Stop skating around the issue: Is it time to open up Lake Margaret for recreational activities?


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My, how words can come back around to bite you.
A couple of weeks ago, we wrote about Lake Margaret attracting skaters of all ages for an afternoon of gliding across the frozen water.
A scene right out of a Tim Hortons’ tribute to life in Canada.
Which led to queries from several readers as to summertime use of the lake for fishing and canoeing.
As the signs lakeside warn and reiterated two weeks ago by Ross Tucker, Director of Parks, Recreation and Property Management, a big negatory to those warm-weather activities.
The decision to prohibit fishing in Lake Margaret was a recommendation of the 2010 Lake Margaret Environmental Plan.
It came up for discussion back in April of 2017 when Coun. Steve Wookey proclaimed, “In my world, there should be fishing and canoeing.” Continue reading

Working through COVID-19: ‘We’ve all got to be on the same page’ – St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge


city_scope_logo-cmykWith the province now in a shutdown scenario for at least 28 days and the onus on residents to stay at home except for essential tasks, does that mean city police are lurking, waiting to collar unsuspecting citizens caught in the act?
That’s far from the reality, advised St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge in a conversation yesterday (Friday), one day after the order came into effect.
“We’re trying to put out as much information as we can to keep the public informed,” assured Herridge. “As the information comes in, we feel, if it’s applicable, to keep the public informed. Because if they’re informed, they know what to do.
“And, if they know what to do that makes our job of vital enforcement so much easier. Even today we put out a Q&A.”
You can find it on the St. Thomas Police Facebook page.
“We thought it appropriate to continue to inform our community as best as possible.
“Let’s just stay at home. We’re going to carry on business as usual as best we can, given the restrictions that we have to live under.
“We had a similar situation in the past. We had a state of emergency back in the spring and all we’re asking people to do is abide by the restrictions in place.”
“We’re not going to be pulling people over randomly to do a COVID test. We’re not going to be stopping people randomly to check if you’re staying home.
“If there’s something that’s obvious, something that’s blatant and in violation of the current order then yes, we will deal with that.
“And we’ll take the same approach as we would take along with bylaw enforcement as well. A lot of the calls we’ve been triaging and sending along to bylaw enforcement, our partners at city hall.
“But, our community has been very, very good. We’ve been very fortunate. I know our case count has gone up since September, but I applaud the residents of St. Thomas for the excellent work they have been doing with compliance.”
And, these tighter restrictions into February are not something city hall or police have instituted, they were mandated by the Doug Ford government.

Stay at Home Symbol

“We have to follow, just like any other regulation, legislation or law that is implemented. And the police have to enforce it and we will use our discretion as best we can, given the circumstances.
“But the bottom line is, we need to get through this pandemic and we need to try and save lives and keep people healthy as best as we can. And, we all need to work together as one big team here.
“I know not everyone is on the same page with the pandemic and COVID, but it’s happening and people are dying and people are getting sick and this is not slowing down any.
“This is starting to wear thin on people. We’re approaching a year now having to deal with this and we’ve never seen anything like this in our lifetime.
“We’re definitely being tested here. Something that may not have triggered a person six months or a year ago, those little things are now starting to trigger people.”
The burn factor is something Herridge has to deal with internally at headquarters on CASO Crossing.

“So I respect and understand how the public feels. So, I just ask let’s all try and work together and abide by these restrictions and we’re going to come out of this.”

“I’m seeing it wearing on our officers. It’s a long go for them as well. When you throw that on top of everything else they have to deal with, it’s challenging.”
It’s not just the front-line officers, reminds Herridge.
“It filters through the entire organization. There’s clerical work, there’s prisoner transport work, there’s court work and it all involves the entire organization.
“We try to do a number of things around here to keep the morale up and ensure we’re looking after all of our staff. Communication is key.
“So I respect and understand how the public feels. I just ask, let’s all try and work together and abide by these restrictions and we’re going to come out of this.
“And, we’re going to come out of this better. But, it’s going to take some time. During that time we’re working through this, we’ve all got to be on the same page.”
In addition to the police Q&A on their Facebook page, a complete breakdown of what is deemed essential and what is not can be found on the myFM website at https://www.stthomastoday.ca/2021/01/15/shedding-light-on-the-provinces-stay-at-home-order/.

