The end of 2017 is fast approaching, and what a year it has been in Meaford. As with any year, 2017 has had its ups and downs, its successes and failures, and as the year winds down I've been reflecting on some of the stories that we've reported over the past 12 months.
The year began with council having to clean up the mess it made at the end of 2016 with its botched attempt to replace a slate of library board members who had resigned en masse. Council had failed to follow the Public Libraries Act in appointing the replacement board members, and they had to start the year by doing it all over.
Once the new library board had been properly appointed they were off to the races, and in the year that followed we've seen the contract issue with the Owen Sound & North Grey Union Public Library resolved, and we're well on the way to replacing Meaford's crumbling library with a new facility that will be located at the former Foodland grocery store property.
Library issues aside, council had many other challenges to deal with in 2017, including of course infrastructure. While council fielded the typical complaints about pot-hole filled roads, they also had to grapple with what to do about two small, lightly travelled bridges on the fringes of the municipality that were ordered closed after failed inspections, and while the plan was a permanent closure, residents and farmers who do use the bridges have fought to have them repaired or replaced and reopened. The fate of those two bridges has still not been resolved, so expect to hear more about them in the coming year.
Council also heard from angry residents of a two kilometre section of Story Book Park Road after their hard-surfaced tar and chip road was pulverized and returned to gravel with little warning and no opportunity for residents to lobby for an alternative solution. Councillor Bartley has been fighting hard to convince his fellow councillors to right this wrong, but he just can't seem to get the rest of council to realize that a resolution isn't about bumping the queue of planned road repairs and rehabilitation, but rather correcting a wrong that saw a hard-surfaced road unexpectedly taken away from residents. Like the twin bridges mentioned above, this issue is also far from resolved, and I expect we'll see some heated debate around the council table in the weeks and months to come.
Also on the infrastructure front, a rehabilitation project on the Bakeshop Bridge near Beautiful Joe Park was finally completed more than two months late, and drivers were able to once again use the bridge at the start of December. The plan had been for the bridge to have been reopened by mid-September so as to not cause traffic issues during the annual Scarecrow Invasion & Family Festival. While that goal was not achieved, it mattered little to the Scarecrow Invasion organizers, who for the first time in the event's history had to cancel due to a major wind and rain storm that brought down trees and cut power to the municipality for several hours.
We've also seen several instances of a healthy democracy in action over the past year. When residents learned that there was consideration being given to closing the hospital operating room and moving all surgical procedures to Owen Sound, residents rallied, demanded meetings, and they turned out in droves to let the top brass know that Meaford wouldn't lose its operating room without a fight – and ultimately the decision was to keep the operating room open.
Concerned residents also saw some victories in Meaford's council chamber this year with the abandoning of a contentious application that the municipality required residents to sign if they wished the new RF water meter transmitters to be installed outside their homes rather than inside. The application form was insulting and unnecessary and residents made that clear to council resulting in the decision to accept a simple request as opposed to a signed document declaring that all RF-emitting devices like wi-fi and cell phones had been removed from the residents' homes as well.
Likewise, local fishing enthusiasts found themselves sitting in the council chamber at the last meeting of the year on December 11 to protest a recommendation to council to implement a ban on fishing from municipal parkland along Bayfield Street. The proposal was an attempt to solve a host of issues with a small handful of individuals by banning the activity for all, and the local fishing community was having none of it. While they can't claim victory just yet, council very quickly opted to defer a decision on the recommendation until the new year in order to allow time to explore other options.
Well done, Meaford residents all around, for engaging in the process, and effecting change!
As with any such end of year column, I could go on with more interesting and sometimes frustrating stories that made the news this year, but like the December calendar, my space is running out, and I must wrap it up, so I'll close by thanking all of Meaford's residents, our readers, our elected representatives, and the huge team of volunteers in this community for giving us plenty to report in 2017.
2018 is a municipal election year, so I know there will be plenty of news and opinion to be shared and debated, and fortunately for Meaford we've still got a community paper to bring it to you – many communities in this province aren't so fortunate after the closures earlier this month.
Whatever you're celebrating this holiday season I wish you all the best, and I hope everyone has a safe and fun-filled time with family and friends.