Friday, August 22, 2008

City's mistakes cost millions says developer

Timmins development consultant Lionel Bonhomme told city council this week he is concerned the city is spending millions of dollars for “remedial work” on the sewer system in the west end.
In a 10-minute presentation before council, Bonhomme said the West-End sewer system was only supposed to be applied to the Canadian Tire – Home Depot development.
Since that time, several other developments have occurred along Riverside Drive that are overloading the sewer system and Bonhomme says the city is struggling to find a solution. He says Timmins taxpayers will pay dearly for it.
Bonhomme asked several tough questions. But he doesn’t yet have the answers he wants. Mayor Tom Laughren committed to having answers for the Sept. 8 council meeting, but Laughren had to back out of that when he learned there could be legal issues.
Bonhomme says he wants answers on how and why the city has allowed extra development to occur in the West-End when there is every indication that there is not enough sewage capacity, and he’s asking who is responsible for the spending millions of tax dollars to correct a problem that could have been prevented.
“As a taxpayer, I am concerned about the source of funding for this remedial work, particularly given the history of this development, and the concerns raised by the city’s engineering department, since at least January of 2006, that appear to have fallen on deaf ears.”
Bonhomme says there are several crucial questions:
-When did the city know that there was a capacity problem with sewers in the West-End?
-Was this before or after the city issued building permits for Home Depot and Canadian Tire?
-How accurate were the two engineering studies the city paid for in 2006, that were supposed to outline sewage capacity requirements?
-Did the city administration ignore the engineering reports in favour of pushing ahead with development in the West End?
-Why won’t city administrator Joe Torlone release those reports if the Ministry of The Environment says the reports are public documents?
-Why are Timmins taxpayers paying for remedial work on the overloaded sewage system when the responsibility may lie with others?
-Will the city go ahead and take over the “private” sewage system on the Canadian Tire – Home Depot property, knowing that it is not up to standard?
Bonhomme says he is further concerned that the city budgeted roughly $2 million for the remedial work, but the tenders for that work came back at more than $7 million.
To back up his claims, Bonhomme referred to city hall minutes of the city’s Community Development Committee over the past two years.
“In July of 2008, last month, tenders sent out for remedial work on the west end, closed, Bids came in over the budget approved the by city” Bonhomme said.
Mayor Laughren alluded to the sewer line project Monday night, saying: “That project will be going back out for re-tender because it did come in high and they’re going to change the scope of the work so that will probably not be available until some time in September.”
Bonhomme says the 2006 engineering reports must be made public to see who is responsible for the high costs.
“I have requested that the city provide me with a copy of the engineering studies prepared by Martin (B.H. Martin) and Richards (J.L.Richards) and have been advised by the Ministry of the Environment that these studies are considered to be public documents. The CAO has indicated he has no obligation to provide these studies,” said Bonhomme.
City councillor Denis Saudino said he hoped that Bonhomme would get answers. He said the city has to be open and transparent.
“I think it has to be accountable to the public, that’s our duty, that’s our responsibility as councillors and that’s our responsibility as a city,” said Saudino. “I don’t want any innuendos out there.”
“I want to clear it up. I want the public to be assured their water bill and the sewer bill that they’re paying is to pay for the services and not for something that’s inappropriate, shall we say, and I’ll leave it that because we don’t know anything else at this point,” Saudino continued.
Bonhomme told council he hopes to get answers about the engineering report and suggested he would be willing to have his lawyer accept the reports “in confidence”
At that point, city administrator Joe Torlone interrupted.
“My advice to council would be not to commit to that,” said Torlone. “This is a legal matter,” he said to Bonhomme. “You’ve drawn in aspects that involve a legal action . Before we even submit the report to council, I will have it vetted by our lawyer,” said Torlone.
Bonhomme told The Timmins Times he is worried that serious errors in judgement may have been made at city hall.
“I don’t know the answers until I see the (engineering) reports and the administration answers me.”
Asked by The Times if he had “axes to grind” with city hall, Bonhomme said:
“I am doing this as a taxpayer. Yes, I do have axes to grind with the city, but this deputation was strictly related to the west end development and I went there as a taxpayer. Should we, the taxpayers, be subsidizing development?”

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