As most Haligonians are no doubt aware, the Halifax Regional Council recently approved a plan for the Halifax Regional Water Commission to tear up the brand-new Chain of Lakes Trail (COLT) in order to install a sewer pipeline from Timberlea to downtown. The COLT has been gaining popularity among commuters and recreational users since the property was acquired from CN a few years ago. The city developed the trail with the guidance of the Chain of Lakes Trail Association (COLTA), a group made up of councilors and interested citizens. This group has been quiet in wake of the decision. Why?
My search began where most searches do, with Google. There were only two links on the front page with information on the group, one being the city’s website, and the other a mostly-defunct cycling forum. The rest of the links lead to news stories about the trail. I intensified my search after consulting with friends and colleagues, moving to twitter, then to the Registry of Joint Stock Companies (RJSC). On the latter site I was able to find a list of members of COLTA, but still no real contact information or a website.
What I’ve learned to date is that the association has no website. There is no public way to access their minutes (if they have any). The city’s website does not have any information on the group other than to say they exist. Compare that to the Halifax Northwest Trails Association, an admittedly much more established group, who publish newsletters, maintain a website, and issue press releases to take firm stances on issues. Why is this not the case with COLTA?
The next step was to check the list of directors, thanks to the RJSC. With a colleague, I scanned the list. This colleague is active in the cycling and trails community, and lives in the area of the trail. We did not recognize any names. I searched a few of them online, and there were few or no results, apart from the three councilors (Linda Mosher, Reg Rankin, and Russel Walker). I was able to establish that Elizabeth Pugh is an engineer with Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal and once sat on the Active Transportation Advisory Committee, but that was it.
I spoke with two acquaintances, both well-connected and knowledgeable members of the active transportation community. They both use the COLT on a regular basis. Both have tried, unsuccessfully, to contact the association to get more information.
This leads me to the big question: what is the purpose of this association? My research leads me to believe that they are in fact an advisory committee for the HRM Council, except that they didn’t want anything in writing, so they formed a shell organization and signed up a few neighbours. If they really exist to oversee the trail, they would be saying something in the public concerning this issue. They are not. They are silent. They do not appear to truly exist, other than on paper. They seem to merely be pawns of a few suburban councilors, who want to appear to care about recreation and active transportation.
Why do I care? I care because in order to fight this council decision at the Utility Appeals and Review Board, the group that decides what infrastructure is built under the Public Utilities Act (which regulates Halifax Water (HRWC), Nova Scotia Power, and others) we need allies. Having COLTA on our side would help. The UARB must, by law, choose the cheapest option for ratepayers. As Tim Bousquet has pointed out, it is not at all clear if the current plan is the cheapest option.
It’s going to be a long road to the UARB appeal, but it will be an easier one if we know who we’re dealing with.