Winter Maintenance in Parks:
We had our first taste of spring last week, but at Council, we were talking snow clearing in HRM’s parks. The reason? A staff report in response to a February 2020 request by Councillor Cleary to look at clearing additional walking trails in Sir Sandford Fleming Park. Rather than look at just Sir Sandford Fleming, staff took the opportunity to examine snow clearing standards in all HRM parks.
Snow clearing in parks is provided by in-house staff. At the start of the winter season, 80% of the Parks staff switch over to clearing snow in areas of HRM where street and sidewalk snow removal is done in-house (Downtown Dartmouth and Downtown Halifax). The 20% that stay with Parks work in the greenhouses, do ice thickness testing, and park snow clearing.
Like streets, HRM has standards for snow removal in parks. In Regional Parks (priority G-1), such as Shubie, the goal is to clear paths within 48 hours. In G-2 parks, the time to clear is 96 hours. In both G-1 and G-2 parks, an additional 24 hours is added for follow up salting and sanding. The remaining G-3 parks are only cleared as time and resources allow.
Staff’s review revealed some inconsistencies in how snow clearing is handled in Regional Parks. Staff recommended that Council add the Seawall at Sir Sandford Fleming since the Seawall is paved. Staff further recommended that Council consider paving some pathways in Sandy Lake, First Lake, and Africville so that those parks can receive winter maintenance in the future. Council accepted the staff recommendation, but also opted for a supplemental report on McIntosh Run and the Dartmouth Common.
I requested more information on the Dartmouth Common because snow clearing there has been a periodic point of complaint over the last four years. Currently, the trail from the gate at Thistle and Wyse across the Common to Dahlia Street is designated as a multi-use trail and is cleared by Transportation and Public Works at a P2 standard (18 hours). The rest of the Dartmouth Common is cleared at the much lower Parks standard as resources allow.
The Common’s trails aren’t just a place to go for a walk, they get people from A to B. With no sidewalk on the Victoria Road side of the Common, and with steps built right into the sidewalk on the Alderney side, many people use the Common to get back and forth. With Downtown Dartmouth on one-side, and the Bridge Terminal, Sportsplex, and groceries on the other, it’s a popular route. The snow clearing standards don’t reflect that reality. The Commons trails are treated like leisure trails when they actually function more like an extension of the sidewalk network.
After our one big snowstorm in February, I raised snow clearing on the Common with staff. Transportation and Public Works agreed to take on clearing a North-South route from the gates at Park Avenue over to Bicentennial School and the Sportsplex. TPW already clears the Wyse-Dahlia path so it’s an incremental increase in their workload. Because the change was an unplanned, unbudgeted, in-year adjustment, staff weren’t comfortable assigning a time standard for a North-South pathways. Staff didn’t want to make promises that they couldn’t keep. Even without a standard, having TPW take over snow clearing will undoubtedly mean quicker service because TPW has way more resources.
My hope in asking for the supplemental report is that HRM will be able to officially designate a North-South route across the Common with an appropriate snow standards in time for next winter. We’ll see what comes back.
Change is coming to HRM’s solid waste bylaw to try and curtail illegal dumping. The situation right now is that to ticket someone for illegal dumping, the perpetrator has to be caught in the act. This is exceedingly difficult to do and the result is HRM’s bylaw officers issues very few tickets. Over the last three years, HRM issued just five. Illegal dumping can also be ticketed by police under the Environment Act, but numbers there are similar. HRP issued 12 tickets and the RCMP six. Insufficient evidence was a factor in a large number of cases.
To make it easier to hold people to account, HRM is reversing the onus in the Sold Waste Bylaw. If identifying trash is found at an illegal dump site, such as addressed mail or an empty pill bottle, HRM will now assume that the trash was deposited by that person. It will be up to them to prove that the garbage came to be there through some other means. Cape Breton Regional Municipality pioneered this reverse-onus approach in Nova Scotia and has been able to hold offenders to account in 18% of cases, a considerable improvement over HRM’s 3%. Hopefully, the change in onus will improve results here too.
