North Cowichan council opts to swallow Stoney Hill road costs

Faced with even more delay in the 100-year journey to get a road built out to Stoney Hill, North Cowichan council decided Oct. 15 to absorb $271,000 in extra costs.

Councillors passed three readings of a bylaw that boosted North Cowichan’s contribution to the project.

A local area service agreement with a group of residents who petitioned for a road stated that the petitioners would pay back up to $2 million of the municipality’s loan and North Cowichan would pay the remainder of $500,000 for the Stoney Hill road construction.

"Unfortunately when the project went out to tender, the lowest bid that came in was just under $3.1 million, plus we have an additional $170,000 in costs outside of this tender," CAO Dave Devana told council.

"In the end the project was over the local area service amount by about $650,000."

Municipal staff went back and reviewed the tender and have found efficiencies of $380,000.

"That left an outstanding amount of $271,000," he said.

But, since the petitioners have capped their contribution at $2 million, North Cowichan council was facing three options: 1. reject the tenders which would stop the process.

2. ask the petitioners if they would contribute extra funds.

3. have North Cowichan cover the remaining

overage and sell one additional lot out in Stoney Hill from the lots the municipality owns to make up the shortfall. Devana said the staff recommended option 3. "We’re very specific it would not be covered through a general tax increase," he said.

Coun. Al Siebring didn’t want to rush, wishing to delay until North Cowichan had taken the problem to the petition group.

"We’ve been working on this file in some sense for about 100 years. We’re this close, but I have maintained since I came to this table that the fundamental principle has to be that those who benefit from the road paid the bulk of it," Siebring said.

"I’m not sure I’m ready to give up one of our lots. The projects from those sales should go into projects that have a broader community benefit," he said.

Devana replied that there would not be time for all the paperwork changes that might be needed if the second option was chosen.

Coun. Barb Lines suggested accepting Option 3. "I think it’s precarious if we let this go to the next council because it has taken us the three years that we’ve been serving to understand all the issues," she said. "I think if we wait we will just not get a road because if it takes much longer the costs will only go higher.

"It’s my hope that the road will increase the value of the municipal properties we haven’t sold as well," she said.

Coun. Ruth Hartmann was opposed to that idea, saying that there was no guarantee of any fixed amount coming from the sale of land.

"And, how are we fair to all of the community? Why should North Cowichan and its taxpayers bear the burden of the project being over budget?" she asked. "It’s not right. It breaks all the rules we abide by."

"I think the biggest stakeholder to benefit with this road is North Cowichan and the public at large," said Coun. John Koury. "Why? The vision is to accumulate land for parkland and establish better relations with First Nations. That is well on its way. We can absorb $271,000."

Coun. Kate Marsh said the municipality needed to act.

"I’m pleased that we got the best we could get. I hope the First Nations concerns will be dealt with. I’m thinking with all I’ve heard today it would be a darned shame if this got put off. We are a community. The ball starts rolling down the hill and eventually it’s going to get there," she said.

"I hope we’re nearing the end of a long process," said Mayor Jon Lefebure. "But I think when we started out on this we underestimated the depth of public concern about this. The decision that a road be built

out to Stoney Hill was made to benefit the entire community.

"We had hoped the costs would be covered by what’s in the petition but now we’re faced with a very difficult situation. But if we don’t act now, costs could be higher or could prevent a road from being built at all. I want to see this move ahead."

Siebring said he was ready to change his stance.

"At what point do we bite the bullet? I think we’ve hit that point," he said.

The vote passed with only Hartmann opposed and was greeted with applause from the gallery.

The bylaw will come back to council for adoption at the first meeting in November.

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