STAY AT HOME FROM A CITY HALL POINT OF VIEW

The above segment lays out the police playbook on enforcing the stay-at-home orders, but what is the approach at city hall through bylaw enforcement?
We spoke with city manager Wendell Graves on Thursday, the day this came into effect, for an update.
“Since Day 1 of our pandemic experience since last March, our police and bylaw enforcement have been working very closely together so that the roll-out of any enforcement is on the same level. And that’s been working extremely well.

“We have COVID cases in our community but we haven’t had any major flare-ups and that’s a testament to the regard that everyone is having for it.”

“Our approach is to try and do the education piece first and if we do get a complaint, then certainly someone is going to follow up and see what’s happening.
“If we see something blatantly going on, then they will address that. For the most part, we act on bylaw complaints.”
The approach will not be unlike the week-long education campaign undertaken late last year with downtown businesses. That blitz involved a cooperative effort with city police and Southwestern Public Health.
“We found just a great response from the community,” advised Graves. “It reinforces the face our bylaw folks certainly aren’t working independently of law enforcement in our relationship with police.
“We really have had wonderful response from the community, in terms of complying. You always get the odd pebble in our shoe we have to address.
“We have COVID cases in our community but we haven’t had any major flare-ups and that’s a testament to the regard that everyone is having for it.”
Circling back to that education blitz with local businesses, we received a wrap-up analysis following the campaign from St. Thomas Police corporate communications coordinator Tanya Calvert, who praised the efforts of small business owners and their regard for the safety of staff and customers.
But we haven’t heard anything back from the health unit which was dealing with the big box stores and businesses outside the city.
Will city bylaw enforcement deal with possible infractions at those bigger stores allowed to stay open during the orders, at the expense of smaller, local outlets?
“They could be,” advised Graves.
We’ll be avoiding those larger outlets to help support the downtown and smaller businesses around the city but feedback on your experience at the big-box stores will be welcome.

SKATING (SAFELY) THROUGH THE PANDEMIC

Driving along Elm Street past Pinafore Park on a cold, clear winter day, you couldn’t help miss people enjoying that great Canadian past-time, skating outdoors on a frozen pond.
Well seems the hot spot (not literally) this winter is Lake Margaret. Last weekend it was populated with skaters of various ages enjoying all manner of ice activities.
Even though several days earlier a dog and its owner nearly met their fate on that very same spot.
Lake Margaret skating Jan. 10-21 (2)Now, if you’re familiar with the lake, then you’ve seen the posted signs prohibiting swimming, fishing and boating.
The lake is now owned by the city, so we touched bases with Ross Tucker this week to get the official word on gliding across the ice.
“When we re-did our parks and rec bylaw we were silent on the idea of skating on all of our water in the city,” advised Tucker, Director of Parks, Recreation and Property Management,
“There’s no bylaw that says you can or cannot skate on the ice. We do have going up on the recommendation of our insurance company is a sign saying, ‘Danger Thin Ice.’

“How do you say you can’t skate on Lake Margaret, but come to Pinafore? There’s always an inherent risk with everything.”

“The age-old days of saying ‘use at own risk’ is not an acceptable term anymore. We’ve really been working with our insurance company on it.
“Even though we don’t test it, we understand people do test the ice. Somebody’s been checking the ice.
“It’s a fairly shallow body, and no one was on Pinafore on the weekend and it’s quite a bit deeper and hadn’t frozen through and there was more water movement.
“There were a lot of people on Lake Margaret and, in all honesty, it looked like they were having a great time.”
There’s nothing that says Canada like braving the chill and skating around a frozen body of water. Why it’s a Tim Hortons’ moment.
“How do you say you can’t skate on Lake Margaret, but come to Pinafore? There’s always an inherent risk with everything.”
However, don’t savour the arrival of spring and outdoor fun on the water.
“Those activities are in the bylaw,” advised Tucker. “Council has the ability in the bylaw to designate usage.”
You can, added Tucker, use canoes or kayaks on other city water bodies.
“And, the reason people are on Lake Margaret right now,” noted Tucker, “is there’s no snow. It’s not a perfect ice surface but for kids playing and, certainly during this global pandemic, it’s so tough on people. You have to have something to do.”
So, check the ice and skate on.