One piece of advice. A 2016 survey of bylaw officers across Nova Scotia found that in some instances, trash is illegally dumped by haulers who were hired by well-meaning people. These instances are pure greed. Rather than pay the fee to properly dispose of the waste, the hauler pockets the cash and their fee. That’s not the sole source of illegal dumping by any means, but it is, unfortunately, part of the picture. So, if you’re hiring someone to help with your spring clean out or renovation, it’s worth requesting a receipt to ensure that your trash is properly disposed of and doesn’t end up dumped on the side of the road somewhere.
One other notable change in the bylaw: HRM is going to require drive-thru restaurants to have garbage cans in the drive-thru again. A lot of restaurants removed their trash cans over the last several years. The hope is that having a bin at the restaurant will cut down on litter and will make the producer of the waste (the restaurant) more responsible for the societal cost of their packaging.
The revised Sold Waste Bylaw will return to Council in the next few weeks to be finalized (second reading).
Halifax Water Sewer Separation:
Halifax Water appeared before Council to present their annual Business Plan. This is the once a year opportunity for Regional Council to question Halifax Water directly. There was a lot to go over, but I wanted to draw attention to two Dartmouth watershed projects that are part of Halifax Water’s 2021 capital plan: Maynard Lake/Eiseners Marsh Separation, and Albro Lakes Watershed Separation. The goal of both projects is the same: stop sending perfectly good lake water to the Dartmouth treatment plant.
Before the Harbour Solutions Project, sewage flowed directly into Halifax Harbour. With the Harbour being the destination for both sewage and stormwater, there was no reason to install separate pipes. It was all going to the sampe place. The result is that almost every street in the older parts of Dartmouth and Halifax has a single combined pipe for the rain that falls and the waste we flush.
Combined sewers stopped making sense when the treatment plants opened since we don’t need to treat rainwater. Treating rainwater isn’t just a waste of energy, it also uses up capacity that would otherwise be available for new development, and it makes our treatment plants more prone to overflows during storms. It would cost 100s of millions to rip up every street in Dartmouth and Halifax to separate sewage and stormwater, so the approach has been to focus on projects that will have the most impact. Enter the Albro, and Maynard/Eiseners projects.
Right now, water flows out of the Albros to the harbour via largely buried Northbrook. Northbrook spills into the sewer system just after the Park at Wyse Road. All of that combined sewage and lakewater then goes to the Dartmouth Treatment Plant. The situation is similar over in Southdale. All the water coming out of Maynard Lake and Eisener’s Marsh flows into a combined sewer that runs parallel to Portland Street (low spot between Portland and Rodney Road). The combined sewer follows Old Ferry Road down the hill to Hazelhurst, before being pumped onto the treatment plant. Not surprisingly, both Wyse Road and Hazelhurst have been prone to flooding in the past. There are rivers flowing underneath them!
This year, the lower half of Northbrook will be separated from the sewer system so that the whole brook can flow directly into the Harbour. The timing of this project is being partly driven by the chance to coordinate with HRM’s planned paving and active transportation project on Wyse Road. Maynard/Eisener won’t be separated just yet, but Halifax Water plans to spend $642,000 this year on design work to be ready to proceed with that project in the near future.
Council’s 2021 budget deliberations are moving along. Over our last two Budget Committee meetings, Council has heard from the Fire Department and Transit.
The Fire Department continues to be an area where HRM is increasing staff. The growth in the number of firefighters has been a multi-year trend. One of the big drivers was Council’s decision to properly staff each truck with four firefighters. Having four firefighters on a truck is important because you need four to begin any sort of rescue operation. If there are less than four on the first truck that shows up at a fire, than technically firefighters are suppose to wait for the second truck to arrive before going into help. That really creates an impossible situation for firefighters since no one wants to standby if someone is in obvious urgent need of rescue. Talk about creating an impossible choice!
