I hope the province refuses to sign off the car boot bylaw. It is a private dispute between a property owner and a councillor who thinks she can park on private property and ignore ‘No parking’ signs.