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Chebucto Road's dead end? 

As Chebucto reconstruction looms, residents and activists mull over their options.

Basin Contracting has been given the green light to start the two-month process of widening Chebucto Road this week.

"The official start date is today but I drove by and didn't see any signs of work," Dave McCusker, transportation manager for Halifax Regional Municipality, said Monday of the project. By day's end there were signs around Chebucto saying "construction ahead," according to residents.

Mike Longobardi, construction inspector for HRM and Basin's main contact point, says work will begin Monday, June 30.

In the meantime, Chebucto Road residents are determined not to go gently into the good night. They held a meeting Monday with 16 supporters to discuss council's recent reversal of its initial rejection of Basin's $2 million tender.

"We've had concerns all the way through and we still do," says Joe MacDonnell, the new president of the Chebucto Neighbourhood Association. MacDonnell took over the role from Kevin Moynihan, who is in the process of negotiating a price for his appropriated house with the city.

Two weeks ago, MacDonnell was encouraged by the loss of support for the project, saying that council had come onside with public opinion on the matter. Now the neighbours are taking stock and trying to discern how council went from a 12-10 vote against the tender to a 16-6 vote in favour of reconsidering. "It's almost a bit harder the second time around," he says.

Legal action was discussed, but the group is not optimistic about stopping the project and fears the expenditure of resources involved, despite what it considers abnormalities in the process of voting on the tender. "Legally, a motion of reconsideration is supposed to be in writing," explains Laena Garrison, transportation coordinator for the Ecology Action Centre. "It's supposed to be raised at the same meeting as the initial vote, and none of that was done."

But according to Mary Ellen Donavan, council's attorney, verbal requests are sufficient for reconsideration, in practice if not by the letter of procedure.

Garrison adds the motion was added to the agenda on Monday, which is irregular.

Neighbours are also concerned that while the motion of reconsideration and the motion to add the tender to last week's council agenda were recorded votes, the actual vote on the tender was by voice, and not recorded. Confounding the problem is that the only video of the meeting is property of HRM, and not available to the public, they say.

"It boils down to the agenda of a very few," MacDonnell says.

Jeffrey Hagget, a planning student and recently declared mayoral candidate, suggested filing an injunction with the Utilities Review Board, which functions like a Supreme Court for planning cases. "They don't even feel as though they are answerable to citizens," he says of the current council.

But given their lack of resources, residents have chosen a campaign largely focused on public relations. "We have a window of opportunity to raise awareness about the planning process," says Garrison.

That awareness-raising began at Tuesday's council meeting, where a rally of about 35 people was held outside chambers, with residents and supporters dressed in yellow.

Demonstrators pointed out that while $2 million is being budgeted to take down eight old-growth trees and widen Chebucto, no money has been invested in cycling, trees or Link buses this year. "We want liveable neighbourhoods and we don't feel that council is listening," Garrison says. "The example is Chebucto Road. Despite huge public opposition, rising gas prices and climate change concerns, council flip-flopped and spent $2 million to tear up that neighbourhood and accommodate 300 more cars."

The residents hope that Tuesday's demonstration was the first of several actions. Other ideas raised at Monday's meeting include tree sit-ins, street parties and a funeral service for the trees. Halifax's cycling community will also be involved, holding a picnic at the end of Friday's critical mass on the sidewalks of Chebucto.

"We want more involvement with neighbourhoods to begin with and we want better planning, with money going to public and active transit and not to increasing car capacity," Garrison says.

Want to get involved? The Ecology Action Centre is helping citizens get organized. Or, you can follow all the updates on the future of Chebucto Road on Tim Bousquet's blog, Reality Bites.

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