Thursday, March 28, 2013

Good news for Cape St. Francis Towns in Provincial Budget

Well now that some of the smoke has settled from the provincial budget we can take a look at what was in it for towns in our area and Torbay in particular.

Changes to the Municipal Operating Grant will mean more money for towns like ours and in fact has already shown dividends. I was speaking to MHA Kevin Parsons regarding this and at the time we spoke he was not completely up to speed on the details of the new formula but he was able to share the amounts for the towns in our area. Those are significant increases that are being realized by our towns and that extra money will surely come in handy.

Torbay increased from approximately $145,000 to approximately $220,000.
Flatrock increased from approximately $36,000 to approximately $73,000.
Pouch Cove increased from approximately $105,000 to approximately $180,000.
Bauline increased from approximately $16,000 to approximately $34,000.
Logy Bay Middle Cove Outer Cove increased from approximately $66,000 to approximately $120,000.

There was also mention in the budget about the government being committed to and working towards a new fiscal framework for how municipalities are funded. Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador commented on this in a press release Municipalities Remain Optimistic about their Financial Future, it is an issue they have been talking about now for a while and they seem encouraged by the recent developments.

We will also be getting $3,000,000 to buy the land and do design work for the new middle school to be built in the Watts Pond area. Money was also allocated to add more portables at the elementary school for next year, this is yet another indication that we are in desperate need of an additional school. With this in mind I would like to recognize and thank our MHA Kevin Parsons and School Board Trustee Chris Hammond for working so hard to get us a middle school. This is a tremendous achievement considering the turmoil we have seem throughout the province as far as schools are concerned. Everyone is quick to jump on them when the news is bad so we need to be even more forthcoming with our appreciation when the news is good.

I have been told that our area will also be getting a share of the $59,000,000 allocated for road work. MHA Parsons will be identifying his priority areas but ultimately it will be up to the minister what work actually get done. I have no doubt that Kevin will be working hard to get what he can, considering the condition of roads across the island.

With all the doom and gloom related to budget cuts and job losses we have heard about in the last week it is nice to know the government has not forgotten their responsibilities to communities like ours.

Monday, March 25, 2013

March 26 is Purple Day for Epilepsy - Please Help

March 26th for most of us is just another day but for those families who have to deal with the effects that Epilepsy it is much more. It is a day when people around the world come together to raise awareness and try and find a cure.

Like so many other people I never really gave a second thought to Epilepsy until it rared it's ugly head in my family. I guess it is pretty much the same for most of us when it comes to different diseases, we see it, we feel bad for the person, then we carry on with our lives. I don't think this is uncommon and certainly I would never fault a person for acting this way as I am sure we have all had this reaction at one time or another. Think of the times we encounter someone with cancer for instance, we would like to do something for them but we know deep down there is not much we can do. Well the truth is there is a lot you can do and just helping to raise awareness is a start.Talking about different diseases starts the conversation and that leads to breakthroughs which advances science and eventually treatment.

If we can do this with diseases like Cancer, AIDS, STD's why can't we seem to make strides in the treatment of Epilepsy? It is a good question and one that I don't have the answer to but I suspect it has a lot to do with the amount of funding allocated to each disease. The amount of money that is spent per patient when it comes to Epilepsy is minuscule compared to other major diseases. It stands to reason that in a world where money equates results that some cures take longer to realize than others.

As I was saying Epilepsy was never really on my radar until it got personal about 4 years ago when my sister Mandy told me that my nephew Liam had started having seizures. He was a happy healthy 9 1/2 month old little boy and at that instant the lives of their entire family changed forever. Not only had they just moved into a new house on the outskirts of Ottawa in Constance Bay, Ontario they now had a crisis on their hands. What went from an exciting new chapter in their lives took drastic turn and set their family on a path that they had never dreamed of.

I remember Mandy telling me about that fateful day when Liam had his first seizure. There she was in the house with her three babies Ava (4), Maya (2) and Liam (9 1/2 months). It was just like any other normal day in their lives and all of a sudden Liam started to shake and convulse and Mandy didn't know what was happening, all she knew was that she had her baby in her arms he was turning blue and needed help.

She ran outside holding Liam and was screaming for help, her little boy could have been dying right there in her arms and there was nothing she could do. So there she stood in a brand new neighborhood outside her door pleading for someone, anyone to come and help her dying little boy. Well someone did come and Liam got the help he needed at that time but my sister and her son did not get the happy ending they were looking for. Instead on that day their lives were changed forever and it has been a constant battle ever since dealing with this brutal disease and the effect it is having on Liam. I don't know if I can do justice to just how she felt that day but here is what she said happened that day in her own words.

