POWELL RIVER, B.C- Don’t expect city council to ask the mayor for money.
That’s the word from Powell River’s deputy mayor, Councillor Rob Southcott, speaking to the MyPowellRiverNow.com newsroom on Friday.
The newsroom had requested to speak with Powell River mayor Dave Formosa, after the denial of the city’s appeal of an Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) order to remediate a section of Hemlock Street, commonly called the Hemlock loop.
The road runs through and is adjacent to Timberlane Estates, a subdivision that Formosa has an ownership stake in.
According to a Vancouver Sun article from December, Formosa has a one-third ownership stake in the development with partners Mark Hassett and Magaly Bianchini.
The paper said the land for the development had been bought by Timberlane from PRSC Land Development, a land-holding company then comprised of the City of Powell River, the Tla’Amin First Nation and Catalyst Paper.
Formosa was a founding director of PRSC, but left when seeking a city council seat.
The paper said that Formosa stated that Hassett and Bianchini’s representative, Tom Kristoff, dealt with Powell River on matters related to the subdivision and development.
Formosa told the paper he distanced himself from Timberlane’s day-to-day dealings with the city to avoid the appearance of conflict.
“Once we decided to develop the parcel, I stepped out of the process,” he was quoted as saying.
He went on to state to the paper that the subdivision had been a financial disaster, with Timberland getting caught with mortgages on several homes during slow sales. The article also stated that Formosa recused himself from council activity related to the rezoning of the subdivision.
He also stated “the city screwed up” as did the surveyor general and Land Titles, when it came to the loop road, and the city would be responsible to take it out.
On Friday, Formosa declined to comment about the situation, and no timeframe was provided for when he would discuss it. However, Southcott, in his capacity as deputy mayor, discussed the matter.
According to Southcott, the city council has no plan to look for any other sources of money to pay for the remediation work. He also didn’t expect council to pursue it.
“It’s my way of looking at it, but after looking at this situation, and examining it to the depth and detail that I’ve been able to, I see that proposal as a black hole, that would just be extremely expensive, and I’d believe we’d lose,” said Southcott.
“I believe the city would lose. So I really don’t think it’s something, I wouldn’t support it, and I’d be really surprised if the rest of council did.”
He mentioned changing attitudes towards local agriculture, the ALR, and self-reliance as factors in his opinion on whether or not to ask the developers for money.
“We could waste a lot of time with recriminations, aimed at mistakes of the past, or we can learn and we can follow the way of the future, and work together,” said Southcott.
“That’s what this community really does. Our loss of the appeal to the order makes me sad, I wish that the money could be spent in supporting agriculture like we want to do now, but I don’t think it’s undeserved.”
He didn’t believe that council could ask Timberlane for money beyond the court system, and mentioned changing attitudes towards local agriculture.
“I don’t think it could be pursued any other way,” said Southcott.
“We’ve already had criticism, for the amount of money we spend legally. However, questions these days are very often a lot more complex to answer then people would think, on the surface.”
Asked if council would be open to asking the developer to help with the remediation cost without the threat of a lawsuit, Southcott still wasn’t in favour of the idea.
“I think that is far over-simplifying the question,” said Southcott.
“It basically caters to a blame consciousness. We want to find somebody to hang, and somebody to blame, and blame is toxic, I think it’s harmful to the community. There has been a fair bit of that here. This question is a lot more complex. The roots of it, back ten years ago, are more complex than being that simple. The answer is more complex than the question. I believe that my colleagues see it the same way as I do, and that’s why it really wouldn’t be worth pursuing.”
Asked if there was any party that held blame in the whole situation, Southcott said he looked at it in a “context of culture”.
“Perhaps we’re all to blame,” said Southcott.
“We need to question assumptions, see what our previous dysfunctional assumptions are, and move forward, and not waste time trying to find somebody to blame, to cover up the changes that we need to make.”
As for what he would say to residents who believe the company should pay, he said that responsibility is “much more broad based” and that he didn’t believe the developers would be found responsible if it went to court.
Asked if the city would seek funding from other levels of government, Southcott said the cost would be “borne by the taxpayers”.
“I’m confident that our staff will minimize the cost of remediation as much as possible,” said Southcott.
He ended by saying the Hemlock loop issue was “hugely controversial” and there would be diverse opinions.
“I’m very confident council has taken this extremely seriously, and is doing the absolute best in our conscience and our understanding for the community.”
The remediation work will need to be finished by August 31st of this year.