Sidewalk project needs community support

The community of Arichat, and the entirety of Isle Madame, received very good news recently.

On February 26, Richmond Municipal Council confirmed it is proceeding with a long-awaited sidewalk project for the village of Arichat.

During the regular monthly council meeting, Petit de Grat resident Robert Samson appeared before council to note that with a “mini baby-boom” talking place on Isle Madame, many young parents are concerned with having to walk with their children on gravel road shoulders.

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Samson pointed out that Strait Engineering did a conceptual plan in 2011 and the next year the sidewalk project was added to Richmond County’s capital list.

After years with no progress, Samson represented the Petit de Grat Beautification Sidewalk Committee in their unsuccessful pitch to tie the sidewalk project with a paving project in Petit de Grat back in 2016.

Now that the sidewalk project is at the top of the municipality’s capital priority list, and with the municipality entering budget deliberations and undertaking strategic planning, Samson said this is the time to proceed.

Samson said phase 1 of the project includes sidewalks from St. Ann Community and Nursing Care Centre to Godfrey’s Lane, with phase 2 originally slated to run down the lane to Rona Hardware and along Veteran’s Memorial Drive. But Samson proposed changing the second phase to construct sidewalks up to the Charles Forest Co-op on the High Road.

At an estimated 2.2 kilometres and a price tag of $2.2 million, Samson said this is the time to “take a serious look” at starting phase 1 and he requested a motion to have municipal staff explore financing options.

After discussions with Cape Breton-Canso MP Rodger Cuzner, Samson was told the federal Gas Tax Fund can be used for sidewalk construction since it is part of the Building Canada Fund. He noted the municipal asset management strategy can be used as engineering information for the project.

For phase 2, Samson said the municipality would likely have to wait for the new Building Canada Fund criteria, which will be released in the spring.

Samson asked if municipal staff can consider an Isle Madame area rate, versus just an Arichat rate, where people in Arichat would pay more, and those in communities like West Arichat, D’Escousse, and Petit de Grat would pay considerably less.

Because residents around Isle Madame frequent École Beau-Port, go to the municipal building, require the services of St. Ann and the doctor’s offices, and shop at businesses along the High Road in Arichat, Samson said it makes sense for the entire island to help finance the project. He also pointed out that many communities across Nova Scotia of similar and smaller size have sidewalks.

Isle Madame councillors Alvin Martell and James Goyetche expressed their support and asked that municipal staff explore funding sources, then have councillors present those options to the public.

District 4 councillor Gilbert Boucher suggested using the Gas Tax Fund to pay for phase 1, then using the area rate to fund phase 2. Warden Brian Marchand maintained the project needs to move forward, if only because of the health and safety concerns for St. Ann residents.

Samson responded that he wants the municipality to consider both phases of the project and not break it up into two parts.

His reasoning could be a result of the need to start work on this project, which has been promised and expected for the past seven years, only to be shelved for water and wastewater projects in other communities, while places like St. Peter’s and Louisdale have enjoyed sidewalks for years.

Hopefully, residents of Isle Madame will see the value of sidewalks, not just for Arichat, but the entire island. This goes beyond public health and safety, to an issue of who will use and benefit from this infrastructure, and invariable, who should help fund the sidewalks, and by how much.

It is conceivable there might be some resistance from residents who do not want to fund sidewalks that are not directly in their communities, but while they might not be at their front door, residents outside Arichat will benefit.

Anyone who frequents the school, has a loved one at the nursing home, someone requiring the services at the emergency department or making a visit to a doctor, those requiring the services of the pharmacy, or those at the municipal office, will, at one time or another, use or benefit from these sidewalks.

That’s why everyone should help fund the sidewalks, and why the residents of Arichat will be expected to pay more; they will get the most immediate benefit from the sidewalks, but they will certainly not be the only ones.

Now that the support has been demonstrated by council, with the only details coming in the form of funding and timing, it is up to the community to show its support for infrastructure that almost every other community in Nova Scotia now enjoys.