SACKVILLE, N.B. – With funding not coming through for a $1.2-million project to convert Sackville’s historic Pickard Quarry into a park and stormwater retention area, many residents are questioning what happens next.
Does the proposed project get put back up on the shelf or should the town acquire the quarry property and find other ways to make it happen?
Sackville residents Sandy Burnett and Peter Manchester, both members of the Tantramar Outdoor Club, are hoping for the latter. They are urging the town to purchase the Pickard Quarry from Mount Allison University, saying there is plenty of support locally to get this project off the ground.
“We want to see this property secured so it’s not going to find its way into any other use aside from a green space within the heart of town,” said Manchester.
Having lived next to the quarry for 25 years, Manchester said the property is an “enormous asset,” and he doesn’t want to see the opportunity lost once again to create something that will serve as a tourism and recreation draw for both residents and visitors.
Both Manchester and Burnett insisted that, through partnerships with a number of local organizations who are in support of this project, the first stages could be started without a huge cash infusion. For example, they say community-based groups could develop the trails in the quarry park, similar to the work the Tantramar Outdoor Club did on the trails in the Walker Road reservoir area.
“Through town and community cooperation, we can find the money so that it’s not coming from the tax base to develop this property,” Manchester told town council during their monthly discussion meeting last week.
(Burnett, who played a leading role in the establishment of the Sackville Waterfowl Park 30 years ago, said he believes initial start-up costs would be modest, focusing on items such as upgrading the already-existing trail system throughout the quarry (gravel and boardwalk), and installing a small bridge and guardrails where needed.
He said some work may also be required to establish the entry points into the quarry, as well as interpretive signage and site maps, but “these are all things that can happen over a period of time, as the money becomes available.”
“We could proceed at a slow but steady pace,” he said.
Acquiring the site is the key goal at this point, said Burnett, which Mount Allison has agreed to transfer over to the town for a nominal fee.
He pointed out that the project has the support of the Chignecto Naturalists’ Club, the Tantramar Outdoor Club, the Tantramar Heritage Trust, EOS Eco-Energy and Michael Fox of RCE Tantramar and Mount Allison’s department of geography and environment.
“We feel confident there is a lot of interest in this proposal,” said Burnett.
He said the quarry has been, for many years, an informal recreation area but this is an opportunity to make it a more “organized and legitimized” nature park with trails and interpretive signage.
The project is one that has been talked about in the community for nearly three decades but has, for many reasons, stayed in the wings as the town worked on other priorities. But now, with the “sound engineering arguments” behind the development of the quarry’s pond into a stormwater retention area, Burnett said there are even more reasons to proceed forward.
He said the quarry is “truly a hidden gem in the heart of our community,” featuring a diversity of natural habitats that houses more than 45 species of birds that visit or nest on the quarry property regularly, as well as 20 species of mammals and small freshwater fish.
“If protected, this will complement the Waterfowl Park as a nature refuge and showcase for wildlife biodiversity.”
Burnett said the park also provides an opportunity to showcase local history, with installation of interpretive displays showing how the red sandstone was used in buildings at Mount Allison as well as in cities such as Saint John, Halifax, Ottawa and Toronto.
It would also help promote active living, he said, extending the range of available walking opportunities in the community. It would open up a trail circuit that could include the quarry, the campus, the George Stanley memorial, the Waterfowl Park and the downtown.
While the majority of council agreed the project has a lot of prospective benefits, and the phased approach was a good suggestion, many also had questions about the true costs of acquiring the land at this time.
Councillor Andrew Black said although the initial purchase of the property may not be a significant cost, he is more concerned over factors such as property taxes, maintenance costs, insurance and liability.
“Having the land is going to cost the taxpayers . . .so is it worth for us to have it if it’s going to cost us money?”
Black said he thinks the quarry is a wonderful location for a park but there are questions still to be answered before the town jumps on the land.
“I’d like to see where it might go and what it might look like first.”
Councillor Allison Butcher agreed with Black, saying that while the quarry might be a gem, the town needs to ensure it’s being fiscally responsible, particularly after a year where the town’s tax base saw a dip.
“We need to know what it involves before we step into the purchase.”
Councillor Joyce O’Neil said she believes, if anything, the town should put the priority on installing a dam in the quarry to retain water before moving forward with a park.
Councillor Bruce Phinney questioned why Mount Allison isn’t applying for government money to develop the quarry or showing interest in partnering on the project, as biology students would be able to use the site to study the flora and fauna. He said he thinks the quarry is a liability the town can’t afford to take on at this time.
The town had applied for a $1-million climate change adaptation grant from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities for the project but was denied the funding last month.
In addition, $200,000 was set aside in the town’s capital budget to contribute to the project.
Jamie Burke, the town’s senior manager of corporate projects, said it will now be up to town council to determine what happens with that $200,000.
Burke suggested now’s a good time for council to discuss whether they want to consider purchasing the property now or to wait until they have more funding in place to pursue the proposed vision.
“Is there an appetite to go out and explore the possibility of formally acquiring the property from Mount A? Or do we simply leave it there, continue to have good dialog with the university . . .and park it for another day?”
Burke pointed out that town staff will continue to work on the application and look for other potential funding opportunities.
“We know we have a really good project. The quarry’s not going anywhere,” said Burke. “And we think with a bit more time and effort that we can still put a really good project together provided we have the financial means to be able to pull it off.”
Megan Mitton was the only councillor to speak in favour of acquiring the quarry property, saying it’s a project that connects to several town priorities such as recreation, tourism, conservation and climate change adaptation.
Mitton said there is potential to seek out other funding opportunities for the project, adding “I would hate to see us miss the opportunity to be able to secure the property.”