Council meets in River Valley, hears local concerns


Isabel Mosseler


West Nipissing Council took its meeting to River Valley on Oct. 17, welcoming about 15 residents who were invited to ask questions and make comments after the short regular agenda was concluded. The exchange between citizens and council, which could have been contentious, remained restrained and courteous. The main issue brought forward was a desire for a more prominent police presence in the community, and wanting to know how complaints are dealt with. The community has experienced a rash of thefts, and a recent investigation led to the OPP seizing a large quantity of stolen goods from a local property. Several citizens wanted to know how they could cooperate with the police in investigations, but wanted assurance that their identities would not be revealed. 

The first two residents to speak were former town councillors Guilles Tessier and Roland Larabie, who both commended the current council for their harmonious approach to deliberations. Rolly Larabie also raised the question, “At the last meeting there was a submission that was put forward by the Golden Age Club here in River Valley to have some support. (…) This was built by residents, the old timers (…) A lot of them are passed away and there was a lot of community pride in this building and having a partnership with the municipality would be great. We’re not looking to have you take it over, it’s still going to be a building that’s going to be owned by the club itself (…) I’m just hopeful that you guys do agree to help us because we do need help. It was getting hard by people passing away. It’s harder to get volunteers, so if we could get the help that would guarantee us having this hall here for the next generation to keep going.”

Mayor Kathleen Thorne Rochon said she was happy to see the request come forward and the model under which the hall is run gives a sense of community ownership. “I was very happy to see that the Golden Age Club had put forward an application to the New Horizons for a seniors’ program because with any type of facility like this, it’s really important to try to leverage federal and provincial dollars when they’re available (…) We will be seriously looking at that request at budget time.” CAO Jay Barbeau also mentioned how the club engages with other local groups, such as the River Valley Fire Fighters, adding that the community has a lot of energy that “just needs to be fostered”. 

One resident noted that since the pandemic, there are more people, more children, new people, and the potential for River Valley is good. Another resident asked how often the bylaw officer goes to River Valley. Barbeau answered that the visits are based on a response to complaints. He responded, “I understand that there’s some issues in River Valley and I can tell you that there’s an active file with multiple agencies here in River Valley (…)  I have a meeting with the detachment commander of the OPP.” He introduced the Chair of the WN Police Services Board, Coun. Dan Gagné, and Fire Chief Frank Loeffen as director of Emergency Services. “We are actively pursuing issues here. I know that we’ve been running into some issues with our local landfill here.” 

The resident asked if they should keep complaining and was told yes – he was advised that status reports on active files remain confidential by law, but the complaint could at least be acknowledged.  “Once it’s been put into the system, we can’t really give you updates in detail as to where we are in enforcement. There are privacy issues and so it’s frustrating… but there is movement,” said Barbeau, adding that people can call him directly if they are not getting an answer. Residents were advised that the service request system is data driven, and calling in is helpful.

Barbeau explained different agencies can work on a file concurrently, but the town isn’t always privy to all information due to confidentiality issues. For example, if OPP is involved in a complaint, they will not share information while investigating. Fire Chief Frank Loeffen responded regarding by-law enforcement. “When he receives complaints or requests, he responds to me immediately. I do know he’s up in this area often enough. He doesn’t have a big flashy vehicle or anything like that, it is pretty low profile because of the nature of the work that he’s doing, but he does follow up (…) We do have to watch for privacy, breach of information. The question was asked if complaints or the complainant’s name is provided – it is not.” 

Rolly Larabie commended the OPP for the inroads made in drug trafficking, but asked, “Could we see more community policing?  (…) If we could maybe have once a year, whatever, the OPP come and hear the concerns of the people, that would reassure the community.” Barbeau responded, “If we get a service request or something like that and you bring it on an agenda at Council to suggest and make a request to the [WN Police Services Board].” Coun. Dan Gagné responded as WNPSB Chair, “Currently we do not have an officer that represents our schools in this area, but someone is coming on board shortly. So, he will be around in our schools eventually. If there’s any questions, you can communicate …with us and we’ll follow up with the OPP, the Inspector.”

Gagné responded to concerns about noise and heavy traffic of transports in River Valley, saying these should also be reported to the WNPSB. “We have the equipment… we’ll be able to kind of monitor for a month and once the OPP has the statistics, they’ll have a better timeline of when they should actually come, and we’ll catch the people that are not following speed limits and not doing what they’re supposed to.”

Sturgeon Falls Court

Mayor Thorne Rochon put in a request to find out what is happening with court proceedings in West Nipissing. “In-person court appearances have resumed in North Bay. They have yet to resume here in the Sturgeon Falls location” Provincial Court used to be held at the Royal Canadian Legion on River Street pre-COVID. CAO Barbeau advised that he has been speaking to his counterparts about the issue. “We are going to be calling a meeting of the Provincial Offences Committee to discuss this and other issues…  With respect to the courts, they have not called the meeting. I guess North Bay has been in a bit of transition as well, but we will be pressuring them to call a meeting and I will be ensuring that this is a matter on the agenda.” Coun. Roch St-Louis commented, “I’ve been approached by individuals that have brought concerns in regard to being able to travel to North Bay to support family members that are in custody, or … being able to post bail.” He said that the court in North Bay has been trying to alleviate issues by allowing individuals to attend by telephone, but the docket starts at 9 a.m. and the hearing might not happen until 3 p.m. and attending by cell phone pay-as-you-go can get very expensive. He was happy to hear that Barbeau would be attending to the matter. 

Economic Development update

Director Stephan Poulin advised council of some of the current initiatives and funding applications staff are undertaking. “An application that has been submitted to the Green Municipal Fund… so that we can proceed with the phase two environmental site assessment at the old mill property to … undertake brownfield redevelopment … to develop that property… We’ve also submitted an application to FEDNOR to leverage more federal dollars to help us reduce our portion of this project… We’ve also submitted a detailed application to the CMHC Housing Accelerator Fund and… [if successful] that money will help us move some housing initiatives forward.” Another application made a year ago to the Clean Fuel Fund, if approved, would go towards a forestry biomass study for the region. Mayor Thorne Rochon advised that with the closure of Domtar in Espanola she was concerned the local forestry operators have a lot of waste, “So it’s even more important now… There is a lot of raw materials floating around in the market without anything to do with them,” and a biomass study is “a really prime opportunity for them.”

Seniors’ Christmas Supper is on!

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