Liam McKnight
Many of us have heard stories about this one or that one used to have seizures when they were babies but they are all right now. I have heard of at least 10 cases like this from friends and relatives describe what we often hear called Childhood Epilepsy. I am no doctor and don't know all the specific nuances associated with this disease but what I do know is that just before Liam's second birthday my sister received devastating news related to his seizures. Results of genetic testing that had been conducted by Liam's neurologist confirmed that he is pre-disposed to the seizures and the condition is life long. Not only does Liam have Epilepsy but he has a very rare form of the disease called Dravet Syndrome that as of now can't be cured.

Every day since Liam's life took this devastating turn I think about him and my sisters family and more specifically how powerless I feel. I read her facebook updates, talk to her on the phone and listen to the triumphs and set backs that are ever unfolding in their lives. Sometimes I even contemplate what it would have been like if my family had decided to remain living in the Ottawa area instead if moving back to Newfoundland. We would have been closer and able to more actively help them in this struggle that they are faced with every day. What could we do? I don't know but at least I would be able to offer a comforting hug and a reassurance that things will be OK, after all that is what an older brother is supposed to do for his little sister.

In a perfect world I guess we could wave a magic wand or give a reassuring smile and everything would unfold in life as we all dreamed it would. Alas this is not a perfect world, it is a world of realities and sometimes those realities chew us up and spit us out with no regard to the dreams and aspirations we held so dear. We all know those feelings when our children are born, we think about the next steps in our lives and map out their futures. We think about and celebrate each first as their lives unfold, their first steps, first words, first day of school, the first boyfriend or girlfriend, first heartbreak. We take for granted that our babies are going to have long healthy lives and prepare them and our selves for all those eventualities. 

How many of us have planned for or even contemplated for our child's first seizure, their first airlift to the emergency room, their first night of many hooked up to monitors and machines to diagnose why they lay dying in your arms while you pleaded for help? I didn't and I know my sister and her family had not planned for those events either, but that is in the end what they are faced with. Their lives have changed and now they are faced with the reality that their little boy Liam is not going to have the simple joyful life that we all want for our children. He is in a battle every day to deal with the devastating effects of this horrible disease and each day brings it's share of disappointments as well as genuine joy. All too often those moments of joy are few and far between but they are there and that is what hurts the most, those glimpses of a happy healthy little boy.

People often ask me how Mandy deals with everything going on in her life and at first I used to say to them "I don't know how she does it" but now I simply say, "what else is she going to do". At first I didn't even understand this myself but I have learned so much about my sister and her husband Dave in the past 4 years that everything is much clearer. They are amazing people, I mean I always knew my sister was amazing, she was my sister after all and how could she not be amazing. As for her husband Dave, I remember when I first met him when he was dating Mandy while she lived with me in Ottawa. He told me that he really liked my sister and I told him that he had better not hurt her or there would be trouble. Since that morning I can honestly say that she could not have found a more perfect man to spend the rest of her life with. He is a great guy that I am proud to call a friend and brother but over the past number of years his strength has helped Mandy carry on and I shutter to think where she would be without him. It is amazing how such a devastating turn of events could allow a family to grow and keep going after each setback that must seem insurmountable.

Keto Meal
It is fair to say that the disappointments and set backs have certainly been more plentiful over the past few years than the triumphs but every now and then glimmers of hope emerge. A new diet or medication emerges and our family embraces it and hope for the best. Liam has been on a diet for the past few years called the Ketogenic Diet that is designed to help reduce glucose levels to the brain and reduce seizures. The diet is a lot more complex than that but is basically the jest of it. I have seen Liam's meals prepared to conform to this diet and I can tell you there is absolutely nothing appetizing about it. High fat and low carb diet and everything has to be weighed on a scale and served at very precise amounts. It is heartbreaking to watch him eat a few pieces of fatty food while the rest of the family eats normally, try and explain why he has to eat a blob of margarine while his sisters eat ice cream.

All too often there is an initial sign of success and the hopes get raised only to be shot down at the next turn. This, as I have come to learn is a way of life for families who deal with diseases like Epilepsy and Dravet Syndrome in particular. You are always looking forward to the next breakthrough or miracle drug to emerge that is going to offer your loved one a break from the seizures and a somewhat normal life.

Meds Liam has taken, enough to fill
 a garbage bag, many not covered by insurance
Just when you think things can't get any worse it always seems that they do. As a result of the many medications Liam has to take to control his seizures Mandy found out in January that Liam has brain damage. How do you deal with that? As a parent you are trying to do your best to care for your child but the very treatment you are giving him is also causing irreparable harm. Talk about the ultimate catch 22 situation, if he continues to have seizures that will damage his little brain and if he takes the medicine it will also do damage.

