One of the first orders of business for the newly elected Liberal government in 2013 was to announce the construction of new schools in Bridgetown and Tatamagouche, in the ridings of Premier Stephen McNeil and Education Minister Karen Casey respectively.
The two schools jumped from #26 and #28 on the new school construction list to be included among 10 school construction projects that were being funded, leap-frogging over other school projects that had been deemed more urgently needed by school evaluation committees.
“There is no evidence to support why these projects were approved ahead of other projects ranked higher by the evaluating committees, but not approved,” wrote Auditor General Michael Pickup in a scathing report issued last year.
“Nova Scotians deserve an answer,” Pickup told reporters. “I am consistently told that the reason why Tatamagouche and Bridgetown got approved relates to regional fairness and relates to discussions at the cabinet table that we don’t audit. Show me the criteria. Show me how regional fairness fits in.”
To some observers, the reason those two schools were funded was obvious.
“Let’s call it what it is: it’s schools for votes,” said Tory MLA Tim Houston.
“Pretty obviously it’s about Liberal ridings,” said PC Leader Jamie Baillie. “The system is corrupt at the top.”
“There’s a gross unfairness about it,” agreed NDP Leader Gary Burrill. “It is pretty transparently obvious that it has to do with political considerations and delivering the bacon.”
Despite the auditor general’s report and criticism from the opposition parties, however, construction of the two schools continues, more or less on budget and on time.
But while there are no obvious problems with projects constructing the schools themselves, a project related to the Bridgetown school is plagued with cost overruns, delays, and inexplicable changes ordered by the McNeil government that appear to benefit one private property owner at provincial expense.
The project is called the Faye Road Extension, named for an existing Bridgetown street that is being extended to accommodate construction of an access road to the new school. The access road includes new street lights, sidewalks, and a storm water pumping station.
A Halifax Examiner investigation reveals significant irregularities with the Faye Road Extension project and with adjoining properties, including:
• changes related to the project originally projected to cost $1.3 million have increased costs by over $2 million, to at least $3.3 million;
• the province is building the storm water pumping station on land it does not own;
• at taxpayer expense, the province has spent nearly $50,000 to build curb cuts and sidewalks on the access road and utility service laterals beneath it for the sole benefit of Albert Rice, a private landowner;
• Albert Rice illegally built a nearby boat ramp into the Annapolis River; that boat ramp is on provincial land and was constructed without permits or permission, but besides a small fine, Rice has suffered no consequences, and the boat ramp remains, apparently to the benefit of a future development he intends to build.
The school property
There is an existing Bridgetown Regional High School, which is just south of the old Highway 1. Driving from Halifax, you would take Exit 20 from the 101 and head into town; the school is on your left:
The high school borders Faye Road:
The new school, which will be a Primary through Grade 12 school, is being built to the southeast of the existing school, down a gentle slope towards the Annapolis River. Closer to the river is an old railroad right-of-way, which has been converted into an active transportation “rail-to-trail” path. Once the new school opens, the existing school will be torn down.
A Viewpoint.ca map shows the various property parcels between the highway and the Annapolis River, including the parcels where the existing and new schools are.
It is the southernmost parcels that concern us. Here are the parcels labelled with their respective owners:
The property owners on the above map are: The Province of Nova Scotia (P), Albert and Carol Rice (ACR), Rice Contracting Company (RC), and Riverside Cemetery (C). Albert Rice owns Rice Contracting. I’ve detailed each of the properties relevant to this article in the chart below.
