Faint Rays of Hope: The Mississippi Mills Council meeting on March 19, 2019
by Theresa Peluso
After the shemozzle that was the March 5 Council meeting, I dreaded attending this one, but I am pleased to report that my sense of foreboding was unfounded. This meeting actually resulted in some faint rays of hope – and it lasted only 90 minutes, which was a bonus!
The meeting started with recognizing the Almonte District High School Boys Basketball Team for their incredible accomplishment in coming from behind, in the face of stiff competition, to win the OFSAA championship, for the first time in 32 years. Mayor Lowry joked that the presence of all these team members brought down the average age of the residents attending this Council meeting by several decades, and it certainly was delightful to see these youngsters bask in the well-deserved public recognition.
It was a surprise to hear that our current Fire Chief, Scott Granahan, has tendered his resignation after only four months on the job. The question arises as to whether the attendance of a dozen Mississippi Mills firefighters at the March 5 Council meeting was connected with this in any way. I am not privy to further information on this. The fact that the previous Fire Chief, hired in 2014, stayed for only four years, and then left to take on the equivalent position in Carleton Place last year also raises some interesting questions.
The 2018 Annual Water Report for Almonte’s Drinking Water System was approved. It’s interesting that no questions were asked about the trace amounts of arsenic, barium, cadmium, azinphos-methyl, benzene, diazinon, dicamba, dichlorobenzene, glyphosate, PCBs, malathion and vinyl chloride, just to mention a few of the chemicals listed, that were found in Almonte’s water. This left me wondering about my own rural well water, and about whether these chemicals build up in your body over time.
It is always a pleasure to listen to our highly competent and capable Director of Planning, Niki Dwyer. Despite the seeming inability of our current Council to understand the importance of preserving natural heritage areas, Council finally (!!!) consented to Ms. Dwyer’s recommendation to approve Scenario 1 regarding the Natural Heritage System (NHS) as part of the Community Official Plan (COP).
Let’s hope that the limited development restrictions provided by this new COP will be duly respected by this Council and future Councils, to prevent Mississippi Mills turning into yet another Kanata or Barrhaven, where development has destroyed hundreds and hundreds of hectares of wilderness and farmland, and left a sprawling maze of congested roads and dwellings in their stead. (If you want to know more about just how pernicious this is, just ask me, as I lived in Kanata from 1987 to 2004, and saw it all evolve.)
Most of the projected new development in Mississippi Mills will take place in Almonte, with about 30 percent going to the rural areas, which includes Pakenham because it doesn’t have water and sewer services, unlike Almonte.
In the reports from the Mayor and Councillors, there were several positive items of interest. It appears that our municipality has been very forward-thinking in terms of its asset management plan, so that we are in a financially healthy position. We have our previous Councils and our highly competent Finance Department to thank for this.
Mayor Lowry described a possible public transit initiative in our municipality. She met on March 12 with Marilyn Bird, Executive Director of Lanark Transportation Association, a non-profit organization providing transportation options through Lanark County (mainly to help residents with basic needs such as medical and social-service appointments), to discuss the services they provide. Mayor Lowry and Ms. Bird discussed a potential pilot project in Mississippi Mills that could see a transportation loop throughout the municipality. Ms. Bird plans to explain this pilot project to Council at a future meeting. As an environmentalist, I am delighted at this opportunity to move away from single-occupant car use, but the benefits go WAY beyond that. As you know, many residents of Mississippi Mills are seniors, and are experiencing age-related problems that prevent them from driving, causing them to be confined to their homes because there are no other transportation options available. Furthermore, families who are struggling to make ends meet could now have alternatives to buying and maintaining one or more cars for their transportation needs.
Mention was made by Councillor Holmes of Innisfil, a community 80 km north of Toronto and just south of Barrie, which has implemented a transportation system involving the ride-share app Uber. This in itself would be problematic if Uber was used for single-person trips (for environmental reasons), but it seems that Uber in Innisfil is also recruiting unused vans and school buses to drive small groups of people where they want to go.
Mayor Lowry also described a delegation with Bernadette Jordan, Federal Minister of Rural Economic Development. This delegation consisted of representatives from Mississippi Mills, Lanark County, Storm Internet and Valley Heartland. It seems that Minister Jordan was very receptive to the proposals put forward, although it remains to be seen what will transpire from this meeting. It seems also that Steven Clark, Minister of Ontario Municipal Affairs and Housing, is also interested in addressing rural concerns, including the availability of broadband Internet, but here again, it remains to be seen whether he will walk the talk.
So, all in all, faint rays of hope, in keeping with the start of Spring!