Mandy has also learned from the Neurologist that they have reached the end of all medial options to treat Liam. Add to that it seems the Ketogenic Diet that had been somewhat successful over the past couple of years has also seemed to run it's course. How do you deal with that news? Where do you go from there? Well that is the situation they now find themselves in and options are limited. Liam continues to seize daily and all known treatment options in Canada have been exhausted. Or so it seems, my sister has been trying to convince her doctor to allow then to treat Liam with Cannabidol (CBD). This is one of the properties found in the Cannabis plant that has been successful for other children with the same disease as Liam as demonstrated in this video.

I can't imagine what it must be like to feel that there are options out there that you believe will help your child but people are too closed minded to even consider them. Then I look at the picture of all the medications that Liam has taken over the years and how much money is being made by the pharmaceutical companies I wonder. Are there really cures and treatments available to people but are not being provided because there is no money in it?

It is at times like this that I realize that even though I can't be there to hug my sister or hold Liam's hand, there are still things I can do to help. I can help with my words. I can help by telling people about my amazing sister and her family and all the families out there dealing with this disease. We can work together to spread the word and raise awareness about Epilepsy and help find better treatment or a cure. Personally I would rather see Liam have way more days smiling and playing with his sisters and friends than hooked up to wires at the Emergency Room.

Anyone who would like more information about my nephew Liam can visit his Facebook Page - Liam's Journey - Epilepsy. Or if you would like to donate money to help find a cure for Epilepsy or Dravet Syndrome please head to the website or Facebook page. Thanks....

Friday, March 22, 2013

World Water Day - Great time to discuss water in Torbay

Today is World Water Day and with all the news related to water supplies issues lately in Newfoundland I thought it was appropriate to mention it. Although we have our issues with our water supply we are lucky to have so many sources of clean accessible water in Torbay which is a lot more than they have in many parts of the world.

Currently the Town Plan is under review and water access and plans for future water needs are likely to be a big issue. I have been getting a fair number of email from people who are concerned with this issue and they have varied opinions on what we should do.

One thing that I think deserves a mention is the fact that Great Pond is currently being reviewed as a potential water supply. On the surface this seems like a great idea, it looks like a big pond, is is in the middle of the town and easily accessible and higher elevation which might make it cheaper to distribute the water.

Last summer I saw that pond turn green and stay that way for a week or more. I have also spoken to other people who are familiar with that pond and they observed the same thing along with fish floating in the pond gasping for air near the surface. I don't know about you but when I see fish floating in a pond near the surface just to try and get a breath I don't want to drink that water.

It is not uncommon on a windy day in the summer to see that pond turn brown from all the mud on the bottom getting stirred up. As we have discovered with our current water supply at North Pond, when you have vegetation in the water and add chlorine you produce THM's and HAA's two contaminants that may be  harmful to people over a long period of time. These contaminants are identified by Health Canada and acceptable levels have been identified and measured against samples sent in by the town. The good news on that front is that the town's flushing program and constant monitoring of the North Pond water supply has successfully managed to lower those containment levels. As the program continues to be applied the water quality will hopefully keep improving to the point the THM's and HAA's can be controlled within our current treatment regime, which is chlorination. If the problem persists we will need to apply a more rigorous and subsequently more expensive treatment solution.

If we already know that the vegetation levels in Great Pond are high and have seen what some people described as an algae bloom why would we bother pursuing this? Granted I don't know if it was proven that what happened last year was an algae bloom, although I would expect that the town should have taken samples to have them analyzed last year. If they did not take samples to have them tested at that time then they certainly should have, especially considering the fact that are having it evaluated for a water supply.

Anyone can see that the water in Great Pond is not very clear and extremely murky you would be lucky to see a couple of feet through that water, obviously the vegetation levels are high. Another thing that needs to be kept in mind is that the head lands of Great Pond consist of farm land that has been spread with manure for years and surely that needs to be taken into consideration as a possible contaminant.

While looking for some pictures of Great Pond I found this youtube video of people kayaking last year and it shows how murky the water is, all you need to do is look at the oars as they put them in the water. The color of the water and the fact that you can see it compared to the oars is obvious.

Adding chlorination to that water would certainly not be sufficient treatment solution in my opinion when you compare the vegetation level to that of North Pond. Secondary treatment would certainly need to take place. This was stated in a previous study that was done on the feasibility of water treatment at that site. It is these types of secondary treatment facilities that we as a town just can't afford, the price that was quoted in the report for Great Pond was around 16 million dollars.

What we need to do is concentrate on a cleaner source of water, how about Whiteway Pond? That pond is pristine, you can see right to the bottom and it has a rocky bottom. I would not hesitate to drink that water straight from that pond with no treatment applied to it. The pond is deep, spring fed and on relatively high ground which I think makes it a perfect candidate for a water supply. As far as I know that pond has never been considered and I really don't know why.

Anyway, I think we still need to take a serious look at our water and sewer plans for our town and if anyone has ideas about what we should do please pass your ideas on to the people doing the 5 year review.

Have a Happy World Water Day!!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

New middle school location finalized for Torbay

With all the doom and gloom in the news lately about schools it is nice to see that Torbay will still be getting a new school. I have it from a reliable source that the location for the school has been approved and it will be in the Watts Pond area across from Anstey's Subdivision on the north side of Torbay Road.

Anyone who has driven by the area in the past couple of years has no doubt seen the construction that has been happening there. A local contractor has been working on putting in a subdivision and New Fun Land constructed and opened a new daycare centre.

This is in my opinion a great location as it is away from the other schools so it won't add to traffic issues and it is also closer to Flatrock for kids from there that may be attending. From what I hear there is about a 10 acre area in behind towards the head of the pond where the school will be located. This area has access to water and sewer which is likely a factor when determining the location. What is interesting to note, and I have no idea if this is planned, but they could also gain access to this area from the Bauline Line if they wanted to creating a situation where we have emergency access and smooth traffic flow.

I don't know what all the plans are and I am sure they could change between now and when the school is actually constructed. I am just glad that this file is moving forward and the new school that we so desperately need is going to be a reality. I know that my son will be heading to the high school next year when he gets to grade 7 and the thought of it makes me cringe, I hope this new school is opened in time for my daughter to go there. For the last year we have heard about a lot of schools getting closed or restructured throughout the province and I think we are lucky this is going ahead.

Now a big question that will be on everyone's minds as the provincial budget approaches will be funding. Is the provincial government going to put some money into this project in this budget so that work can get under way. I am sure that Kevin Parsons will be doing what he can to try and secure funding and get this thing rolling, for now we will just have to wait and see.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Critical decisions looming for Torbay and other Municipalities

Sewer Outfall like we have in Torbay
The most critical issue facing municipalities all over the country is their ability to obtain the necessary funds to operate. Towns like Torbay are bound by regulations to submit balanced budgets each year and with costs going up and revenues being unpredictable it may get more difficult. The primary source of revenue comes from property taxes so we can guess what is going to happen as municipalities get squeezed. Eventually home owners will have to pay more through property taxes for fewer services there is no other answer to that equation if the current fiscal framework is maintained. There have been several ideas floated in the past number of years in relation to how municipalities can get access to a more sustainable stream of funding.

One such report was commissioned by Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador and published in October 2011. Municipal Fiscal Sustainability: Alternative Funding Arrangements to Promote Fiscal Sustainability of Newfoundland and Labrador Municipalities - The Role of Income and Sales Taxes. 

In the next few years federal regulations for waste water treatment are coming into effect and the timelines for how municipalities are to proceed started on January 1, 2013. This is a significant date because it is when the monitoring and reporting starts and the process of eliminating pollution from waste water systems effluent in Canada begins. These regulations are going to place tremendous pressure on municipalities that will be required to comply in a specified time line. This is sure to add additional constraints how how they can spend on municipal services.

Right now our town pumps untreated raw sewage into Torbay Bight and that is exactly what is not going to be allowed in Canada once these regulations are fully in force. One thing that I am not sure of is when the deadline will be for our town but it could be as early as 2020 or extended to 2030 or 2040. I would suspect that the deadlines are determined based on the levels of pollution and volumes being pumped into the waterway.

Riverhead Wastewater Treatment Facility 
So what does that mean for Torbay? Well as an example lets look at the situation that the City of St. John's finds itself in. Back in September 2009 The Riverhead Wastewater Treatment Facility opened at a cost of around $180 million dollars. We are hearing now that upgrades necessary to meet the federal regulations will cost an additional $125 million and the city is wondering where they will get the money. Currently the City of St. John's, Mount Pearl and Paradise are hooked up to that facility and maybe they should consider adding more municipalities if they have the capacity. This may enable them to try and spread the cost around and not be stuck with the entirety of the expense.

That brings me back to Torbay, what the hell are we supposed to do? I know that the town is supposed to be in the process of submitting proposals to the province for a wastewater treatment facility. Can we really afford to spend millions of dollars on a treatment facility that would only serve around 1300 homes currently connected to the sewer system? I am not saying to ignore the problem but I think we need to start thinking on a bigger scale than what we are now.

