There is no question that the current single sewer pipes running under King Street are inadequate to handle combined sewage and storm runoff water. No one wants the discharge of sewage into the bay, even in extremely heavy rain situations. Council has committed to improving this critical infrastructure asset, but still to be decided is the scope of the project, how it will interface with the Downtown Master Plan, and when will the project happen. These are complex issues with big dollar amounts attached, so proceeding carefully with lots of consultation is essential.
Regardless of the scope of the project, it will involve tearing up King Street to replace existing pipes. As we’ve seen in our neighbouring town, this can be a very disruptive undertaking. So what can be done to reduce the disruption and negative consequences for downtown businesses, our residents and visitors?
As Mayor, there are two main things I will do:
- Ensure that there is extensive consultation, particularly with downtown merchants and businesses well before the project begins, and ensure that their concerns and ideas are thoroughly considered as the contract documents for the project are developed. We should strongly consider delaying the in ground work until 2020.
- Set up a Downtown Development Coordinating Committee, as recommended in the Downtown Master Plan, to begin work on a project to use the two laneways running behind King Street as a means of access to stores and businesses during the construction work. This “Love Your Laneways” project will result in improvements to the lanes themselves as well as enhancements to the rear entrances to businesses, making this an attractive and safe area for people and encouraging them to continue to come downtown to use the stores and businesses along King Street.
The Downtown Development Coordinating Committee will provide an opportunity for representatives of Council, Town staff, business owners and other stakeholders to consider all the ramifications of the “Big Dig”. I am recommending we place the laneway improvements high on the agenda so we can begin working on this practical way of alleviating the major access issue during the construction project.
Regarding the laneways, there are a number of relevant points to be considered:
- Improving the laneways will not only help to mitigate the negative effects of the infrastructure improvement project, but will also complement the longer term downtown rejuvenation as outlined in the Downtown Master Plan.
- Aspects of the Downtown Master Plan that are specifically relevant include: improvement of general appearance of the downtown; lighting of the two laneways to make them “safer and more welcoming at night”; one of the Twenty Key Initiatives – “encourage repairs and renovations through a contributing grant program”; Facade improvement – front and rear entrances.
- There is also an opportunity to improve stormwater management in this area by installing permeable surfaces and other “green” technologies/elements; funding is possible through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities for projects like this.
- We can ensure that the contract documents for the construction work include regular communication with the Town, downtown businesses and the public, and include a requirement for the contractor to be “people friendly”, assisting business owners/staff and people using the downtown area wherever possible to navigate the construction area safely.
We’ve all heard the expression, “short term pain for long term gain.” I’m confident that the gains represented by this project will be long lasting and of great benefit to the Town. I have specific, realistic plans to ease the unavoidable short term pain.
More information on the Downtown Master Plan, infrastructure improvements and various laneway projects can be found at the links below: