NORTHERN PENINSULA STRAITS, NL – Despite the reassuring smiles and promises at the time, the funding announced for a new fire hall in Flower’s Cove late last year has since been withdrawn.
Last October, then-minister of the department of Municipal Affairs and Environment Eddie Joyce along with St. Barbe - L'Anse aux Meadows MHA Christopher Mitchelmore posed with smiling faces and a painted portrait of a proposed regional fire hall that would service the Northern Peninsula Straits.
With this public announcement and photo-op Joyce said this new hall would improve services and sustainability for this region of the peninsula.
However, behind the smiles there were deep concerns from various parties that there was no way this proposed project would actually go ahead.
“They came down here and took pictures and made the biggest kind of announcement, but in reality we couldn’t handle any of it,” Flower’s Cove Mayor Keith Billard said. “It was a total farce, just a PR stunt that’s all that was.”
The Northern Pen has since learned that as of February of this year, the funding for the proposed fire hall has since been taken back into a general provincial infrastructure account to be utilized for other projects and announcements in the province.
Call for deferral
The NorPen Regional Service Board had received the funding to construct the regional fire hall with a total of $1.9 million in provincial contributions. At a cost share ratio of 70/30, the board’s share of the funding would have been $825,000.
Chair of NorPen Gerry Gros says in late 2017 the board brought a deferral to the Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment requesting the funding remain unused and be carried over for another year.
“Basically, we wanted to hold onto the money but we didn’t want to spend it this year,” said Gros. “We hoped to do further fundraising to come up with the amount we needed and start spending it the following year.”
Received in February, a letter signed by Joyce stated that because the NorPen board had not accepted the money within the period specified, the funding for the new fire station had been cancelled and reallocated for other projects.
Gros says with the amount of money the board had to generate, there was no possible way they could have signed on board with the project.
“With the money we had to come up with, there was no way we could do it in the time frame we had,” he said.
The Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment said in an emailed response that the department continues to meet with the NorPen board and community on this issue and has encouraged the board to re-apply for funding in the future.
Hope for ratio change
At this same announcement, funding was also announced to the town of Flower’s Cove for improved roads and other services. The cost share ratio for this portion of the funding is at 50/50, with the provincial and federal government providing $300,000 each, and the municipality of Flower’s Cove would have to come up with $600,000 for these efforts to go ahead.
Unlike NorPen, the town of Flower’s Cove signed on to take these funds. But Mayor Billard says they did so in the hopes that the cost share ratio would change in time to make the town’s end of the deal easier to hold up.
“For a small town like Flower’s Cove to come up with $600,000 who are they kidding?” said Billard. “With a population of a couple hundred people, and an aging population at that, we’d bankrupt the town.
“We’re going to do what we can with water and roads this year and hope that the ratios will change back to 90/10 eventually.”
Alternatives for the fire hall
The NorPen Regional Service Board has recently met with the architect for the proposed fire hall, and the board has secured the funding to begin the planning phase of the project.
Gros says the board will continue fundraising efforts for the hall, and are also looking at alternative government funding options. These include programs like the Job Creation Partnership (JCP) program with the Department of Advanced Education, Skills and Labour, the Community Enhancement Employment Program (CEEP) with the Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment, and the Green Municipal Fund through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.
Gros hopes these efforts will be successful and that a new regional fire hall for the Northern Peninsula Straits can still come to fruition.
“We would like a new fire hall but we got to explore other avenues,” said Gros. “We’re going to try and think outside of the box and see if we can do this some other way.”