Progress on the long-awaited Humber Valley regional land-use plan has finally been made, and has been met with controversy in the House of Assembly in the past week.
Liberal Bay of Islands MHA Eddie Joyce has continued to hold government accountable for the little progress that has been made on the plan since it was submitted more than three years ago.
New Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Kent made it a priority of his to get the plans moving again, and late last month a response was finally sent to the Humber Valley Regional Planning Advisory Authority pertaining to the draft plan. Government is requiring the plan be revised to accommodate a number of issues.
Don Downer, who was independent chair of the authority, has since moved on to chair the Western Regional Waste Management Committee.
In September, he said he was surprised the response was taking so long and acknowledged not having much involvement with it.
Joyce, who claims government has wasted a significant amount of taxpayers money on a project that had been shelved for so long, claimed in the House of Assembly that Downer had resigned from the position. He said the plan was “nothing more than payback for some political friends.”
Downer is known as a longtime Conservative supporter.
“I will tell you what is shameful: $650,000 paid, as part of the premier’s co-campaign manager, for a report – $650,000 – and the report sent back to a defunct committee,” Joyce said in the House Thursday.
Reports from the authority’s website were that slightly more than $427,000 was spent on the plan.
Joyce continued with the debate in the House Monday.
“Now they are saying they are sending it out just for review, no guarantees we are going to accept it,” Joyce said. “Don Downer is trying to protect his buddies, Tom Marshall, by saying they are still active and he is still chair.”
Downer has not been paid for the authority chair position since July 2012 said Joyce.
Monday, Kent told The Star Downer is indeed still chair and will help continue toward its implementation.
“I think it is really unfortunate that Mr. Joyce chooses to attack Dr. Downer’s character on the floor of the House of Assembly,” he said. “It is unprofessional,and it is unbecoming of a member of the House.
“Dr. Downer has done good work on this regional planning effort, and he has also done good work on the regional waste management committee.”
In the meantime, Downer had said in September he has not had much involvement with the plan or authority. Monday, he said via email as he vacationed in Florida, that he was very much still involved and has been in close contact with government throughout the review.
“It’s not a contradiction,” Downer later clarified via cellphone.
He said he received continual updates from government officials, but they were mostly that there was little to nothing to report. He said the updates were mostly of an informal nature while dealing with other government business — mainly waste management issues.
Downer said he continues to work with the consulting firm — CBCL Ltd. — and expects to meet with the authority in the coming weeks to review the requests made by government.
“I know CBCL has said these are not major developments or changes recommended, and can be accommodated in the draft plan,” he said. “That is what they are already starting to do.”
However, the issue remains that some members of this authority are no longer representatives of the municipalities they were prior to the last election. He estimates about two-thirds remain, but is uncertain if any of the technical committee members have changed within government departments.
The plan contains upwards of 10 recommendations or changes. They include buffer-related adjustments for waterways and forestry, agricultural changes, mining-related adjustments, recognizing Nalcor Energy and Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro’s rights and practices with respect to transmission and distribution lines, cottage development and archeological resources.
The response also requests further clarification on a shared resource person and that government will not appoint an independent agency to administer the plan — that the minister is the authority for the plan and Service Newfoundland and Labrador will administer it.
“It’s a complex process,” Kent said. “When you are developing a new comprehensive plan for the entire region, there are all kinds of issues that need to be considered ... None of these things are insurmountable, and I am confident that we can move the process forward and get a new plan in place for the region.”
The authority will have to submit its revised plan back to government. If approved, a commissioner will be appointed and a series of public hearings wil be held.