A buzz word or phrase that I hear often is Regional Cooperation, maybe we need to start working more closely with our neighbours on these large scale projects. St. John's already has a treatment facility, they need to get funds from the province and federal government to do the upgrades. What if Torbay's wastewater treatment plan was to simply hook up to the Riverhead Facility? Could we direct our portion of the federal and provincial funds to that project in exchange for being allowed to hook up? Of course some of the money would have to be used to redirect our sewer lines to St. John's instead of Torbay beach but that would be worth it. Looking at how our system is designed all of the sewer lines in the town must flow towards Torbay Beach as it is the lowest point in the town and we all know that shit runs downhill as they say. Obviously some serious modifications would have to take place in order to redirect the flow and pumps or something to push it up and out of Torbay, I don't even know if that is possible but we will never know if we don't ask. Personally I would If that option was available then we could potentially end the practice of pumping sewage into our bay and return it to the state it was in prior to our intentional destruction of it.

So, what if the big bad City of St. John's doesn't want to let us play in their sandbox and tells us to take a hike? This seems to be the prevailing answer I am given any time I ask someone on council why we don't try and hook up to the city's regional water and sewer system. If that is indeed the case then I guess we need to try something else, how about attempting to work with our other regional neighbours?

The Town of Pouch Cove is in exactly the same position we are with regards to water and sewer, maybe even worse. We know that their water supply is not fit to drink and they need to do something about it sooner rather than later. The town of Torbay also has issues related to water and one of them is the need for a more robust water treatment process and certainly another source of water if we are to avoid a shortage. There was a feasibility study done on a water treatment facility for North Pond and Great Pond in Torbay and the numbers are staggering.

This is an excerpt from that study

2011 Feasibility Study and Conceptual Cost for a Water Treatment Facility for the Town of Torbay by CH2MHILL Canada Limited
“The existing facility at North Pond is currently producing tap water that is out of compliance with the provincial drink water regulations. An upgraded treatment process is required in order to comply with applicable regulations and protect public health.”
“The tap water quality for the Town of Torbay has been out of compliance with provincial drinking water regulations for several years now. Specifically, the province has assigned a drinking water quality rating of “Not Ranked” since 2008 due to the presence of THMs and/or HAAs at levels which exceed the current guidelines. A treatment process designed to reduce the levels of DBP precursors is required for the continued use of the existing North Pond supply to provide a treated water quality which meets the current & future regulations and protects public health.”
“The Town of Torbay currently does not filter this [North Pond] water source; the only treatment provided is chlorine addition for disinfection and lime addition for pH control.”
“The recommended treatment train for a water treatment facility at either Great Pond or North Pond should include the following processes: Coagulation/Flocculation, Clarification, Granular Media Filtration, UV disinfection, Chlorine contact & Reservoir, Corrosion control (lime and carbon dioxide), Residual management (lagoons)”
“North Pond has moderate levels of organics, while high levels of organics are observed for Great Pond. These organics are the precursors for disinfection by-products (DBP) such as trihalomethanes (THM) and haloacetic acids (HAA). High levels of DBPs have been measured in the tap water currently being produced using the North Pond water source.”
Conceptual Cost Estimates
·         North Pond: Capital $12.5 Million; Yearly O&M $262,000; Life Cycle $13.7 Million
·         Great Pond: Capital $16.5 Million; Yearly O&M $329,000; Life Cycle $15.6 Million
Raw Water Flow (m3/d = cubic meters per day)
·         North Pond: Max 1900 m3/d; Avg 950 m3/d; Min 475 m3/d
·         Great Pond: Max 3900 m3/d; Avg 1950 m3/d; Min 975 m3/d

With this in mind lest look at potential cost
12.5 million treatment at North Pond
16.5 million treatment at Great Pond if it is even suitable
20 plus million for sewage treatment (just what I heard could be more)

Around 50 Million give or take a few dollars to service 1300 or 1400 hundred homes, not even half of the town. Is that worth it?

So, here we have two towns with similar problems, you would think that there may be a way for us to work together to solve them. I know people will say that we are too far apart to share services but I think that may not be a huge issue. Portugal Cove gets their water from Bay Bulls Big Pond, that is not exactly right around the corner.

Anyway, wouldn't it be nice if Torbay and Pouch Cove could share a common water supply? How about Medalsis Pond (Middle Pond on maps) which is roughly located between the two towns and I have been told it is one of the largest and deepest ponds around. Maybe we could build one shared water treatment plant then branch off from that in the directions of each of our towns. Maybe we could do something similar with a sewage treatment plant and both use it. Now lets not forget that Flatrock is right in the middle and they would likely have something to say about that kind of work crossing through their boundaries. Those kinds of things would certainly have to be worked out but it should not be an obstacle to starting a discussion. Like I said before if we don't even consider opening a discussion on these things how do we know what is possible? That is regional cooperation and something that Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador (MNL) often encourages. There are many documents on MNL website that describe the challenges facing municipalities like ours and some recommendations on how we could move forward.