Related post:

https://ianscityscope.com/2018/06/02/for-steve-wookey-is-this-the-best-way-to-go-fishing-for-votes/

GAME TIME 5 P.M.

After toying with various start times over the past few years, city council has settled on 5 p.m. for its regularly scheduled meetings. A notice of motion will be before council Monday to make the change official.
And reference committee meetings will no longer be stand-alone, explains city clerk Wendell Graves.
“What we’re going to do is envelop our reference committee discussions into council meetings. We will have those broad discussions at the same time versus breaking up into two separate meetings.”
Those reference committee meetings had been held before council gatherings and then recently were moved to afterward.
There is value to those committee meetings and, in the past year, much has come forward from those detailed discussions.
“We want that to still happen,” advises Graves. “It will be the same kind of format when we get to that point in the agenda.”
As has been the case up to now, each reference committee meeting had a defined agenda, quite often involving input from staff and outside sources.
“When we get to that point in the agenda we will identify that this will be a discussion topic.”
The 5 p.m. start time is not necessarily a convenient start time for the public since many people will either be at work or on their way home, meaning you will have to watch the archived live stream on the city hall webpage.
“It’s because we’re trying to envelop all of these sessions together without having disjointed breaks in them,” reiterates Graves.
The onus is now on the city’s IT people to ensure a good live stream of those meetings is always available and archived in a prompt fashion.
Not always the case in recent months.

THE READER’S WRITE

Last week’s item on the city’s pollution control plant raised a stink with a few readers. Carrie Hedderson Smith stresses in her Facebook comment, “the saga continues.”

“I think Justin Lawrence should live in the courthouse area, try and sit outside or go for a walk and see if he can accomplish and enjoy the action without feeling like he has to throw up.
“It may be improved but it is far from resolved. Colder weather may have dampened down the smell a bit, trust us, we’ve called the ministry and so have the neighbours, the saga continues.”

Chris Smith-Heidt has empathy for Carrie.

“Odours are strong in the Memorial Arena area as well.”

The area around the St. Thomas Elevated Park is also not immune, notes Deb Hardy.

“We live nearer to the elevated park on Sunset and rarely smell it in the cooler months, but come summer, pew!”

And, Dave Mathers has a more personal relationship with the plant.

“I cut the grass, was a spare operator and did general clean-up at the sewage plant for two summers over sixty years ago. There were complaints even then about the smells. The good news? You get used to it!! LOL”

Questions and comments may be emailed to City Scope

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And a reminder, I can be heard weekday afternoons as news anchor and reporter on 94.1 myFM in St. Thomas. As always, your comments and input are appreciated.

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‘We get this protest in, we move it out of town and do it as peaceful as possible’


city_scope_logo-cmykMayor Joe Preston and Police Chief Chris Herridge have both cut to the chase when talking about today’s (Saturday) Freedom Rally in St. Thomas: “We do not want this protest.”
It’s the third such rally in less than a month in the region at a time when the province is tightening up restrictions due to a rapid increase in COVID-19 infections.
In speaking with Herridge this week, he stressed “should they come here they could face charges.
“But if you say ‘no’ to the arena (Memorial Arena, where the protesters are meeting up) they’re going to show up. And, we do not want what happened in Aylmer (where the march through town forced detours at numerous locations).”

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Solving the problems of the people causing the problems


city_scope_logo-cmykIt was not your typical venue in which Mayor Joe Preston was able to meet with constituents.
Thursday morning’s face-to-face with frustrated downtown merchants played out along a back alley that every morning is littered with discarded drug paraphernalia and other detritus of the downtrodden.
It’s a habitat for the homeless and those with mental health issues who utilize back doorsteps and alcoves as personal relief stations.
Hidden from passersby on Talbot Street, it’s where staff often find the less fortunate huddled, unconscious or attempting to harm themselves.
It was against this desperate backdrop that a dozen or so core merchants – already pummelled financially by the pandemic – pleaded with Preston to return this stretch of the downtown corridor to a more inviting destination for shoppers.