|Parcel AAN #||Owner||Acreage||Assessed Value||History|
|04628071||Albert and Carol Rice||3.24 acres||$251,700 Residential||Purchased from Harry and Constance Verran of Middleton on 24 October 2005|
|01116746||Rice’s Contracting Company||17.24 acres||$8,000 Resource||Purchased from Cecil and Edna Day of Lake Echo on 18 October 2006|
|02100819||Dept. of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal||26 acres||$5,335,800 Commercial exempt||TIR purchased from Barbara Jeanne Hug of Bridgetown on 6 November 2014|
|10428815||Dept. of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal||3 acres||$1,600 commercial exempt||TIR purchased it from Barbara Jeanne Hug on 6 November 2014|
|02100797||Dept. of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal||4 acres||$2,200 commercial exempt||TIR purchased it from Barbara Jeanne Hug on 6 November 2014|
|02100789||Dept. of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal||4 acres||$6,500 commercial exempt||TIR purchased it from Barbara Jeanne Hug on 6 November 2014|
Note that the provincial Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal purchased four parcels for the new school. That purchase was authorized by a September 30, 2014 Order in Council:
The Governor in Council on the report and recommendation of the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development dated September 10, 2014, and pursuant to Section 88 of Chapter 1 of the Acts of 1995-96, the Education Act, is pleased to:
(a) approve the construction of a new Bridgetown Primary to 12 school, including the purchase of land, for the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board;
(b) authorize the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal to do whatever is necessary to acquire the land and develop the building(s) for the new school construction referred to in (a), in the name of Her Majesty the Queen in Right of the Province of Nova Scotia, and authorize the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal to tender for the necessary work to design and construct the building(s) and acquire the equipment necessary for the school as approved;
(c) authorize the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal to hold the building(s), equipment and land for the construction of the Bridgetown Primary to 12 school in the name of Her Majesty the Queen in Right of the Province of Nova Scotia while the project is in progress;
(d) upon completion of the construction of the Bridgetown Primary to 12 school to the satisfaction of the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal and the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development, the building(s), equipment, and land for the school may be conveyed by Her Majesty the Queen in Right of the Province of Nova Scotia, as represented by the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, in accordance with subsection 88(2) of the Education Act; and
(e) authorize the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development and the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal to execute such instruments as may be necessary for the purpose of this Order and authorize both or either of them to enter into an agreement with the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board as applicable to attain the purposes of this Order.
The Order in Council specifically authorized TIR to “do whatever is necessary to acquire the land and develop the building(s) for the new school construction.”
That authority was evidently interpreted broadly as TIR purchased not just the 26-acre parcel where the school would be constructed but also 11 additional acres on three parcels along the river (AAN #s 10428815, 02100797, and 02100789) that were not needed for the school construction project or for any access to the new school.
To this day, there is no school-related construction proceeding on those 11 acres. There was, however, an unrelated construction project — a boat ramp — on one of the parcels, the four-acre westerly parcel, AAN #02100797, that is just south of the land owned by Rice Contracting.
We’ll return to the boat ramp, but first let’s look at the Rice Contracting property, a small part of which did become needed for infrastructure necessary for the new school — the storm water pumping station is being constructed on it. For some unknown reason, however, TIR did not use the authority granted to it by the Order in Council to purchase that parcel of land.
Albert Rice’s land
Albert and Carol Rice bought the last residential lot on Faye Road, a 3.24 acre parcel, in 2005. The next year, Rice Contracting purchased 17.24 acres just past the end of the road, with the intention of developing it.
“Albert Rice has just built a new family home behind the high school,” wrote Chronicle Herald business columnist Rachel Brighton in 2013:
It has a sweeping view of the South Mountain rising up behind the Annapolis River, but it was the view of the red brick school, where he was a student, that determined his choice.
“It makes me feel young again every time I look at it,” he says.
Other people also want to live in the same quiet and scenic riverfront location. Rice owns about 10 hectares below his home, and he wants to subdivide it for sale. Ex-residents of Bridgetown are calling him to ask for lots for retirement homes. But he figures even if he reaped $25,000 each for up to 20 lots, the cost of servicing them to municipal and provisional standards would be prohibitive.
“We can’t develop our land here and get the price that they’re getting in Halifax,” says Rice.
“You’re lucky to get $25,000 for a lot in Bridgetown, where in the HRM you can get over $100,000. You can’t service a development in Bridgetown and pave the road and put in sidewalks and storms and drains and gutters and turn around and sell your lot … and get five times your money back.”
“You will never develop a small rural community if you have to play by the rules of Halifax,” he argues.
It seems to him that residential development is easier and cheaper in rural counties. But in the town, he must meet costly standards for subdivisions.
“It could be developed if the attitude of the town changed, but it’s not economically feasible to do it now with the way the rules are.”
Brighton got two things wrong in her account: the parcel Rice wanted to develop is about seven hectares, not 10, and it is not “riverfront” — the rail-to-trail path and three parcels of land owned by Barbara Jeanne Hug were between Rice’s land and the Annapolis River. Perhaps Rice hoped to acquire Hug’s land; if so, the two westernmost parcels Hug owned along the river combined with the property to the north Rice already owned would amount to just over 10 hectares.
