Prince Edward County’s Newspaper of Record
June 16, 2024
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Something in the Water

It’s hard not to hear the steady drumbeat of doom coming from Wellington.

Whenever I read the Times I come away with a feeling of vertigo. What seemed straightforward and clear when it was debated in Council is refracted, as though in a funhouse mirror, into a caricature of the conversations and the characters. One meant not to amuse, but to alarm. 

I read the reports. I attend the Council meetings. Then I read the Times. Suddenly nothing is certain or clear.

Sometimes, I am told something I saw and heard happen never happened. 

At a charged Council meeting held January 10, a decision to continue with already approved and budgeted waterworks projects in Wellington was taken, after tense debate. The vote was split. Never mind that Council had committed to the infrastructure as part of its agreement with Kaitlin. The whole thing had to be fought through again.

Cork and Vine’s Devon Daniell attended that meeting, and reiterated the builder’s desire to get underway with its plans for phase one as soon as possible. “All we are waiting for in order to proceed is these pipes in the ground,” he said. “We cannot wait to get started. We just need that infrastructure.”

At another January meeting, this time of the Planning and Development Committee, Base31’s Official Plan Amendment application was approved and an Interim Servicing Agreement for temporary water and wastewater infrastructure, estimated to cost $7.5 million, established. Base31 CEO Tim Jones pledged $10 million to the project on behalf of his partners.

There would seem to be developers wanting to develop. 

At the Committee of the Whole meeting on 25 April, the County’s CAO, Marcia Wallace, said she had done an inventory of all development applications at a serious stage, as in draft plan or site re-zoning approval, and found 8000 housing units in the works across Wellington, Bloomfield, and Picton. 

And yet. At the same meeting, Wellington Councillor Corey Engelsdorfer, who is also the publisher of the Times, asked, as he has many times, “what happens if this development never happens?” 

Chris Braney, Councillor for Hillier, stated, “my lack of confidence stems from the fact that there were many opportunities for the developer here, who could easily have just said something like ‘we are fully committed to making that timeline in September with these development charges, we are fully committing to this and we plan on making sure we keep our end of those terms up.’ It was never said.”

The Times, rather than state clearly and openly its opposition to new development, pretends that it is not happening. 

Most of the time, Council and staff at Shire Hall are derided together for believing this ridiculous story, that developers want to develop in PEC. They are partners in a strange folie a deux, the ongoing, reckless negligence at Shire Hall.

Lately, however, this argument has taken an ingenious turn. Now, it is staff who are pretending that development is coming, and councillors have, variously, either been tricked into thinking so, or have failed to do their due diligence and discover the ruse for themselves.

The latest round of fury was sparked by County staff’s failure to find peer reviewers “to test the assumptions” behind the ongoing waterworks expansion in Wellington. 12 companies were approached. After an initial round, in which the top four politely declined, another 8 were asked. 

Perhaps sensing that facts were not the issue, every single one refused the opportunity to enter into the funhouse that is PEC municipal politics. 

The news did not go down well in Wellington.

According to Rick Conroy, the Times’s star columnist, “Shire Hall and Council have decided a review isn’t needed after all.”

Joanna Green, Chair of the Wellington Community Association, praised elected councillors for their fine work in a comment to Council on May 7.

 She then accused them of having “given in to advice to forgo a peer review,” and warned them they were being misled by staff. 

On “two separate occasions,” said Ms. Green, she had sat in Council Chambers and heard councillors being misinformed by staff. There were no details about either the occasions or the misinformation. They hardly matter, after all. What matters are the fantastical accusations. “You are being misinformed,” she said. “Misled.” 

“How can you make proper informed decisions when you are not receiving accurate and truthful information?” 

In a comment called “Lawyer Up” from May 9, the Times advised Council to protect itself from either the incompetence, or the deliberate distortions, or both, of its renegade staff. 

It’s one thing to lose a debate, to have the vote not go your way, for the infrastructure to proceed for development you do not want, and another entirely to blame the event on “staff”  — highly trained professionals, financial officers, engineers, and administrators, and, in this case, the County’s CAO and Director of Finance.  

County staff apparently spout fake news rather than spend their days, weeks, months, and years doing research, preparing reports, and ensuring that councillors  — who need have no such expertise — make crucial decisions with the right information.  

The same column that advises Council to get a lawyer states it “oversees a waterworks utility set to spend $200 million because its staff have told them Wellington is expanding to 14,500 people, Picton to 32,600 folks. The sheer fantasy of such projections should have elicited much more scrutiny.”

“Staff” did not “tell” Council any of this. The numbers come from population projections prepared by the economists at Watson and Associates over several years. Mr. Conroy has taken the largest possible numbers from those studies, which offer low, medium, and high growth scenarios over 10, 20, and 40 or more years. 

Taking the high number to estimate future water infrastructure needs is the equivalent of an accountant estimating retirement funds based on the lowest possible rate of return on investments. It’s generally called caution, or prudence. 

In Mr. Conroy’s hands, professional projections, however, are “sheer fantasy”  —  rhetoric designed to confuse and cause doubt. 

It’s the Times that is fantastical. In its pages, Shire Hall is not only reckless and negligent, but operating under the spell of a collective delusion. There are no developers, the staff actively mislead Council about the facts, and none of the reports or studies can be believed. Ever. 

Just who is misleading whom? 

This text is from the Volume 194 No. 21 edition of The Picton Gazette
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