© Star file photo
An aerial view of the Humber Valley
CORNER BROOK Sometimes even the best formed plans get shelved.
There’s some concern over whether that has happened to the Humber Valley regional land-use plan.
Its beginnings go back about eight years. When the need was identified, a committee was struck comprised of municipal and government representatives. Much work, and wide-spread debate, was done over the subsequent years. A consultant was hired, and the public was consulted on a number of occasions.
Eventually, a draft plan was submitted to the province. That was almost three years ago.
Where is it now? That is the question on the minds of municipal representatives and others involved with the committee in the region.
Don Downer, who independently chaired the committee, said he is surprised government has taken this long to move on the plan.
Since vacating the position, he admitted he has not had much involvement with it. He said he heard about disagreements within and between certain government departments with regard to the recommendations. There were some, what he described as minor, objections or concerns from the public pertaining to parts of the plan. He also speculated there would be some typical political ramifications with such a report.
However, there is nothing apparent as to why the plan has taken this long to move on, he said. Downer does not think it has reached an impasse though.
“Any time I have talked to people in Municipal Affairs, they are saying to me, it is a matter of getting to the point where there is a response letter to the committee saying they accept the draft plan, and move to the next step,” he said.
Municipal Affairs Minister Kevin O’Brien ultimately has the decision whether to accept the plan, even after it reaches final draft. However, Downer said there is nothing to indicate it will not be approved.
Meanwhile, Steady Brook Mayor Donna Thistle said nobody seems in a position to push for it to move ahead. She said municipal representatives have their hands tied, and Downer is now chair of the western regional waste management committee.
The plan was valued at $400,000, which was cost-shared 80 per cent by the province and 20 per cent by the seven municipalities represented — Corner Brook, Massey Drive, Steady Brook, Pasadena, Deer Lake, Reidville, and Cormack. The cost was based on a population percentage. The actual total expenditures reported was slightly more than $427,000.
Thistle is concerned that as time passes, the data collected gets old.
However, she also believes in what was recommended, and that it would be an asset to the region.
“It was a brilliant plan,” she said. “It said to government these communities believe we need a regionalized approach to the Humber Valley, and that includes the use of a regional planner. You would have one paid employee, sort of the go-to person who knows all the rules and regulations.”
The mayor said she is “fairly sure” the province did not want to implement that.
Thistle said it is also indicative of how things work with government.
“They throw this out there,” she said. “It gets done. It sits on a desk, waiting as other things come up — things of more priority. Somebody has to read it. Nobody does. Then, it is nobody’s job to keep their finger on it.”
Deer Lake Mayor Dean Ball expects land development outside the municipal boundary of his town to become a priority early in the next council’s mandate. He said the town is growing fast, and expects expansion interest will increase in the near future.
The process is being dragged out for some unknown reasons, he said, but it is obvious interest in it has been lost. Until it becomes a big issue for one of the municipalities, he expects things will remain quiet.
Ball said it would be a mistake to let the plan fall by the wayside.
“We need to get this land-use issue resolved,” he said. “Planning now is very important for all municipalities. If you don’t plan right, there might become a time when this becomes a much larger issue than what it is today.”
For Corner Brook Mayor Neville Greeley, he is less concerned about the plan moving forward. He said the city — which was the major funder of the seven municipalities at just more than $50,000 — contributed to the plan, and later incorporated some of its applicable elements within its own Integrated Municipal Sustainability Plan.
The plan has the greatest impact on development outside its municipal boundary, said the mayor, so has little impact on the city.
“We have not been waiting for anything to happen to the land-use plan,” he said. “If somebody said it was passed, I wouldn’t know if it has or hasn’t or where it sits with the provincial government. We are not waiting on it.”
Meanwhile, Minister O’Brien was not made available over the past couple of weeks to discuss the plan. A spokesperson for the department issued an email statement in response to interview requests.
The plan is being reviewed, and a response can still be expected, it stated. The committee would then typically make any adjustments, and re-submit it to government. At that time, an independent commissioner would be appointed, who would hold more public sessions.
“This is a complex plan, and the first of its kind for the region,” the email stated. “In addition, development in the area has been rapid in recent years, which has required adjustments even during this review process.
“Also, a number of departments are involved in the review process, which has added to the timeline.”
The goal is to have a response back to the committee by late fall.