Other big drivers of the need for more firefighters in recent years is growth in suburban areas like Fall River where rising call volumes means it’s no longer possible to expect volunteers to do the job alone, and declining volunteer availability in greying rural communities like Sheet Harbour. Previous budgets have seen career firefighters added in both of those communities.
As a result of investments in the Fire Department, response times have improved, but that may have plateaued as 2020 showed a partial reversal of some previous gains. In 2020, HRM met the standard of having the first truck on scene in urban areas 74% of the time (the HRM standard is 90%), which is down from 82% in 2019. HRM still comes up short too in terms of being able to meet an effective firefighting force (14 firefighters on scene within 11 minutes). The Fire Department can typically get two trucks (eight firefighters) on scene within the standard, but struggles to get the last six there on time, particularly in suburban areas.
So what is HRM doing to improve? The Fire Department is engaging a consultant to make better sense of the response data, but one area that we know could be improved is the electronic dispatch. The challenge is the computer systems are antiquated and don’t notify firefighters of an alarm quickly enough. Turnout time is suppose to be 90 seconds, but HRM typically takes double that. This means crews are often already down a minute before the alarm even goes off in the station. HRM is looking at the IT side of things. The other initiative to improve response time is the addition of more firefighters to plug gaps. The plan this year is for 15 additional staff, 12 of which are new firefighters.
New people and regular contract driven wage increases means an additional $4.5 million in salary costs, which accounts for 80% of the Fire Department’s overall $5.6 million budget increase.
2020 was a rollercoaster year for transit. After several years of growing ridership, COVID shattered travel patterns. Ridership in 2020 was down 60% and transit is expecting that it will take a few years to fully bounce back.
2021 will be a busy year for Transit as the next major round of Moving Forward Together Plan changes are implemented. Prior phases of Moving Forward were implemented in Halifax and Sackville and produced significant ridership gains. It’s now Dartmouth’s turn.
Moving Forward changes coming to Dartmouth this year are focused on the Portland, Waverley, and Eastern Passage routes. I have summarized the changes from a District 5 perspective below:
On Pleasant Street, the new corridor route 6 will replace the 60 and 63. This will mean better service along Pleasant Street to Woodside Ferry. The 6 will branch out after that as the 6B, and 6C depending on whether Eastern Passage, or Heritage Hills is the final destination.
In Waverley, the 54 and the 55 will be extended so that they both go to Alderney Ferry and Bridge Terminal.
In Dartmouth North, the 53 will no longer run on Victoria Road. It will become the 53 Highfield and will instead, go in both directions on Wyse Road.
On Portland, the new corridor route 5 will come into existence, providing enhanced service from Portland Hills Terminal through to Scotia Square. The result is significant changes to all the suburban routes in the area, with many of the old routes, like the 59, will only travel to Downtown during rush hour. The new local routes are designed to get people to the Penhorn and Portland Hills Terminals where they can transfer to other routes, like the new 5.
The two routes that are probably seeing the most change in District 5 is the 62 Wildwood and the 66 Penhorn. The 62 Wildwood is becoming the 62 Grahams Grove and, as the name change suggests, will no longer cross the Circ. It will instead take over the Gaston Road portion of the current 66. The rest of the 66’s old route to Micmac Terminal via Woodlawn will become part of the new 67 Baker Drive.
I have heard from a few parents in the Penhorn Lake area with concerns about the changes to the 62 because there are kids that take the bus to get to Ellenvale Junior High. The trip to Ellenvale is currently a single seat journey on the 62. I’m certain that trip will still be possible when Moving Forward is implemented since both the 63 and 67 will travel from Penhorn to Bellevista via Woodlawn Road. Accessing them though will require a transfer at Penhorn Terminal. I’m awaiting more info from transit as to how that will actually work timetable wise.
The other big change coming to Transit this year is electronic payment. I know it has been long talked about and long promised, but never delivered. Well this seems to be the year. Transit will be introducing mobile payment for phones. For the first phase, you’ll still need to display proof of payment on your phone to the driver, but the plan is to install electronic validators on buses in 2022, potentially clearing the way for all-door boarding.
