Utility merger could power an expanded vision for St. Thomas Elevated Park

city_scope_logo-cmykAs if playing home to this country’s first elevated park wasn’t high enough honour, St. Thomas could be one starting point for an ambitious trail project – an undertaking pinned to the pending merger of St. Thomas Energy and Entegrus, based out of Chatham-Kent.
Earlier this week Serge Lavoie, president of On Track St. Thomas, released details of what the St. Thomas Elevated Park will look like when the gate at the eastern approach swings open Aug. 27. 
When the organization acquired the former Michigan Central Railroad trestle – built in 1929 at a cost of $689,000 – the purchase included 4 km of railway right-of-way at the western end of the structure running to Lyle Road in Southwold.

In an ambitious move, Entegrus had previously purchased the abandoned Canada Southern Railway narrow roadbed from Lyle Road clear through to Tilbury, 26 km southwest of Chatham, ostensibly as a utility corridor.But the firm is fully open to converting the roadbed into a multi-purpose trail, according to Tomo Matesic, president of Entegrus Transmission.


Former CASO right-of-way looking west from Lyle Road

“We’ve had several discussions with them (On Track) about the potential of using it as a utility corridor and trail, linking multiple communities in the area,” Matesic told City Scope this week.

“Entegrus is owned 90 per cent by the municipality (Chatham-Kent), we have a trail plan for that portion of the trail in Chatham and we’ve talked to our neighbouring communities Dutton-Dunwich, Southwold and West Elgin, as well as St. Thomas, about the potential for turning this into a trail . . . So the trail could run all the way down to Tilbury.” 
That would be a “game-changer,” asserted Lavoie.
“We are hearing back the idea of a trail is still in the works, even though there is a merger happening. We don’t have a confirmation of it but if Entegrus moves ahead in partnership with the county (Elgin), for instance, and with Chatham-Kent, and there’s lots of talking going on, if that happens we’ll be able to connect our land to their land and it will be one continuous trail. That’s a game-changer.”
The trail would exist in conjunction with a hoped-for underground utility corridor.


“We’re looking at fibre, gas, water, electric, telecommunications, anything that would be a shared use and part of the strategy there is the complimentary uses,” explained Matesic.

“Ways to hopefully drive some revenue and those revenues can help support the whole corridor as a trail corridor. So, were looking at ways to expand services across the communities along the corridor, not just as a trail, but for utilities in general. If you look along the corridor at the rural urban centres – Shedden, Iona, Dutton, West Lorne, Rodney – they’re all, generally speaking, underserviced with respect to fibre and communications-type options.”
Lavoie has a mental picture of enjoying time at the elevated park and then heading west to explore.

Looking east from Lyle Road toward the Michigan Central Railroad bridge

“You could literally hop on a bicycle or whatever and go to all those small communities the rail line goes through. Perfect for Rodney, perfect for West Lorne, for Morpeth and places like that,” Lavoie enthused.