I am not saying that the ideas I have floated here are the only solutions, in fact they may be totally out to lunch but I don't know because I have never heard they talked about. Lets face it if the City of St. John's is not an option for the Town of Torbay to work with regionally, then we need to look to our other neighbours. I have spoken to people in Logy Bay Middle Cove Outer Cove and Flatrock and from what I am hearing they have no interest in Water and Sewer. As times change and those towns increase in size and more development takes place they may have a change of position, especially if there are partners willing to work together.

One way or the other Torbay has to address these issues and it will need to be sooner rather than later. Obviously the approaches we have taken so far have not worked and maybe we need to start looking at other alternatives.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Council votes to refuse tender for new signs - What happens now?

Over the past few years Torbay residents may have noticed new signs cropping up here and there and commented on how nice they look. Well it appears the purchasing of new signs has been put on the back burner, at least  for the moment.

At the March 4, 2013 council meeting a motion was put forward by Deputy Mayor Geoff Gallant to award a tender to E.C. Boone for the sum of $67,155.73 plus HST for two new signs. The surprising part of this was as soon as he finished presenting the motion he declared his intent to vote against it and reject the tender. Geoff's argument was that it was too much money to spend on these signs right now and that he would be voting against it. These tender included a large sign for Upper Three Corner Pond Park and another for Motion playground, consistent with other small parks around town. I have to admit that when I heard the cost I was a little floored, 67,000 bucks for two signs and that doesn't include the landscaping and tax. I wasn't the only one, as there was a noticeable collective look of astonishment on the other people who were in attendance.

The motion was defeated by a vote of 3-2 with the Deputy Mayor, Mayor and Councillor Whitty voting against and Councillors Byrne and Smith voting for the purchase. (Councillors Tapper and Roche were absent) There was quite a bit of discussion on this and I think that the decision to vote this down may have been a mixture of politics and penny pinching, it is an election year after all.

Concern was voiced that by rejecting this tender, the town will have to change their signage strategy before calling another tender. Councillor Smith asked Geoff what the plan was going forward and I did sense there was some confusion as to how we proceed. She also mentioned that there was no rational reason for rejecting this tender as all the rules were followed and the specifications adhered to. Geoff didn't seem too concerned by this and said we don't need to accept every tender and they could explore getting one sign or neither right now. From what I could gather the matter will be taken back to committee and a decision will be made from there how to go forward. He did mention that the signs exceeded this years budget amount of $45,000 dollars but there seemed to be some confusion on that point as there is apparently $25,000 carried over from last year that can be used. It is worth noting that the budget for these signs for the previous two years was around $91,000 and it was reduced this budget year to $45,000.

After hearing all of this and trying to sort through what was happening I contacted the town to get additional information regarding these signs. I also asked questions about how the refusal of this tender could effect our sign strategy going forward.

Beautiful Torbay logo
I was told that a couple of years ago the town developed the wayfinding and signage strategy with a goal of a coordinated approach to all signage in the town. The goal is to get people moving and direct them throughout the town to our different recreational and tourism assets. The foundation of this strategy is based on the town's brand which has been prominently displayed over the past few years. The Beautiful Torbay brand includes a graphic standards manual to guide how the brand should be used in cases like these signs. There were specifications put in place for the design of signage based on their function. Signs have been designed on that basis, small signs for playgrounds, larger ones for parks like the Kinsmen Centre and Upper Three Corner Pond Park. Other categories exist for primary gateways between Torbay, Flatrock and St John's and secondary gateways at the boundaries of our other regional neighbours. Then there are directional and street signs that round out the strategy. The town has a map that details where each type of sign should be placed and what the sign should look like and estimated cost, which is used in determining how to proceed.

When this signage strategy was introduced it was supported by council and they have been unanimously awarding tenders for it ever since. The implementation of this signage strategy was started in 2008 and signs have been added each year. As in previous years this signage is an approved expenditure in the 2013 budget. A tender was called for these signs and when the results came back staff reviewed it and made a recommendation based on the 2013 budget to award the contract to manufacture and install the signs, this does not include landscaping. However at the council meeting the recommendation of staff was rejected and the motion to award the tender was defeated.

