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Star Forum: Stephenville council’s apathy inexcusable

Dear editor: On Aug. 4, I attended a public hearing at the Stephenville town office. Not being from Newfoundland, I was interested and excited to attend and see how the wonderful, warm people of this province conducted a meeting concerning a municipal plan that could affect the futures and livelihoods of many citizens.

The first thing that struck me was the lack of communication that had happened prior to this hearing. The affected residents had not been directly notified about possible changes regarding their land being rezoned, and they were anxious and confused by the proposals being brought forward. Do these same residents not receive a bill for services (garbage pick-up) regularly? Could they not have received a note in their bill alerting them to the new municipal plan and the upcoming hearing?  

Many residents heard about the plan and public hearing through Facebook, as not many people would read a very brief notification in the local newspaper. Thankfully, the word got out and there was a large representation of concerned citizens eager to find out more about Stephenville’s new Municipal Plan and Development Regulations. When town representatives were questioned and asked to explain further about the new plan, these citizens received very little explanation and were told to refer to the information on the town website and look at the maps. It would have taken five minutes to briefly explain the town’s concerns about future development and the reasoning for the changes. Admittedly, there may be plausible reasons for municipal plan changes (watershed, roads, etc.), but at no point during the hearing were reasons — viable research data — or explanations given for necessary zoning changes due to the proposed plan (which can be found on the Town of Stephenville website).

See related: Cold Brook residents want to know why Stephenville town plan changing

Essentially, the pending Municipal Plan and Development Regulations would mean that many landowners from Cold Brook, Long Gull Pond and Noel’s Pond would likely no longer be able to build, farm or harvest on their land. Also, rural areas around Stephenville would be rezoned, again limiting building and farming activities. Residents attending the public hearing were understandably concerned and had every right to have their questions answered by the town council making these changes. Unfortunately, most of the council did not find it important enough to attend. The only councillor present was Tom Rose, who was not allowed to speak directly about the new plan, as he owns land that will be affected.  

The town development officer and the town manager were sent to try and deflect questions about a plan they had not created themselves. I do not understand why council would not represent themselves at a public hearing dealing with a plan it developed. The only reason I can come up with is that they just do not care about these concerns and are probably planning on implementing the new plan, regardless of discontent. Was this public hearing held just to please the provincial government and to say that the process had been followed? These same councillors were not elected by the residents of Cold Brook, Long Gull Pond or Noel’s Pond, so they may not feel that their electoral positions could be threatened by unhappy residents in these jurisdictions. 

Furthermore, why do these municipalities not have representation in Stephenville when the town is making decisions affecting their livelihood? Stephenville council’s apathy about this issue is inexcusable in our democratic society.

I left this public hearing feeling disheartened and uncertain about our future in Stephenville, as my husband and I plan to build on family land in Cold Brook and spend some of our retirement time back “home.” At the same time, I felt the passion of the longtime residents of the Stephenville area and the pride of Newfoundlanders who had done their research and worked long and hard for what they have accomplished. I have always felt welcome in Stephenville and the warmth of the people is its biggest asset. At the public hearing, I witnessed a cold-hearted approach that shocked me.  

I hope this issue will be resolved in a way that can please both sides, but I strongly doubt that it will turn out that way. I hope I can eventually call Cold Brook (and Stephenville) home.

Susan Johnson, Sturgeon County, Alberta

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