Meaford residents have been frustrated with the state of two shoreline parks that have been largely inaccessible since last autumn, when strong winds combined with high water levels in the bay dumped yet more rocks and debris into the parks, jeopardizing infrastructure and posing a safety hazard.
Here we are in the middle of July and rather than being a tranquil place to escape and enjoy the outdoors, the two parks, David Johnston Park near the Coast Guard station, and Fred Raper Park on Bayfield Street, are little more than an eyesore, with orange snow fencing restricting access, and long grass adding to the already substantial mess of rocks, driftwood, and other debris dumped into the parks after windstorms last autumn.
Residents are right to be frustrated, and their frustration has been mirrored by our members of Council, who back in March approved $80,000 in funding to rehabilitate the parks and to return them to their previous condition. But the COVID-19 pandemic, along with an unexpected price tag many times the approved funding, have slowed progress.
We all want to see the return of those two parks to their previous and fully usable condition, and I have had discussions with some residents who blame Council for the sorry state of the parks, but I think it is worth a reminder that this council in fact went against the staff recommendation (and likely the most prudent approach) that would have seen the parks cleared out (playground equipment and all) and naturalized while we wait out the high water levels and plan for future rehabilitation. Council offered up a firm 'no' to that recommendation, and instead directed staff to have the parks rehabilitated with a budget of $80,000.
So while some are blaming Council, the reality is that this council fought to retain the full use and features of the parks, and then COVID-19 arrived. And like many other plans, there have been delays. Once staff was able to issue a tender calling for bids to do the work, the next wrench was thrown into the works – with two companies submitting bids, both bids exceeded $400,000, well beyond the $80,000 budget.
As a result, staff has been directed by Council to negotiate with the low bidder (and potentially with the second bidder) in order to have as much of the most crucial work done within the established budget. What this will likely mean is that access to the waterfront will be restored, and work will be undertaken to protect municipal infrastructure, but I wouldn't expect to see the return of the use of playground equipment in the near future.
Council and municipal staff need concern themselves with more than the desires of residents: there are safety and liability considerations, and of course cost.
As much as most of us are eager to see those parks returned to their former glory, I suspect many would balk at spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, but with two bids from two separate companies, both slightly over $400,000 (before some re-thinking and negotiating brought the numbers down into the $260,000 range) it is clearly not a simple and cheap undertaking, and we as a community need to decide if it is money we are willing to spend.
For this season, we will eventually see access to the waterfront at both parks, but given the projected cost, anything even closely resembling a 'frill' will be put on hold until at least next year's budget. We won't see the return of the parks as we would like to see them, and we won't have the full use of the parks that we all deserve, but it will be progress, and hopefully the $80,000 investment that this municipality will make this year into the two parks won't be washed away in an October storm, undoing the work done and wasting the funds spent – a potential reality which we should all be prepared to accept when we are attempting to push back against Mother Nature.
It can be easy to blame Council for the lack of progress on these parks, and there are plenty of issues and instances where a council should accept blame, but on this one, what I have seen is a council that rejected what was likely a wise staff recommendation to simply naturalize the parks, and they have instead kept pressure on staff to get going on the rehabilitation that they approved back in March. And they have fought tooth and nail to avoid having the parks closed any longer than necessary. But stars don't always align, and they certainly haven't on this file, so we all, including Council, will have to accept less than we want for this year, and we can debate funding for a full rehabilitation for the future.