As Rice told Brighton, there were two obstacles to developing his property: the “attitude” of the town bureaucrats and the costs of the infrastructure needed to access the proposed subdivision.
But as fate would have it, just as Rice was complaining about the town bureaucracy, Bridgetown was embroiled in a financial scandal. An audit revealed that town accounts receivable clerk Melissa Jane Young had embezzled $113,000. In response to the embezzlement and revelations of other financial irregularities, the entire town council and mayor resigned and the province took over town governance. Young pleaded guilty to fraud, and in March 2014, the municipality of Bridgetown was dissolved and Annapolis County became responsible for the former town’s operations.
And yet, while Rice had expressed to Brighton a preference for dealing with bureaucracy in rural counties like Annapolis, Rice has made no application to the county to develop his property, says Stephen McInnis, the Director of Municipal Operations and Deputy CAO for Annapolis County.
Rice told Brighton that the second obstacle to developing his property was the cost of paving the road, putting in curbs and sidewalks, and building storm water systems that would be needed to service his subdivision.
That would soon change, as would the status of Barbara Jeanne Hug’s riverfront property.
The Faye Road Extension and access road
As originally planned, the construction of the new Bridgetown school wouldn’t much help Rice with the cost of the infrastructure needed to reach his proposed subdivision. But over the past year and a half, there have been significant changes to the province’s plans for property around the new school, such that now the costs to Rice for the infrastructure needed for his development have dropped to zero dollars — the province is paying the full costs that Rice complained about in 2013 for the road, the curbs, the sidewalks, and the storm water system.
There have been three iterations of the access road leading to the new school, as follows:
I’ve been unable to find any public document that shows the exact location of the access road as originally planned, but premier Stephen McNeil and a government spokesperson confirm that when the new school plans were initially drawn up, they included an access road that went from about the intersection of Centennial Road and Faye Road, across playing fields behind the existing school, and on to the new school location, or roughly like this:
Premier Stephen McNeil confirmed something like that routing when I asked him about the access road on Monday:
I can tell you that the road was originally constructed with the new building was, they came in and assessed it. It was actually going to go through the property. The commitment was that road would’ve been going through that school property while school was still going on. At the same time, we would’ve been committed to moving a tennis court and part of the soccer field and track, which had a cost associated to it which was not part of that road construction.
Without shifting the road, they very quickly realized they were going to chew up the soccer field. The right of way was going through the soccer field. It was more important for the town and the community that if they moved the road, which they had lots of room to do so, which is actually part of the school property… that they’d be able to run that property through.
Listen to my interview with McNeil here:
Last week, I asked the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal a series of detailed questions about the Faye Road Extension project; here’s the first part of the response provided by spokesperson Brian Taylor (read the entire exchange here):
Early in the project it became clear that there was some community sensitivity associated with the sports fields and the tennis courts and any disruption or relocation of either the fields or the tennis courts. There were several reasons for this — previous community or private investment, facility specific dedications or memorials, on-going availability of the sport fields for use (it appears that these are the only full size sports fields in Bridgetown), etc.
Public road access to the new school location east of the sports fields was only available at the north end or the south end of the sports fields. Public road access north of the sports fields would have required relocation of the sports field southward and there would have been a cost for this and the loss of the use of the sports fields for a period of time. A northern access road between the existing high school and the relocated sports fields would have resulted in significant disruption to the existing school operations and the sports fields during construction of the access road and the construction of the new school because of the proximity of the access road to the existing high school building and the sports fields. Students from the existing high school would have needed to cross the new access road to get to the sports fields. There was also a potential conflict with school buses.
Public road access to the new school south of the sports field allowed the sports fields to continue operating without interruption and be less disruptive to the operation of the existing high school during the construction of the access road and the new school.
When McNeil and Taylor said the road needed to be shifted, they were referring to the second iteration of the access road. The second location was shown in a map included with the tender for site preparation for the new school issued in July of 2015:
Note that the access road envisioned in the first iteration was replaced with a simple asphalt walking and biking trail that could be looped around the soccer field and track. And the access road became a “driveway,” shifted to the south, just as McNeil confirmed.
Faye Road has long been an asphalt-covered street from the highway south to Centennial Road; but south from Centennial, Faye Road was just a dirt road. With this change in plans, however, Faye Road would be paved from Centennial Road to the edge of Albert Rice’s property — hence the “Faye Road Extension” project. From near the end of the extended Faye Road, the new driveway travels east to the new school. As it approaches the school, there is a parking lot to the south, and a bus loop to the north.
