The Chebucto Road widening project was unexpectedly sidetracked this week.
In past months, regional council had been split on the issue, but at each step of the process the pro-widening side had enough votes to push through approval and funding of the project. All that was left was to give final approval of a $2,080,619 tender to the low bidder, Basin Contracting of Enfield, to go ahead with the reconstruction work. That approval, usually a formality, was to be given at Tuesday's council meeting, and Chebucto Road residents had been told to expect bulldozers to show up as soon as the end of the week.
But when two pro-widening councillors with a reputation for missing council meetings, Harry McInroy and Steve Streatch, failed to show Tuesday, anti-widening councillor Sheila Fougere decided to contest the tender. The anti-side was joined by Tim Outhit, who has newly joined the council after winning a Bedford by-election and the tender was defeated on an 11 to 10 vote.
As of press time it is still unclear what will happen next. Council rules and procedures prohibit a re-vote unless two-thirds of council agrees, and that appears unlikely. The rules do, however, allow the matter to be re-presented to council after two months, in August.
Councillors have conflicting opinions as to whether the tender will have to be re-bid. If so, the process might drag on until after the October election---so anything could happen.
If not, Tuesday's vote results in only a short delay in the project.
"At the very least, we've shown how deeply divided the community is on this issue," says Fougere.
The delay will no doubt come as a pleasant surprise to Chebucto residents, who last week had seemed resigned to the widening.
"By the end of June they'll start knocking down eight old-growth trees," said Kevin Moynihan, secretary of the Chebucto Road Neighbourhood Association, in quiet defeat last week. "And the street will be widened."
That prognosis is now up in the air, but negotiations over residents' property are well along, says Dave McCusker, manager of strategic transportation planning.
An appraisal firm, Turner & Drake, was hired to appraise the homes in the widening area in early May, Moynihan said. If widened, the new road will take a large portion of many residents' lawns.
"The city made an offer based on those appraisals," he said last week. "The owners had choice of accepting cash compensation for their lawns or selling their house to the city. Some have opted to sell to city and some will stay and accept compensation for a chunk of their front lawn. It's a negotiation between each homeowner and the city."
Moynihan was graceful in what he thought was certain defeat, saying that at least the neighbourhood association raised important urban planning and transportation issues, but last week not all the neighbours were quite as zenful.
Chebucto resident Joe MacDonnell pointed at the latest communique from HRM, a Notice of Temporary Construction Easement offering residents in the range of $104 and $329. "It's three months' rent to use our property for their equipment," he said.
"We're incensed," said Carolyn King, a neighbour and acquaintance of Moynihan's. "No councillor who voted for road widening could park their car for that price. Obviously I'm not going to accept it." She said that the notice of easement is the latest attempt by HRM to lowball the Chebucto residents,after having forced many of them to sell their properties.
"My neighbour was originally offered $7,000 for her whole front yard," she said. "They said it was fair, the most you could expect. Now they've offered her $33,500."
King also said that the city is also notorious for "hurry up and wait."
"I got the letter of easement last Wednesday and they wanted a response by June 3. They always want a response to their ridiculously low offer within a week."
Residents are now in an even more uncomfortable position of dealing with a road project approved and funded in concept, but for which no money is allowed to be expended for their property. That bureaucratic limbo will last for at least two months, possibly longer.