By Richard Bell
The Musquodoboit Harbour & Area Chamber of Commerce and Civic Affairs will soon be releasing the final draft of its Community Development Plan, put together by the Dartmouth-based urban design consulting firm of Ekistics Plan+Design
The membership got a chance to hear the highlights of the report in a Power Point presentation at a meeting at the Petpeswick Yacht Club on March 15. There were two printed copies of the draft available at the meeting, but the draft was not available online. The report steering committee subsequently incorporated the feedback from that meeting into the list of recommendations and changes that it forwarded to Ekistics to use in producing the final draft.
The 80-page draft explicitly builds on the Musquodoboit Harbour Vision Plan that was developed by a Community Liaison Group in 2005-2007. Several of the significant recommendations of this plan have since been realized, including the purchase and repurposing of the Old School Community Gathering Place, the MusGo Rider community-based transportation system, and the creation of Eastern Shore Mental Health. MusGo Rider has been so successful that it has now spun off a similar operation serving a broad area between Middle Musquodoboit and Sheet Harbour.
In preparing the new plan, Ekistics conducted a variety of public outreach methods for gathering information about community priorities, including 177 post cards from community members, a community workshop, a small business workshop, and a community meeting on March 15, 2017. The initial draft incorporated the company’s interpretations of the results of these inquiries, with putting in sidewalks as a top priority.
At the March community open house, members were most concerned about the company’s decision to treat the long-standing problem of piped water and sewers in the village core as a second level priority that would not be addressed until 5 to 10 years later.
Paula Milsom was one of the attendees who argued that water and sewers should be put into the top priority category, to be addressed in the first five years of the plan.
In an interview, Milsom said she liked a lot of the plan. “But we have to fix what’s broken first,” she said. “What’s broken is that we have people who don’t have water, or who can’t use it. The high school’s still trucking in water. We have to provide for the future first. Businesses won’t come unless we have water.”
Milsom also mentioned the continuing pollution problems in Petpeswick Inlet that had become so frequent that the province has canceled swimming lessons at the West Petpeswick beach for 2017, the first time in decades. Although definitive studies need to be done, the contamination is widely believed to be some combination of failed domestic septic systems in the watershed and the small sewer plant that serves ESDH, the hospital, and the Birches.
There were also questions about the failure to include Clamshell Road in the study area. The report emphasizes the importance of developing more resources for tourism, but with Clamshell Road excluded, the study area did not include access to the head of Petpeswick Inlet for swimming or boating. After the March public meeting, the steering committee did its own review of the draft.
“We agreed that water and sewer should be moved to the top priority category,” said steering committee Laurie Cook, who also worked on the 2007 visioning plan. “One of the reasons we moved it up was because of hearing how it’s affecting small businesses thinking of locating here, plus the school’s trucking in water, and the closure of swimming at the Petpeswick Inlet town beach.”
Cook said that the committee was also concerned about the omission of access to Petpeswick Inlet in the study area. “There’re going to be things left out in any study, and we just didn’t have time to deal with this issue.”
In its final recommendations, the steering committee also called making sure that economic development was a top priority. "There’s talk about the importance of attracting more businesses throughout the Ekistics draft, but there wasn’t anything about making economic development a top priority,” said Cook. “Economic development was the number one priority in the 2007 visioning process. But nothing happened because no one came together to deal with that. It’s a more complex, difficult topic, not as tangible as ‘Let’s save the Old School,’ or ‘Let’s get a grant to create MusGo Rider.’”
Board Co-chair Kent Smith told the Cooperator that he wanted to thank and praise everyone who’s worked on the report over the past months, particularly the members of the steering committee. “The steering committee has done a fantastic job,” Smith said. “They’ve been so engaged d so thorough. Their commitment has been above and beyond the call.”
Smith had hoped to release the final version of the report at AGM meeting on March 29, which was postponed until April 12 because of weather. The next step in the process is for the Chamber to set up several committees focused on the report’s priority items. “We’ve been working very hard to finish this report,” Smith said. “The board’s been meeting at least once every two weeks, sometimes weekly. I’m confident and proud of all the work the board and the steering committee have done. Now it’s time to start working to make things happen.”