Now let’s zoom in on the driveway:
Here we see that the driveway is entirely on provincially owned property (if only just barely north of the property line) and that both sides of the driveway are lined with a ditch.
The next version of the access road, now called a “cul-de-sac” instead of a “driveway,” is the one that was actually built.
The change from a driveway to a cul-de-sac concerns the end of the access road, where it meets the school property. Where initially it split into a bus loop and a parking lot, it became a simple circular driveway, a “cul-de-sac.”
I don’t know why that change was made, but it coincided with an additional change: moving the access road / driveway / cul-de-sac.
As yet, there’s no map available to me showing where the cul-de-sac was actually built, but when I visited the site I could see that it’s been shifted south just slightly — 10 to 20 feet — from where the driveway was mapped out in the second iteration.
Here’s a photo I took of the cul-de-sac, still under construction:
Though just a small change, that shift was enough to place the road at least partially on Rice’s land — it looked to me that just the southern edge of the road is on Rice’s land, but Rice told me that nearly all the road is on his land.
Regardless, this minor shift in the location of the road has big implications, as it brought the services Rice had complained about paying for back in 2013 — paving the road, putting in curbs and sidewalks, and building storm water systems that would be needed to service his subdivision — directly to Rice’s property, at no cost to Rice.
Tenders and change orders
The changes in the road plans from its first iteration (the original routing across the soccer field) to its third iteration (what was actually built) were enacted through two tender offers and numerous change orders to those tenders.
Let’s walk through the documents.
The tender for “Site Preparation — Phase 1” (reflecting the second iteration) was awarded on September 18, 2015 to B. Spicer Construction. Spicer’s winning bid was for $1,323,423.
A number of change orders were made to this tender. (Read the change order documents I have, here.) Some of the more notable ones, and the costs these incurred, were:
▶︎ An allocation of $458,012.50 was made on December 1, 2015 to “cover the cost for providing underground site services to the Faye Road extension, as detailed in Contemplated Change Order #001,” explained David Webber, a TIR procurement manager, to Tom Gouthro, the director of Engineering, Design & Construction:
This work could have been included and tendered as part of the next phase which is the construction of the building itself. Instead, we are proposing to add it to the Phase 1 site preparation currently in progress. This will allow us to conduct this work this current fiscal year, which will help accelerate the overall project schedule, and will help in our annual cash flow targets.
This doesn’t make sense to me. Surely, the need for underground services necessary for the “building itself” (the school) would have been known long before the site preparation tender related to the school was issued. Rather, it appears that the services were required only because the access road had been shifted south of the soccer field, which required extending Faye Road. That is, the nearly half million dollar cost for underground services was related to the road, not to the school.
The shift of the location of the access road seems to have resulted in other unexpected costs.
▶︎ There were three change orders to remove “unsuitable material” that had been discovered in the process of building the Faye Road extension.
The first of these was for $50,457.78. On November 4, 2015, Nick Goodine, project manager, noted that:
The contractor encountered more unsuitable materials than anticipated while completing the work. As a result the Change Order value exceeds the estimate provided by the consultant at the time the Change Directive was issued.
The second was for $56,981.60, issued on December 11, 2015, “for the removal of unsuitable material uncovered at Faye Road extension and to supply and install structural fill as directed by the on-site geotechnical engineer.”
The third was for $40,883.24, issued on June 7, 2016, as the “final payment for the removal of unsuitable materials uncovered at Faye Road extension and to supply and place structural fill as directed by the on-site geotechnical engineer.”
All told, nearly $150,000 was spent removing “unsuitable material” that was “unexpectedly” encountered because the access road had been shifted south.
▶︎ Another change order, for $243,410.36 issued on February 14, 2016, was to “revise the driveway / entrance and parking lot area in accordance with change directive three” — this was the change from the second to the third iteration, from the driveway to the cul-de-sac. I don’t know why this change was made, but here’s how project manager Nick Goodine explained it to Gouthro:
This Change Order is the result of a client request to replace the school driveway with a cul-de-sac.
The anticipated cost of the change was $175,000. However, the contractor encored additional costs as a result of the timing of the request which increased the cost. The client request was made while construction was underway and resulted in a delay of 20 working days to the contractor while he waited revised drawings. The delay forced asphalt and concrete work to be postponed until the spring as the asphalt plants had closed for the season. This resulted in an escalation of the cost of asphalt and concrete. Additionally, delaying the work resulted in winter conditions and the need for snow removal before the contractor could begin earth moving.
