The evolution began in May of last year when city council endorsed Phase 1 of a project to install eight CCTV cameras along a two-kilometre stretch of Talbot Street, from CASO Crossing to St. George Street.
The locations were selected based on 2018/19 crime-mapping data and motor vehicle collision reporting information.
But, it is not meant to be a red-light camera system to document vehicles running traffic signals.
The CCTV program was pitched to council as “a proactive, local solution modelled on successful networks in other municipalities to enhance community well-being and assist the St. Thomas Police Service with solving crime.”
A report from the service concluded,” a safe, secure and vibrant downtown will provide a canvas for economic development.”
Last month, the entire system was brought on stream and is now in full operation, according to Insp. Steve Bogart, who oversees the CCTV operation.
We talked with him Friday (Sept. 3) to get an update on the system which he stresses, “Is going to make a difference for the safety and security of visitors, people who are patrons downtown and business owners who are working in that corridor.
“It will bring business back downtown and help revitalize it.”
The cameras are already proving their worth as recently as last week when police were able to quickly apprehend an individual who set fire to a garbage can on Talbot Street.
But it goes further than that, noted Bogart, where the cameras have aided in vehicle collisions at the various intersections.
“We show up after the fact,” explained Bogart, “and we get different reports from people. It’s been fruitful in at least two investigations in the past month.
“And we’ve been able to solve investigations pretty quickly by reviewing video.”
But the primary function is to strive for a safe and vibrant downtown, stressed Bogart.
“We’re glad to be able to work with the Downtown Development Board and the city on the initiative and get it completed.”
In total, $70,000 in funding was made available to purchase equipment and implement the first phase. The St. Thomas Downtown Development Board contributed $10,000 while a local business donated $50,000. The remaining $10,000 was expected to come from the city.
This was beefed up by $90,000 in provincial government funding.
The downtown CCTV system works in tandem with the service’s voluntary security camera registry program with homeowners and businesses “to solve crimes in a more timely, efficient and cost-effective way.”
“I really do not perceive that it’s a violent, crime-ridden area, it is not. We want to contribute to creating a positive environment. We want to create a feeling that it is safe and more secure through that environmental design we can assist with.”
Bogart made it clear it is a stand-alone system that is not connected to the service’s internal computer system in any way.
“So there is no risk of any intrusion or firewall breaches. It’s a direct fibre line from the cameras to the police station.
Now that the system is functional downtown, thought is being given to expanding into the industrial area in the city’s north end.
“We will be working with the vendors to move it out to the industrial zone,” advised Bogart.
“We are in talks to move forward at some point.”
The CCTV system is just one facet of the effort to revitalize the downtown core.
“We’re always going to look at new and innovative ways to police and find ways to solve crime. And making public safety paramount.”
There is also the community service foot patrol in the core area with officers Katherine McNeil and Dan Spicer along with the two mental health clinicians from the Canadian Mental Health Association MOST (Mobile Outreach Support Team) unit assisted by Const. Jeremy Linker.
Bogart touches on the issue of perception and that not necessarily being a reality in the city’s downtown core.
“I really do not perceive that it’s a violent, crime-ridden area, it is not. We want to contribute to creating a positive environment.
“We want to create a feeling that it is safe and more secure through that environmental design we can assist with.”
He continued, “The commitment is huge. It’s been a good partnership with the city and the Downtown Development Board.
“We’re always going to look at new and innovative ways to police and find ways to solve crime. And making public safety paramount.”
ANOTHER LONG-TERM COMMITMENT TO ST. THOMAS
Two weeks ago it was the announcement a very familiar name is coming to St. Thomas. Construction has begun on a $16 million, 95-room Holiday Inn Express and Suites to open next October at the west end of Elgin Centre.
This week, an even greater financial investment in the city from a not very familiar name to most residents of St. Thomas.
Sollio Agriculture – a cooperative of agricultural producers in Quebec with a presence across the country – will soon begin to build a $20 million fertilizer coating plant on the site of its sister operation, Agrico Canada, south of Edward Street in the city’s east end.
The innovative plant will be in partnership with Pursell which in 2018, opened a similar plant in Sylacauga, Alabama and plans to open a second plant in Savannah, Georgia.
Pursell is a leader in coating technology and the St. Thomas operation will be their first venture outside the U.S.
Construction of the plant is to begin this fall with a completion date of next August. It will produce controlled-release fertilizers (CRFs), which traditionally have been used in turf and ornamental and specialty agriculture.
Pursell’s coating technology will allow for the use of controlled-release fertilizers on crops such as corn, wheat, canola and potatoes.
We spoke this week with Sollio interim general manager David Brand who advised when in full operation, the plant will produce 100,000 tonnes of CRFs annually for eastern Canada and the northeastern U.S.
“We’re certainly going to take our time to ramp up,” advised Brand, “to make sure we’ve got everything ironed out. But, certainly, the plant and the footprint will give it the capacity to produce up to 100,000, but we’ll probably over the first two or three years build up to that capacity.”
Brand stressed this is a long-term investment in St. Thomas and the region.
“We’re looking to invest just over $20 million Canadian in the area and that’s a long-term commitment. There’s a lot of thought put behind it and it’s a big commitment.
“We see it as a great thing for the area and hopefully the people of St. Thomas see our investment there, as I know our local networks do and hopefully the local growers as well.”
The plant will initially employ about a half-dozen workers, suggested Brand.