I have been told that as a result of this vote the town will have to go back to the drawing board and significantly change the scope of work. To re-tender the exact same scope of work will open the town to legal action, they could be accused of bid shopping and not acting in good faith. I did some digging and found supporting documentation for this concern on the Municipalities NL website. The town can re-tender based on meeting budget requirements but the town needs to be careful that they do it correctly. One of the main principles of the tendering process is the duty of fairness to all the bidders by the entity requesting the bids.
Can you retender the same work?
  • For the most part it is considered bad faith or unfair
  •  It could also be considered bid shopping
Another thing that is not permitted in the tendering process is negotiating with the bidders either prior to or after the tender has been closed. If done prior to closing it may be considered bid shopping and after closing may be considered price manipulation, either of these circumstances could call into question the fairness of the bid process. I don't know if going back to the bidder and asking to take one sign would violate this and be considered negotiating after the bidding process. I guess that is something they will have to look at and consider.

With this in mind and the confusion at council the other night about the ramifications of rejecting this tender, I think they should have deferred the vote. They could have taken the time to go back to staff to discuss what are the options with regards to moving forward. It was clear to me and to anyone else present at the meeting that there were varying views on how they could proceed. I can't imagine changing the scope of work will be easy considering the fact that there is a policy that outlines the design of these signs based on the town brand and the function. Add to that we are talking about purchasing and installing a sign, there can't be that much to change in the scope of work. Certainly this exercise and re-tendering will cost additional money and what happens if the new price comes back higher than the last or even the same? We should also keep in mind that E.C. Boone was the only company to submit a bid for this work, although two companies did pick up a tender package from the town. It stands to reason that the same company would likely win the bid again and how can they hope to get them cheaper, in fact in the long run it would likely cost more when the expense of preparing the tender is considered. I hope this doesn't turn out to be an example of that old adage a penny wise and pound foolish.

One thing that can't be denied is that these signs are expensive, not just these two recent ones but all the signage that has been purchased over the past few years. Does that mean the town should stop buying them now or do they complete the signage strategy which has been agreed upon and identified as a benefit to the town? Considering that it is a budgeted item and the money is there for this purpose I think they should have went ahead and approved the tender. Yes they would have had to spend their entire sign budget on this one tender, but so what, that is what the money is allocated for. If the strategy is in place and they intend to go forward with it what is the advantage to refusing this particular tender? I could understand if it was not a competitive process and some rules were not followed but on the surface everything looks to be in order.

So what makes these two particular signs so expensive compared to the rest that have been purchased or is there a significant difference? Well what I found out is that the bulk of the cost for these two signs is the labour to install them. Of the $49,169.25 for Upper Three Corner Pond Park sign, $19,999.25 was to manufacture it and $29,170.00 to install it. Similarly the small sign for Motion cost $17,986.48 and again the installation cost of $10,815 surpassed the manufacture cost of $7,171.48. Apparently there are additional costs associated with the installations because of existing signage at the sites.

Here are the other tenders that have been awarded for signage in the town, everyone of them was approved unanimously and I don't recall any discussion related to the cost.

Nov 28, 2011
503-11 Motion – Councillor Tapper / Councillor Roche
RESOLVED THAT as per motion 293-11, that the Town of Torbay award tender 
2011022 for the supply and installation of secondary gateway signs to E.C. Boone Ltd. in 
the amount of $76,000.00 plus HST. These four signs will be installed at our municipal 
boundaries on Pine Line, Marine Drive, Indian Meal Line and Bauline Line and represent 
the gateway points with our neighbouring municipalities of Logy Bay-Middle Cove-Outer
Cove, Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s and Bauline respectfully. The signs will be installed 
within a six month period from date of tender award.
Question called. Motion carried unanimously.

Motion – Councillor Roche / Councillor Smith
RESOLVED THAT the Town of Torbay amend Motion 503-11 to include gateway signs 
at Flatrock, on Windgap Road only. 
Question called. Motion carried unanimously.

Oct 17, 2011
Motion – Councillor Tapper / Councillor Roche
RESOLVED THAT the Town of Torbay award tender number 2011021 for the supply of 
municipal street signs to 4M Manufacturing Inc. in the amount of $20,620.33 (including 
HST). The implementation of the Town’s Signage Strategy is a budgeted item for the 
2011 calendar year.
Question called. Motion carried unanimously.

Sept 6, 2011
Motion – Councillor Tapper/Councillor Roche
RESOLVED THAT the Town of Torbay award tender number 2011007 for the supply 
and delivery of one large on-site promotional sign and two small on-site promotional signs 
to E.C. Boone Ltd. in the amount of $25,358.25 plus HST. These signs will be installed at 
the Kinsmen Community Center, Western Island Pond Playground and Pineridge Creek 
Question called. Motion carried unanimously

So you tell me, why was the tender for these signs rejected? Was it because certain members of council have decided to start spending more wisely or was it purely a political posture by three people who may by considering running for Mayor next election? I guess we will find out eventually because these signs are still going to be purchased. It will be interesting to see if the town gets them cheaper in the end or if this whole exercise proves to be nothing more than delaying the inevitable.

