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Cape Breton Regional Municipality officials justify new Sydney fire station location amid concerns

CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke listens as councillor Amanda McDougall expresses her frustration over what she says was a lack of public consultation prior to the decision to relocate Sydney’s downtown fire station to the corner of George and Pitt streets. DAVID JALA/CAPE BRETON POST
CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke listens as councillor Amanda McDougall expresses her frustration over what she says was a lack of public consultation prior to the decision to relocate Sydney’s downtown fire station to the corner of George and Pitt streets. DAVID JALA/CAPE BRETON POST
SYDNEY, N.S. —

There will be no more official debate over the new location of Sydney’s downtown fire station.

The new fire services facility will be built on a parcel of CBRM-owned land at the corner of George and Pitt streets despite noise and parking concerns expressed by some patrons of the Highland Arts Theatre (HAT), located directly across Bentinck Street from the site that was approved by municipal council last month.

Darren Bruckschwaiger
Darren Bruckschwaiger

The CBRM’s fire and emergency services committee, chaired by deputy mayor Ivan Doncaster, addressed the station relocation issue at its Tuesday morning meeting. After a lively debate, which included at least one councillor’s well-articulated concerns over a perceived lack of public consultation, the committee concluded the matter was settled and that construction will proceed at the designated location.

For District 10 councillor Darren Bruckschwaiger, who has vociferously supported a location close to the waterfront and easily accessible to the regional hospital, the issue is now over.

“I know that the HAT and the fire department can co-exist very easily – our guys don’t plan on blowing sirens every time they leave, there will be street lights that stop traffic, then they pull out,” said Bruckschwaiger, who served more than two decades as a member of the Dominion Volunteer Fire Department.

“And we don’t have fires every time there’s a show – it’s not New York City where they’re going day and night so let’s not turn this thing into something else.”

Deputy fire chief Gilbert MacIntyre, a dedicated patron of the popular theatre, said he is optimistic the site will work well in that part of the downtown.

“We will do our utmost to make sure there is not an intrusion in the neighbourhood, but a benefit to the neighbourhood,” said MacIntyre, who was joined at the fire services committee meeting by fellow deputy chief Chris March and Michael Seth, the CBRM’s new director of fire and emergency services.

Trish O'Neill
Trish O'Neill

 

However, his point of view is not shared by all. On Monday, a group of about 30 people showed their opposition to the fire station location during a late afternoon demonstration in front of the civic centre in Sydney.

Rally organizer Trish O’Neill said she was happy with the turnout and the growing number of people who signed a petition opposing the new site. However, she wasn’t as pleased following Tuesday’s committee meeting.

“I think they’re making a mistake and in doing so they are ignoring public concerns – a councillor is even saying that,” said O’Neill, who sat through the two-hour meeting in the city hall council chamber.

District 8 councillor Amanda McDougall, a member of the fire services committee, said she believes the municipality is overly reactive when it should be more proactive in engaging the public.

“In this case, the community feels like it has not been part of the decision-making process – people may not be opposed to what’s happening, but they want to be part of the process,” said McDougall.

“At the end of the day, there are administrative folks, there is expertise in the room and there are elected officials who are tasked with making decisions, but that doesn’t mean we discount the opinion of the wider public when we make those decisions.”

The top brass of the Cape Breton Regional Fire Service was all ears during Tuesday’s meeting of the CBRM fire and emergency services committee meeting. In the lower row, from left, are deputy chiefs Chris March and Gilbert MacIntyre, while recently-appointed director of fire and emergency services Michael Seth sits above and behind his colleagues. DAVID JALA/CAPE BRETON POST
The top brass of the Cape Breton Regional Fire Service was all ears during Tuesday’s meeting of the CBRM fire and emergency services committee meeting. In the lower row, from left, are deputy chiefs Chris March and Gilbert MacIntyre, while recently-appointed director of fire and emergency services Michael Seth sits above and behind his colleagues. DAVID JALA/CAPE BRETON POST

However, Mayor Cecil Clarke agreed to disagree with McDougall.

“We engaged with the stakeholders immediately affected,” said Clarke, who noted that discussions were first held with the Sydney Downtown Development Association, the non-profit group that leases the site and derives revenue from parking fees.

“And in terms of consultation, we made sure that the actual people who respond to the fires and the calls were part of the consultation process.

“This is an emergency service, an essential service, and its location has to be dealt with professionally and operationally to meet the needs of the service while at the same time being respectful of the location and the neighbourhood.”

Clarke said a proposed, but yet-to-be-developed downtown parking strategy will address the downtown businesses and venues such as the Highland Arts Theatre.

A timeline on the construction of the fire station and adjoining hall has yet to be established. However, the new facility must be completed before the present station, located on the south end of the Esplanade, is torn down to make way for the relocated Nova Scotia Community College campus.

Meanwhile, CBRM officials have confirmed they are interested in moving into at least a part of the NSCC’s Marconi Campus that is situated beside Cape Breton University.

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