Matesic confirmed planning is already underway in Chatham.
“The trail committee in Chatham-Kent is working on the master trails plan and I’m not sure of the development timeline. They have a registered easement on the corridor to do trails. I’m not familiar with the surface they’re laying down, whether it’s paved or chip and stone. But they’ve had discussions on parking, access roads and signage to accommodate visitors along the corridor. Possibly starting next year.”
entegrus“Matesic continued, “It becomes a question of what do you build paved, chip and stone, costs, maintenance and all those other things we have to figure out. And I know they are working on that plan. We’re open to it from our perspective. We think it’s a great community and regional initiative. It’s definitely something we’d like to see. We own the land and we’re trying to figure out the best use for it.”
He added there is considerable interest already in West Elgin.
“They’re trying to develop a full trail plan to connect and they like the idea of connecting the communities along the corridor.”
Lavoie confirmed interest in the west end of the county.
Grace McGartland of the Arts and Cookery Bank in West Lorne owns property there and she is really actively looking at the idea of putting in some sort of tourist amenity if this ever happens. She would love to see a cafe or maybe a bed and breakfast in West Lorne. Lots of people are now talking about it and it just hasn’t all come together yet.”
Who knew a utility merger could so greatly add to the quality of life in communities straddling an abandoned railway right-of-way?
Still with the elevated park, Lavoie calls it the “elephant in the room.” Not the bridge itself, but the stigma associated with towering structure.
There’s the fear once the park opens, it will become a magnet for suicides.
“We knew going in that was going to be a concern in the community because we did have that loss of life about 15 months ago with the mother and her daughter. It’s a fact of life unfortunately.”
elevated-park-2-jpgFact of life or not, Lavoie has undertaken considerable research on the attraction of high structures to those contemplating suicide.
“We talked to the police, we talked to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) here, we talked to the city and we also looked at what had happened in Toronto at the Bloor Street viaduct (spanning the Don Valley Parkway). Back in 2003, then mayor Mel Lastman pushed to have anti-suicide barriers installed and it cost them $6 million to install. And it was successful in one way, it stopped suicides on that bridge.
“But the British Journal of Medicine actually did a study for three years before the bridge was fixed and three years after they put in the barrier and they found there had been absolutely no reduction in the number of suicides by jumping off bridges in Toronto. The same number. It just meant they were going from that bridge to another one.”
It plays out as a mental health issue, suggested Lavoie.
“We can’t possibly screen off every bridge, every tall building and subway station. And the CMHA has told us they believe having this as a big, open, nicely designed park where there will be people all the time is going create that situation of eyes on the park all the time. People aren’t going to feel like they’re alone up the there and they are less likely to make a scene and jump off in front of people.
“It just won’t be the target it was before when it was sort of a desolate industrial zone. People will be the best watch dogs up there if you will. They will be guardians. Let’s face it, there will be people up there on a regular basis. With eyes and ears on the bridge, it is way less likely that people will be attracted to it as a jumping place.”
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Included in Monday’s council agenda are the salaries of employees earning in excess of $100,000 in 2016, as required by the Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act of 1996.
In total, 110 employees eared more than $100,000, that’s up from 95 in 2015. 
Breaking down by sector, 43 members of the St. Thomas Police Service are included, up substantially from 31 in 2015. Chief Darryl Pinnell was unavailable Friday, but we’ll huddle with him Monday for background details.
At the St. Thomas Fire Department, 48 are on the list but that has held steady over the last two years.
In city administration, 19 staffers are listed, up three from 2015.
The top earner at city hall again is Wendell Graves at $181,271, having earned $175,099 the previous year.
Other notable salaries at city hall, with 2015 figure in brackets:
Elizabeth Sebestyen, director of Ontario Works, $139,737 ($139,558)
Justin Lawrence, director of environmental services, $133,684 (new) 
Patrick Keenan, director of planning $129,972 ($129,911)
Graham Dart, director of human resources, $129,972 ($129,906)
David Aristone, city treasurer, $136,492 ($128,030)
Ross Tucker, director of Parks & Recreation, $122,390 ($122,223)
Michael Carroll, Valleyview administrator, $120,319 ($120,256)
Darryl Pinnell, St. Thomas Police Chief, $166,594 ($161,761)
Jeff Driedger, Deputy Chief,  $155,486 ($150,978)
Rob Broadbent, Fire Chief, $143,005 ($138,792)
Ray Ormerod, Deputy Fire Chief, $131,074 ($127,886)
Update as of March 6: In an interview with St. Thomas Police Chief Darryl Pinnell, he indicated the correct figure should indicate 46 members of the police service earned $100,000 or more in 2016 and not 43 as quoted in the report. That would raise the total number of municipal employees on the list to 113 and not 110.
We referenced this a couple of weeks ago and now city manager Wendell Graves is filling in the blanks with his report to city council Monday.
The Toronto Maple Leafs plan to recognize 19 former players and have contacted local communities to place commemorative banners in those locales, one of which is St. Thomas, where Clarence (Hap) Day chose to reside after a 33-year career in the NHL as a player, referee and in the front office, 28 of those with the Leafs. His name is engraved on the Stanley Cup seven times, the last in 1951 as assistant manager in Toronto.
hap-dayjpgAfter departing the Leaf organization, Day purchased Elgin Handles, formerly located on Kains Street. He sold the operation to his son in 1977.
Hap Day died 27 years ago last month at his St. Thomas home. He was 88 years old.
In partnership with the Leafs, the skilled blueliner will be recognized in St. Thomas on Sunday, March 26 with a ceremony that will include personnel from the hockey organization.
The festivities begin at 1 p.m. with the unveiling of the banner at the Jumbo monument. You have to know that locale was chosen because the Leafs are filming the affair and will also shoot footage at some of the city’s railway heritage sites.
From 2-4 p.m., there will be a free public skate at the Timken Centre where you are encouraged to dress in Leaf regalia, or at least decked out in blue and white. The afternoon on ice is sponsored in part by the St. Thomas Homebuilders Association.
At 3 p.m., with members of the Day family and the Leaf organization on hand, Hap Day will be recognized on the city’s Wall of Fame.
The Hap Day banner itself will find a home in Memorial Arena and not the Timken Centre. A nice touch, the Wilson Avenue ice house is steeped in St. Thomas hockey history.
Update as of March 6: At Monday’s (March 6) council meeting, Graves advised the banner will now hang in the Timken Centre and not Memorial Arena. He added the voice of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Joe Bowen, will be in attendance for the March 26 ceremony in St. Thomas.
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For road construction, that is. And in addition to the major undertakings – Gateway Roundabout, Southdale Line roundabout and First Avenue widening – add to the list the rebuilding of Queen Street, between Centre and Wellington streets.
The project is scheduled to commence the week of March 13 and includes replacing the water services, sanitary sewer, storm sewer, and road which will be limited to local traffic only until some time in June.