Friday, March 1, 2013

How much water are we actually using in Torbay

After my story about the water supply in Torbay being maxed out was published Andrew Robinson from the Telegram called. He was interested in my view on it and about the research I had done with relation to water usage in Canada and Newfoundland in particular. He then was planning on speaking to the Mayor and the article was in the February 21, 2013 edition of the Telegram....Front page no less!

Those concerns I raised were specifically related to how we as a town determined water allocation per person. This in turn is used to set the capacity or the number of houses that can be hooked up to the water supply. Currently the town estimates that we can have 1351 houses hooked up to North Pond. I am assuming this is based on per capita use of 340 litres a day, as the article states that is the current number we use down from a previous allotment of 450.

When asked about the flow rate of 555 litres a day from the October measurement that was conducted the Mayor seemed to dismiss it saying the figure is "totally out to lunch". Personally I think this rejection of those numbers is a little reckless and could prove to be a big problem for our town if we are indeed using 500 plus litres per capita a day. If we calculated our capacity based of 340 litres and we are using 555 then that would be a difference of almost 64%. The Mayor indicated that he felt that the measurement was over a short period and was not accurate and that a longer flow measurement would be closer to the original estimate the town has been using. If the numbers are still high he says that would be evidence that there are leaks in the water line.

How does the Mayor determine that the number is out of whack and what people actually use? Here is his quote from the Telegram, which is basically what he said during the last Council meeting.
"I get a shower every morning, so that's probably 5-10 gallons, if you rationalize it that way. You flush the toilet, and that's probably three gallons or two gallons, and you brush your teeth. So say it's probably 15 gallons you use in the morning. You come home in the night time, there's a bit of cooking, and that's pretty well it. So I think, realistically, it's probably closer to 25 or 30 gallons per person per day"
So according to the Mayor and his totally non scientific assessment a more accurate number would be 30 gallons or 136 litres per capita a day.

So lets look at what the Mayor said, first of all I see the word probably used four times when determining how much water we use on a daily basis. Notably absent were things like dishwashers, clothes washers, lawn sprinklers, swimming pools, baths car washing etc etc.

What about the businesses in town that are hooked up to the water supply and the schools? I don't think there are many businesses on town water but the schools are. Between both schools we have 1500 student and staff, if each of them went to the washroom once a day that would be 1500 flushes at 3 gallons a flush 4500 imperial gallons or 20,457 litres, then you have showers at the schools and sinks and fountains etc etc. Certainly the water use at the schools has to be taken into account when determining the number of homes we can have connected to the supply.

I have a swimming pool in my yard that takes 27,000 litres of water to fill it up, I've seen many of these pools in yards who are on the water supply. If they fill it up that would account for more than 1/2 of the water allotment that the Mayor says that person would probably use a year. How about watering your lawn, if you turn the hose on for an hour at approximately 3 gallons a minute that would equal 180 gallons or 818 litres.

I could go on with other examples but what is the point? Environment Canada has spent years and possibly millions of dollars studying municipal water use in this country. Why would we attempt to or even want to try and estimate this stuff ourselves, the work has been done and by people who are experts in this type of process, all we have to do is look it up. I am pretty confident that the environmental experts that compiled this report didn't use anecdotal evidence in coming to their conclusions and I can tell you that the word probably does not appear once in the 23 page report.

Does this mean we have to take everything in that report as a direct estimate of the water use in our town? Of course not, but when we have water flow studies that are inline with the findings in that report for municipalities in our province, we need to take a closer look and not just dismiss it. I am sure that the calculations done to determine the capacity of our water supply is not simple and are pretty comprehensive. I know that the water usage is not estimated according to how the Mayor described it, and that was purely his personal view. All I would have to say to that is you can't look at water usage in a bubble and compare the entire population to how water is used in one particular home, that would be, to use the Mayor's own words, totally out to lunch.

When the new meter is hooked up and if it shows we are using way more water than previously estimated we will need to move fairly quickly to remedy that situation. If we have leaks we need to identify them and get them fixed. If we need to prevent any more homes from being hooked up we need to do that as well until we can formulate a better solution. One thing the Mayor said that I entirely agree with is that the Town of Torbay eventually needs to be hooked up to some kind of regional water supply. I would also add that it is essential that we get something done on sewer treatment as well. The big question going forward is how exactly we are going to get that done?

Environment Canada has a Water Use Calculator that you can complete the survey and it will tell you your average water use. It is interesting and only takes a few minutes to complete. When I filled it out my water use was over 600 litres per day based on my household, well above the conservative estimates used by the town.