I asked Taylor, the TIR spokesperson, why the change in the location of the driveway / cul-de-sac was made so suddenly, but received no answer.
▶︎ On May 24, 2016, there was a change order, for $46,564.73, to “install curb cuts and service laterals in the cul-de-sac driveway.” If there was explanatory paperwork associated with this change order, it wasn’t provided to me.
Gone is the ditch that was to line the driveway, replaced with a nice sidewalk, and with curb cuts and utility connections that can only possibly serve future construction on Albert Rice’s land — presumably the proposed subdivision he told Rachel Brighton about back in 2013.
Only after all these changes had been made was a second tender, the “Phase 1B — Faye Road Upgrades and Pumping Station,” issued, on August 20, 2016. The second tender was also awarded to Spicer, which bid $915,423 on the project. The bulk of the costs for the second tender appear to be related to the pumping station, which now sits about 150 feet south of the access road / cul-de-sac, on Albert Rice’s land:
My read on this is that when the road was planned to go through the soccer field, there was no concern about runoff from the road. And even after the road was shifted south of the soccer field (the second iteration), it was felt that a simple ditching system could handle the runoff. But only after the road was actually built (the third iteration), and after the curbs and gutters installed, was a need for a pumping station discovered.
It’s not clear to me whether the ditching system drawn into the second iteration was just “wishful thinking” — a back of the envelope calculation — or if it reflected an actual engineering assessment of storm water flows over the road. My guess is that the decision to move the road from across the soccer field to south of it was made so hastily that the need for a pumping station was only discovered after the decision was finalized, and indeed, after the road was built.
I called Albert Rice in February and asked him about the new access road, the curb cuts, and the pumping station.
Listen to my interview with Rice here:
As Rice tells it, the cul-de-sac is “mostly on my property. They didn’t have enough room to get in there, so they had to come in onto my property to have access to the school.”
As for the pumping station, Rice seems to agree with my assessment that it is only needed because the access road / driveway / cul-de-sac was shifted southward.
“See, they’re draining their water across my property,” explained Rice. “So you can’t just go and drain your water across someone else’s land. They have to get an easement from me. So they came to me wanting an easement.”
“They’ve got an easement down through there,” Rice said in February. “They probably haven’t changed the deeds over yet.”
Three months later, that easement is still not registered with the Registry of Deeds.
The province is, however, building a pumping station on Albert Rice’s land.
Stephen McInnis, the Director of Municipal Operations and Deputy CAO for Annapolis County, told me that Annapolis County won’t accept the pumping station into the Bridgewater sewer system until the province can demonstrate ownership of the land it sits on.
I also asked Rice about the curb cuts; here’s our exchange:
Tim Bousquet: Are you going to build houses out there?
Albert Rice: I don’t plan on, no.
TB: Because I found the curb cuts odd.
AR: Yep. Well, it’s better to put them in ahead of time than to go back and put them in if you decide to develop it.
But of course Rice has been considering developing the property at least since 2013, when he spoke with business columnist Rachel Brighton.
I asked Brian Taylor, the TIR spokesperson, how the province could build sidewalks and curbs and a pumping station on land it did not own, and this was his response:
The Province worked closely with the adjacent land owner to achieve an Agreement in Principle which has allowed the Roadway Realignment and Pumping Station construction to proceed. The formal Purchase and Sale Agreement is still being finalized and includes considerations such as the curb cuts referenced in question #3. The Province frequently builds on land that it does not own but not without the owner’s permission and/or an agreement of some sort that allows the work to proceed until such time a formal agreement can be negotiated.
This also applies to the lift (pumping) station in that it will be municipal infrastructure, not school infrastructure, and will be available for use by others with some modifications in the future. In order for the lift station to be municipally owned and operated, the infrastructure must be on municipally owned property. The lift (pumping) station was constructed on property that forms part of the agreement currently being finalized.
Perhaps, but the need for the pumping station has been known since at least August 2016, nine months ago, when the tender to construct it was issued. This seems like an inordinately long time to negotiate a simple sale agreement for an arrangement that benefits both parties.