Queen Street looking south toward the Elgin County Courthouse

Parking passes will be distributed to residents for the Centre Street west parking lot when access to driveways is limited.

Residents should be in receipt of a construction notice outlining the nitty-gritty. 
City staff advise if Canada Post is unable to deliver mail due to construction, a  temporary mail box will be set up and more information would be provided to residents at that  time.
Same applies for garbage/recycling pickup. Access for garbage/recycling collection  will be maintained when possible. In the event trucks can’t access the street, the contractor will provide delivery to a centralized area for pick  up. 
Oh and at the sound end, four trees in the boulevard area will meet their demise.
On the bright side, all those miscreants who illegally park while attending court won’t be an issue for the next three or four months.
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Not only will city council increase in size by an additional councillor in time for the 2018 municipal vote, we could also have a deputy mayor in our midst. Members are in receipt of a report dealing with that very matter, with a determination to be made if the position is to be created, will the individual be elected or appointed from council.
Is there really a need for a deputy mayor elected or otherwise? Well we’re quoting the report authored by city clerk Maria Konefal here. 
“In some municipalities, whether in large municipalities with a full-time mayor or in smaller municipalities with a part-time mayor, a deputy mayor(s) or acting mayor(s) are appointed to act when the mayor is unable to attend functions, meetings, and events.”
There are a lot of local groups and organizations that can relate to that one.
So if council goes down the road of approving an elected deputy mayor, how much would this person earn?
Let’s go back to the clerk’s report and try to glean an answer.
“Currently, when members of council are appointed as acting mayor, they receive an additional per diem amount of $49.64.
“The annual base amount of remuneration for the mayor is approximately $51,800, while a councillor receives approximately $22,400 per year. Beginning in 2018, the total remuneration expenses will be increased by the addition of an eighth councillor.
“Should council be interested in appointing a deputy mayor for an extended period, consideration would need to be given to an appropriate remuneration for the position.”
Not including a new deputy mayor, the council elected in the 2018 municipal vote will collectively cost taxpayers in excess of $228,000, although it could be more as the mayor is suggesting that office should become a full-time position with an appropriate increase in salary.
Do you remember former treasurer Bill Day badgering city council on several occasions for the need to exercise fiscal restraint and resist additional hiring? Must be a sure sign times are getting better in St. Thomas.
Questions and comments may be emailed to: City Scope

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