Former Gibsons mayor Barry Janyk says he doesn’t think the current administration is living up to campaign promises to be “fair, honest and transparent” when it comes to plans to borrow about $1.76 million for a retrofit of the Prowse Road sewer lift station.
The proposed loan is the subject of an Alternate Approval Process (AAP), which closes June 12 at 4 p.m., and the loan can only go forward if fewer than 10 per cent of eligible voters file objection forms.
Janyk is part of a group working to defeat the AAP and he, former councillor Lee Ann Johnson, Suzanne Senger of the Gibsons Alliance of Business and Community, Judith Bonkoff from the Gibsons Waterfront Defence Association and Michael Storr have written the Town claiming the way the project funding has been arranged means the Town is, in effect, paying costs the developer of the George Hotel and Residences should be covering.
“The Community Charter explicitly prohibits local governments from ‘providing a benefit, advantage or any assistance to a business.’ In other words, it is illegal for the Town to pay for the works and services required to build the George,” the letter says. “It appears the Town is covering up a blatant violation of municipal law, by misrepresenting to the public the real costs and reasons for the Prowse Road Lift Station and wastewater treatment plant upgrades.”
The letter is dated May 23, two days after a council meeting where Senger and Bonkoff questioned an agreement that sets the George project’s contribution to the lift station work at $144,695.10. The developer will also pay about $150,000 into the general development cost charge fund for sewer infrastructure.
The letter cites 2014 correspondence between the Town and the project’s consultant that says the recommendation of Town staff at the time was “to require the developer to pay for the Prowse Road retrofit as well as the [waste water treatment plant] improvements at a total estimated cost that is not anticipated to exceed $593,000.”
Town officials said recently on social media that “there is a lot of misinformation circulating about the planned retrofit of the Prowse Road Lift Station” and released fact sheets on the proposal as well as a timeline that indicates the replacement of the lift station has been under discussion since 2007 and the project has been in every financial plan since 2009. The George project was announced in 2012.
“If the pump station fails, there is a risk that raw sewage will be released into Gibsons Harbour, causing significant environmental damage and exposing the Town to fines that could exceed the cost of the retrofit project,” one of the fact sheets says.
The Town also points to a 2018 “excess services bylaw” that allows the Town to charge other developments in the Prowse Road collection area “to fund current and future sewer-related work.”
Janyk and the others claim the George project has already benefitted from what they characterize as “millions of dollars in giveaways of public assets” including a deal to close a portion of Winn Road that Janyk said put a price on the property that was well below market value. “Once again it indicates that the previous council, and now this council, seems to be favouring this developer, and I don’t like it.”
Janyk also said although the immediate issue is the George’s contribution to the lift station, he believes two other major projects – Gospel Rock and Eagleview Heights – have been asked for contributions to infrastructure and amenities that are too low.
“I think that if the negotiators working on behalf of the Town are really working in the best interest of the citizens rather than the developers’ best interest, there would probably be very little issue. But I feel one of the reasons that people are upset is right now is that they don’t feel the negotiations were adequate,” Janyk said.
In a post on its Facebook page, the Gibsons Alliance of Business and Community said the May 23 letter was copied to RCMP, the Attorney General, the Auditor General for Local Government, Minister of Municipal Affairs and others “to support a request for a criminal investigation.”
A spokesman for the Ministry of the Attorney General confirmed this week that the letter, which does not explicitly call for a criminal probe, has been received and is being reviewed.
When asked if he believed there is a potential criminal case, Janyk said, “What’s going to predicate the response to that question is going to be how much the municipality is forthcoming with information. How did we get to be in the situation that we are today where the town is asking for $1.76 million?”
Mayor Bill Beamish told Coast Reporter that he has acknowledged receipt of the group’s letter, but no other response has been sent and the Town likely won’t make a formal response while it waits for “the outcome of the referrals to other organizations” copied on the letter.
The letter calls on the Town to cancel the borrowing plan and hold a public meeting on the project “prior to approving or initiating any new contracts or loans.”
It also urges the Town to “ensure the George developer pays his own development servicing costs [and] issue a public statement explaining why the new Mayor and Council authorized borrowing to accommodate the George developer in violation of the Community Charter.”
“I would like to have a referendum so that the municipality can explain in better terms what exactly they are doing, why they are doing it and how all of these developments are going to contribute,” Janyk said. “I’m looking for the more open and transparent governance that was promised when Bill Beamish took office.”