Regardless, had the access road been built where it was originally planned — connecting Centennial Road to the new school by crossing the soccer field — the site preparation would have cost the $1.3 million originally tendered to B. Spicer Construction. But because the road was shifted south, resulting in the need for a pumping station, the discovery of unexpected material that needed to hauled away, and for whatever reason, a desire to build curb cuts that benefit Albert Rice, the project costs have ballooned by at least another $2 million.
TIR spokesperson Brian Taylor tells me that “the Faye Road extension is part of the site prep for the much larger school construction project. Overall, the school project is within around seven per cent of tendered overall budget. This is not atypical on a project of this scale.”
But that’s dodging the question: the school project is budgeted at $23.92 million, while the site preparation tender was awarded for $1.3 million. There have been no obvious problems related to the school construction — there are a couple of very minor change orders that don’t seem out of line and aren’t worth discussing. The change orders to the site preparation tender, however, are on the order of 150 per cent — very much exceeding the seven percent figure Taylor cited.
By conflating the two projects — including the site preparation as part of the overall school construction budget — Taylor is confusing the issue.
The boat ramp
Is this a story about nothing much? Are we merely dealing with a cost overrun — a very large cost overrun, but still, just a cost overrun — because people in Bridgetown didn’t want to build a road through a soccer field?
That may be a read on this situation. But there’s an additional piece of information that raises more questions: Albert Rice’s boat ramp.
I started asking questions about the boat ramp in January, but after an initial email exchange, my followup questions were ignored by Department of Environment communications person Krista Higdon. I had to file a Freedom of Information request to find out what happened, and I only received that information in April. Here’s what I learned:
In October 2015, the Department of Environment became aware of the construction of a culvert and a “boat launch” on two of the three parcels (AAN #s 02100797 and 02100797) the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal had purchased from Barbara Jeanne Hug in November 2014.
An investigation revealed that the boat ramp was being built by Albert Rice. “There were no permits issued for either property,” said Kenny MacAulay, a district manager of the department, in an email to Higdon.”
The Department of Environment issued a directive to Albert Rice to “provide proper erosion protection for all exposed soils” on the property. The department also charged Rice with “commencing or continuing activity without providing notification,” a violation of Section 67A(2) of the Environment Act.
In August 2016, Rice was found guilty of the violation and was fined $118 in costs and $1.15 in fines to the Victims Services fund. Additionally, he was told to pay $230 to the Clean Annapolis River Project.
But no effort was made to restore the riverbank to its original condition, and the boat ramp remains today:
I asked Rice about the boat ramp. “Yeah, that’s for the fire department can get down there,” said Rice. “That’s going to be my land when it’s switched over… That’s my plan, I get the piece in front of my property.”
Rice is president of the Bridgetown Volunteer Fire Department.
A property swap
As Rice tells it, and as Brian Taylor, the TIR spokesperson confirms, a property swap has been in the works. The deal looks like this: Rice would give the province a tiny sliver of his land for an access road to the school and a small patch for a pumping station, and in return, he’d get four acres of riverfront property and the installation of sidewalks, curb cuts, and utility service laterals that would improve access to a subdivision he’s been contemplating building.
The question is: Why would the provincial officials embark on a such a deal, when they could have just as easily used the power authorized to them by the Order in Council to “do whatever is necessary to acquire the land and develop the building(s) for the new school construction” — that is, why didn’t they just expropriate the few feet of Rice’s land they thought were required for the access road and pumping station, and leave it at that?
At the very least, it appears that the full implications of moving the access road were not thought out, and the decision was made before any engineering studies or geotechnical inspections could be conducted.
In fact, the change in the location of the road was made so abruptly in Fall 2015 that Spicer Construction, which was already working on the property, had to stop work for 20 days while new site plans were drawn, which in turn caused an enormous increase in costs because laying asphalt had to be put off for the next spring.
And almost exactly when that abrupt change in the road location was ordered, Albert Rice started building a boat ramp on property owned by the province, assuming that he would own it soon.
This story started with Premier Stephen McNeil ordering the construction of a new school in Bridgetown, and with opposition leaders and others saying the decision was made for partisan reasons — the school is just another instance of political spoils.
Now that we find that the construction of the access road to that school benefits one property owner, we can ask: Was moving the access road also a case of political spoils?
Bridgetown is a small town, and Rice and Premier Stephen McNeil have known each other for many years. I’m told they eat dinner together occasionally.
Did McNeil order the change in the road location?
I asked both McNeil and Rice if they had worked out a handshake deal for a property swap. They both deny it.