After about a year’s worth of talks between Volkswagen, and the federal and provincial governments, the deal was made public this past Monday.
The automaker announced it was locating an electric-vehicle battery plant in St. Thomas.
It’s Volkswagen’s first overseas gigafactory.
It’s a logical choice given the city’s location, its proximity to essential minerals mined in Northern Ontario and required for production and the provincial deal just consummated that brings hundreds of acres of Central Elgin land into the confines of St. Thomas.
The plant will be operated by Volkswagen’s battery division, PowerCo.
Few details were made available on the size of the plant, the number of workers to be employed and how much will the deal ultimately cost taxpayers in this country.
More on that in a moment.
Following the announcement around noon on Monday, Mayor Joe Preston advised this is only the beginning.
The Mayor’s Luncheon on Wednesday at St. Anne’s Centre could have been more appropriately billed as A Mayor’s Grilling.
Featuring Southwold Mayor Grant Jones, Central Elgin Mayor Andrew Sloan and St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston, all attention was focused on the latter in what proved to be one of the most lively such functions in recent memory.
All because of recently adopted Bill 63, the St. Thomas-Central Boundary Adjustment Act, 2023.
The bill allows for the annexation of a portion of Central Elgin to the City of St. Thomas so that the latter can assemble a 1,500-acre parcel of land to attract a mega-industrial project to the city.
It has resulted in a bad taste in the mouths of the city’s neighbours and many unanswered questions.
And so when the floor was opened to questions from the audience on Wednesday, you had to know what direction the conversation would take.
First to the microphone was former Central Elgin Mayor Sally Martyn who needed no warm-up.
It’s a tale of two municipalities and their respective leaders.
St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston is ecstatic.
Central Elgin Mayor Andrew Sloan, on the other hand, is a lot more guarded.
Their differing reactions are in response to an announcement on Wednesday (Feb. 23) the province is introducing legislation to attract new investment to the 800-acre parcel of land east of Highbury Avenue assembled by the city last summer.
Oops, let’s correct that because the release from the province refers to 1,500 acres of land.
We’ll sort that out as we go.
The original 800 acres are located in St. Thomas and Central Elgin and have been identified as one of the most invest-ready mega sites in Ontario.
However, with the land divided between two municipalities with different permitting requirements, potential investors could face red tape and delays from unnecessary duplication.
And so the province has stepped in. We’re unsure if that was at the city’s request but we’ll try to sort that one out as we go as well.
In December of 2021, the partners involved in Project Tiny Hope – YWCA St. Thomas-Elgin, Doug Tarry Homes and Sanctuary Homes – requested $3 million in funding from the city for the imaginative project at 21 Kains Street.
What will the affordable housing look like?
“The creation of new YWCA rental units will be inclusive to diverse populations from all walks of life,” advised Lindsay Rice, YWCA executive director in the support case for the undertaking released in December of 2022.
It is to be “A mix of one, two and three-bedroom rental units will accommodate adults, youth and families.
“Each tiny home will be equipped with a full kitchen, bathroom, laundry, private bedrooms and living room providing dignity and comfort.”
Just over a year after the release of the project information, city council will return to the $3 million funding request at Monday’s (Feb. 13) council meeting.
At that time, Heather Sheridan, director of St. Thomas Elgin Social Services, recommends council approve the request in principle, “contingent on a successful outcome from the Rapid Housing Initiative application process and the provincial contribution request.”
Last week in this corner we quoted from a letter Heather Stillitano, chair of the Elgin Community Drug & Alcohol Strategy, directed toward Mayor Joe Preston and members of council. She stressed, “the ‘War on Drugs’ has not been effective at the individual, community or societal level throughout history and it fails to address the connection between mental health and opioid use.” She went on to note, the opioid overdose crisis does not exist independently from other public health issues. “For example,” Stillitano advised, “infectious diseases and other mental health concerns are highly associated with drug use.” At the council meeting, Monday (Aug. 9) members spent several moments debating the implications of her correspondence. Coun. Lori Baldwin-Sands opened the discussion by acknowledging “I am fully supporting moving this motion forward.” The motion in question isfrom BC-based Moms Stop The Harm urging council to endorse their call for the federal government to declare the overdose crisis a national public health emergency and that the government “immediately seek input from the people most affected by this crisis and meet with provinces and territories to develop a comprehensive, pan-Canadian overdose action plan.”
Proposed residential development on land currently owned by the Elgin County Railway Museum is an opportunity to revitalize that portion of downtown St. Thomas, stresses developer Doug Tarry. He is proposing to purchase eight acres of railway land immediately west of the museum at $300,000 per acre for a low-rise residential development that would front onto a new street to be built off Ross Street and north of Jonas Street. We talked with Tarry on Tuesday of this week (Aug. 3) and he stressed nothing is carved in stone at this point as museum members have yet to approve the sale of the property. He started by noting the museum is a gem and, “There is such an opportunity to incorporate how that building works and what it is being used for and how we can expand that into a real revitalization of the centre of downtown.” As to what the housing would look like Tarry advised, “We’re talking apartment units and we don’t have a design done yet because we obviously haven’t bought the property yet. “But we’re also wanting to bring our expertise to the table to help with the museum revitalization.”
St. Thomas will be the venue for the latest inquest into an inmate death at the Elgin Middlesex Detention Centre (EMDC). The coroner’s inquest into the death of 47-year-old Michael Fall on July 30, 2017, will begin Sept. 23 at the Elgin County Courthouse. Fall was one of five inmates to die that year at the London institution which has experienced 15 deaths in the past decade. An inquest is mandatory under the Coroners Act and it will examine the circumstances surrounding his death. The jury may make recommendations aimed at preventing future deaths. It’s certainly not the first inquest into an inmate death and, most recently, on June 22 another male prisoner was found unresponsive in his cell and later died in hospital. Two days later, Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek advised in a statement, “I will continue to work with the solicitor general to ensure the safety of correctional officers, staff and inmates.”