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Mandatory face coverings for indoor public spaces only a matter of time in St. Thomas and Elgin


city_scope_logo-cmykThis past week Dr. Joyce Lock, Southwestern Public Health medical officer of health, issued a Section 22 order under Ontario’s Health Protection and Promotion Act dealing with the need to self-isolate for 14 days if you have symptoms of or are diagnosed with COVID-19.
The order covers the health unit’s coverage area which includes St. Thomas along with Oxford and Elgin counties.
Dr. Lock, in conjunction with provincial health officials, has been stressing the need to self-isolate for more than four months and the order puts some muscle behind this.
Failing to comply could result in a fine of up to $5,000 for every day in which an individual fails to self-isolate.
It appears no coincidence the order, which came into effect yesterday (July 24), comes as the region sees a spike in COVID-19 confirmed cases.

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How’s that social distancing working out for ya?


city_scope_logo-cmykHave to admit, we haven’t experienced a week like this since, what, the 2008 financial meltdown? Wall-to-wall coronavirus coverage with the city unveiling its balanced approach to the COVID-19 pandemic and city manager Wendell Graves suggesting the management team likely would not have to declare an emergency.
A day later and the Doug Ford government did exactly that.
City hall closed, municipal facilities all shuttered. Students on furlough for at least a couple of weeks.
Ditto for many of their parents.
Have you ever seen traffic on Talbot Street downtown so sporadic?
Do you think life will return to normal on April 6?
Do you think COVID-19 gives a tinker’s damn about a calendar date?

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When you’re not the public health experts then rely on those who are


city_scope_logo-cmykMy, what a difference a few days make in the life of the coronavirus outbreak. From little in the way of inconvenience to scores of cancellations, long lineups in grocery outlets and the mysterious disappearance of toilet paper from many shelves.
To get a sense of the state of preparedness at city hall, we talked with city manager Wendell Graves earlier this week.
He advised, “Last night (Monday) at city council, I advised them that our management team met with the Director of Public Health (Dr. Joyce Lock) to review what’s happening in the area and we are also upgrading our internal business continuity plans.”
To keep on top of the spread of the coronavirus, Graves noted the management team will likely be meeting on a weekly basis.
“We’re meeting quite regularly on it now,” advised Graves, “just to make sure that we’ve got a course of action in place.”

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Hospice of Elgin: An investment ‘in more than bricks and mortar’


city_scope_logo-cmykFour months ago, the province green-lighted an end-of-life residential hospice for St. Thomas and Elgin.
And Thursday (Jan. 16) city council got an enhanced picture of what the palliative care facility will look like and feel once inside.
In her presentation to Mayor Joe Preston and councillors, Laura Sherwood, director of hospice partnerships with St. Joseph’s Health Care Society, detailed the pressing need for the Hospice of Elgin, which will serve the only county in southwestern Ontario currently without a community-based hospice.
Sherwood noted each year, more than 800 people in St. Thomas and Elgin die without adequate services, “placing tremendous pressures on families, caregivers, and our local health care system.”
Within the next dozen years or so, that figure is expected to increase by as much as 50 per cent.

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2020 St. Thomas budget outlook: Contract negotiations cloud the horizon at city hall


city_scope_logo-cmykMore investment is needed in infrastructure; a number of city assets could be pared; there is a call from the treasurer to address user fees, some of which are too low; and be prepared for several rounds of employee bargaining.
That’s the St. Thomas financial picture for the coming year.
With a minimum amount of fuss – read little spirited debate – and the complete absence of pencil sharpening, council this week approved a draft of the city’s 2020 budget.
Members were content to rubber-stamp the budget which will see a 2.43 per cent increase in the municipal property tax levy next year.
That’s dependant on the results of contract bargaining on several fronts at city hall. More on that momentarily.

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