“We’re looking to put in a general manager of the facility and we’re probably looking to add in the neighbourhood of five to six employees and we’ll continue to add as the business grows.
“It’s certainly not to take away from our existing team members there (at Agrico) who are managing the terminal, so it will be over and above the current employees.”
He adds CRFs are designed to offer economic and environmental benefits to Canadian farmers, noting the introduction of these fertilizers into commodity agriculture is a win for the environment.
“The real win-win for everybody is we can benefit the growers and there is a reduction in greenhouse gas which is so important these days in the business of food production.”
“We’re very excited about the opportunity to enhance our St. Thomas facility. The municipality has been good to work with and understands the importance. We hope St. Thomas sees the benefits the same way we do.”
According to Sollio, CRFs provide a more predictable, precise release curve, so growers can time when plants receive nutrients.
Growers using CRFs will enjoy cost savings from being able to reduce fertilizer applications, add more micronutrients and improve overall plant and soil health.
According to the International Fertilizer Association, the use of CRFs could reduce by 20 to 30 per cent the recommended rate of a conventional fertilizer while achieving the same yield.
“Typically, you would have seen more controlled-release products in the horticulture field, while now we’re able to bring forward this product and put it into row crops, so corn, soybeans and into potato crops as well.
“It’s a great benefit allowing us to use multiple products and go into a new area of release products.”
Brand stressed, “We’re very excited about the opportunity to enhance our St. Thomas facility. The municipality has been good to work with and understands the importance.
“We hope St. Thomas sees the benefits the same way we do.
“It’s for all the right reasons. The awareness of the environment and there are so many benefits that come with it. It complements what we are already doing there and shows our responsibility as a company.
“Showing our growers and our communities that we are committed to that, long term. We are taking a leadership role in our environment and supporting our economics. To be able to put more business here, locally, helps for a number of reasons.”
A FALSE SENSE OF SECURITY AT CROSSWALKS
City council returns to its regular meeting schedule Tuesday with an agenda dominated by built heritage items, including an update to the listing of properties on the city’s heritage register as undertaken by the Municipal Heritage Committee.
Of note, however, is a request from Earl Taylor, chairman of the Downtown Development Board, raising concerns about the courtesy crosswalks throughout the city, but more specifically in the downtown core.
Taylor points out, “Typically Canada is known for crosswalks that allow a pedestrian to have the right of way, but for many years St. Thomas has taken the opposite tack where the vehicle has been given the right of way at many downtown crosswalks.”
He has been made aware of a recent accident involving an individual attempting to use such a crosswalk and a car braked quickly and was rear-ended by another car, creating a dangerous situation for the pedestrian, advises Taylor.
“Clearly, creating a false sense of security for a pedestrian by painting two lines on the pavement and placing a sign denoting a pedestrian crosswalk is very dangerous when vehicular traffic has no obligation to give right-of-way to the pedestrian.”
He is asking city council “to implement a change to remove all courtesy crosswalks in our downtown core and implement a proper pedestrian-friendly crosswalk system that will enhance our efforts to make downtown St. Thomas a pedestrian-friendly environment.”
This goes back to 2009 when this corner wrote several posts relating to the death of 82-year-old Harold Leslie Hill at a crosswalk across from St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital.
At the time, city police determined the crosswalk was not legal and there were 15 similar uncontrolled crossings throughout the city where pedestrians were likely under the mistaken impression they could safely enter the crosswalk to navigate the roadway.
Eight of those crossings were located along Talbot Street.
In reality, pedestrians do not have the right of way and must yield to motorists at these so-called courtesy crossings.
“As we move toward the next phase of the Talbot Street reconstruction, I ask that the city consider installing a signalled crosswalk at all current crosswalks.”
Hill’s death prompted former mayor Janet Golding to appear before council of the day to demand action on these now-deadly crossings.
“Clearly, creating a false sense of security for a pedestrian by painting two lines on the pavement and placing a sign denoting a pedestrian crosswalk is very dangerous when vehicular traffic has no obligation to give right-of-way to the pedestrian,” Golding observed.
What we have today is a confusing situation, warns Taylor.
“Currently at the west end of Talbot Street we have on-demand signalled crosswalks, at major intersections we have a signalled system and in the core, we have yet another type of crosswalk system identified as a courtesy crosswalk.
“This creates a confusing situation where at some crosswalks vehicles must stop but at others, they don’t. At some crosswalks, pedestrians can cross safely but at others, they are at risk.”
Here is what Taylor is asking for.
“As we move toward the next phase of the Talbot Street reconstruction, I ask that the city consider installing a signalled crosswalk at all current crosswalks.
“I ask that this crosswalk change be implemented along Talbot Street as soon as possible, and certainly before the end of 2021.”
Unfortunately, the cost factor is likely to halt this safety upgrade in its tracks.
Such was the case in the aftermath of the death of Harold Leslie Hill.
THE ECHO CHAMBER
Following up on our Elgin Centre item last week and construction underway on the $16 million, 95-room Holiday Inn Express and Suites project, Deb Hardy gives the undertaking two thumbs up.
“The Elgin Centre seems to be making a decent recovery in crappy times. COVID sure has done them no favours.
“The idea that the hotel isn’t needed because we’re close to London is ridiculous. We have no full-service hotels. I believe it will do well at certain times of the year … summer because of sports, etc.
“I LOVE the idea of a mini-golf in the centre.”
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