Of every department, transit’s budget is the hardest to compare to past years. The budget is actually dropping by $1.8 million this year, despite rising salary costs, which includes the Moving Forward service enhancements, of nearly $4.0 million. The reason is that fare revenue is expected to recover significantly. Transit’s costs are up but fare revenue is expected to increase by $10.3 million. While this is welcome news for helping to pay for the systems cost, it’s still below where revenue was pre-COVID ($26.8 million 2021 versus $36.5 million 2019). A full recovery will take time.
Woodland Avenue Fence:
Anyone coming into Dartmouth on the 118 has probably noticed the red fence that runs along Woodland Avenue. HRM only installs fences when they serve a public purpose. We doesn’t fence private property. So the natural conclusion is that since the Woodland Avenue fence’s purpose is to provide privacy for homeowners on Kingston Crescent, it must belong to them. Things aren’t always what they seem though.
The Woodland Avenue fence is a bit of a pre-amalgamation anomaly, or at least a portion of it is. To allow the sidewalk to be built along Woodland Avenue in the 1980s, the City of Dartmouth needed to buy several small slivers of land from property owners on Kingston Crescent. I’m told that the deal was that in exchange for selling chunks of their backyards, the City would plant some trees, build a new fence, and assume the maintenance. Unfortunately, arrangements weren’t well documented and, with time, memories are fading. The result is that every Councillor who has represented Crichton Park for the last 20 years has, at some point, had residents on Kingston Crescent ask about the fence. Councillor McCluskey dealt with it, and before her Councillor Cunningham. It’s a 20 year saga.
When the fence issue has been raised, the initial answer each time from HRM staff is that the municipality doesn’t own the fence and has no obligations to maintain it. After additional review though, HRM has conceded that it’s not that simple and has done some repairs and painting over the years. The issue has resurfaced because the fence is in poor condition and will soon need to be replaced. It’s not immediately evident who is responsible for that.
To try and settle this once and for all, I requested a staff report at Harbour East. Based on past work, I’m expecting that the conclusion will be that HRM has obligations for a portion of this fence, but not the entire thing. It will be good to have a staff report on the record that sets out for everyone, staff and residents alike, just what the municipal responsibilities are so that this saga can be finally put to bed! Fence report to return to Harbour East in the future. There is a lesson here for people in government everywhere: write whatever you’re agreeing to down, particularly if the circumstances are unique! It’ll save a lot of grief for your successors in decades to come.
- Council approved the heritage component of the proposed Victoria Hall redevelopment, clearing the way for a bigger and more complicated discussion about the planning merits of the development
- Officially ratified the 2021 capital budget (still working our way through the operational side of things, but here’s what’s happening in D5)
- Agreed to look at a Fall River artificial turf project as part of the upcoming Field Strategy
- Awarded two tenders that exceeded the CAO’s signing authority (generator inspection repair and maintenance, and replacement of Transportation and Public Work’s Mackintosh Depot)
- Asked the Province to install a crosswalk on the William Porter Connector Road in Porters Lake (Provincial jurisdiction)
- Authorized staff to work with the Halifax Partnership to develop the 2022-2027 Economic Strategy
- Approved housekeeping amendments to correct some errors in the Downtown Dartmouth, Dartmouth, and Lawrencetown Land Use Bylaws that were missed when the secondary suites amendments were made
- Received a presentation from Alderney Landing on how they faired and adapted during the year that was 2020
- Scheduled public hearings to consider planning applications to legalize a salvage yard in Clam Harbour, a multi-unit residential building on Caledonia Road, a rezoning from residential to light industrial in Shearwater, and revisions to an existing development agreement on Silvers Lane in Eastern Passage
- Requested staff prepare exemptions to stipulations prohibiting accessory buildings from being built too close to the water along Eastern Passage’s old working waterfront