Lively discussion leads to Somber Second Thoughts about Mill Purchase

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By Karen Graham

A brief presentation by Alex Bushell from Save the Dam Millpond (SDMP) group about the viability of hydro power generation at the Dam location using micro-turbines was quickly overshadowed by discussions about the future of the Needler’s Dam buildings.

Needlier's Mill Millbrook.

Needlier’s Mill Millbrook. Photo: Karen Graham

After a pointed presentation from Save the Dam Millpond Committee Chair, Rob Jackson, Council members contemplated their options with respect to the mill building on which presently sits an unsafe building order requiring remediation by August 3rd. In the previous June 18th meeting, Council had agreed to provide an expression of interest in acquiring the Needler’s Mill buildings to ORCA, effectively giving them a right of first refusal on the building. Since the announcement of the funding approval for dam rehabilitation last Friday, sentiments have been high about the future of the dam and mill landmarks, but the funding confirmation brings with it a hefty financial commitment for the township. According to Mayor McFadden, 90% of the ORCA portion of the funding for the dam which is at least equal to the federal and provincial contributions of over $1.1 million, must be contributed by the township.

The SDMP asked Council to take a leap of faith and purchase the mill on their behalf and to provide the temporary funding during a “hump” period while they raised the money to relocate it to stable ground found 10 metres west and to perform the required remediation work. Jackson reiterated that after 6 presentations to council over the past few years, the commitment of the group to this project should not be in doubt. Council resisted the request to purchase it on the group’s behalf for a later transfer of ownership for several reasons. First, Council was not prepared to assume an open-ended liability without a firmly funded exit plan from a third party, and second, the disposal process they would be required to follow would be complex and would not guarantee the successful transfer of the Mill to the SDMP group who sought this option.

Council members proposed and subsequently defeated 4 different motions on the purchase decision as the yes and no camps remained firm in their views. Ultimately they chose an option that no one expected at the outset of the meeting, which was to notify ORCA that they no longer wished to purchase the Mill, otherwise known as the “Do nothing” option. ORCA will now offer the buildings to other interested parties, including the Save the Dam Mill Pond group, or possibly a joint submission from the township and this committee, who could then acquire it for a nominal price and assume responsibility for the demolition of the attached condemned portion of the building and the relocation and/or stabilization of the foundation at their own expense. This decision is consistent with the Deputy Mayor’s belief that Council should step out of the way and let the group deal directly with the owner to simplify the process by removing this third party from the middle of what has been a contentious negotiation.

The opponents of the building’s purchase focused on the financial implications of such a decision. Before rejecting the purchase option, Mayor McFadden requested a firm financial commitment from the SDMP presenter Rob Jackson to ensure that the township would not be burdened by the unquantified expense of mill repairs. While the group has begun fundraising and has 30 registered donors and expressions of support from community groups including the local Lions’ club and were prepared to commit $35K at the meeting, this amount was insufficient to give the Council confidence to proceed with the purchase.

Councillor Tim Belch was also opposed to the purchase, citing financial reasons as well as political ones. He was not prepared to explain to his North Monaghan constituents that Millbrook would be receiving funding to refurbish the Mill as well as the dam, and suggested that any mill expenditures not assumed by community groups should be applied as a levy to Millbrook ratepayers. Councillors Landry and Huntley supported the purchase of the mill to prevent it from falling into the hands of a third party. Huntley suggested this option was a way to buy time for the group to come up with the funds.

In the end, the $35K commitment was not enough to sway council members to assume an open- ended liability to preserve the Mill. As Deputy Mayor John Fallis explained, Council has a lot on its plate already. Chief Building Officer Kyle Phillips agreed that an extension to the August 3rd expiry of the current unsafe building order was possible in the event there were concrete plans to address the issues, but reminded the audience that the foundation issues must be addressed before winter. The ball is now firmly in SDMP’s court. Council has set aside July 15 for a special Council meeting to consider further action if no one comes forward to purchase the mill.

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