Municipal officials fear the sculpture is too dangerous
Marina the Mermaid won’t be sitting on a rock in Minnehaha Bay, or in front of the boat launch – her fate remains in limbo while she remains stored in a municipal garage as discussions continue on where she might be safely displayed to the public. At its meeting on February 21st, WN Council was not convinced to have the large sculpture installed at one of the proposed municipal sites, fearing possible liability should the structure, which presents some sharp edges, cause any injury.
Two sculptures by artist Laval Bouchard, “Stella Sturgeon” and “Marina the Mermaid” were purchased by the Sturgeon Falls Beautification Committee in 2020 through private donations of over $9000, with the initial plan of having both mounted in the downtown core of Sturgeon Falls. Stella Sturgeon was installed in 2021 in the parking lot of Sturgeon Falls Marketplace along King Street, but Marina has been sitting in storage since her purchase because her wild hair and her scales are sharp, and municipal officials fear someone may cut themselves on her and put the town at risk of legal liability. That was the general consensus of both staff and council at the February 21st meeting.
Council was presented with two options by staff: to mount Marina at a location at the end of the trail above Minnehaha Bay, as recommended by an engineering consultant, or decline the request to install the sculpture at all. The cost to mount the sculpture on a high platform, safely out of reach, was estimated between $15,000 and $18,000.
Coun. Kris Rivard, chair of Community Services, felt the cost outweighed the benefit. “It will not be a piece of art that the public will be able to view easily due to the way the statue would have to be displayed to mitigate the health and safety concerns,” he opined.
Coun. Anne Tessier questioned why the option of mounting the sculpture at the boat launch, the site preferred by the Sturgeon Falls Beautification committee, was not being considered, noting the proposed site presented in the report had a problem of vandalism, whereas the boat launch site was under video surveillance. “The height of the pedestal will allow for people not to be able to touch the structure. Also, there could be a little fence around with signs to say Do Not Touch or Climb, so we’re doing our due diligence. And, when people are looking at the statue, they’ll be taking a step back, so they wouldn’t be touching any part of the structure. To me [the boat launch] would be the best location.”
CAO Jean-Pierre Barbeau said that both mounting options were considered by the consulting architect, and both came with a hefty price tag, which would eat into any budget set aside for Beautification. But, ultimately, he was more concerned with the risk than the cost. “The concerns I have personally with the mermaid, and you’ve all seen it today, is any physical contact with this could open us up to liability with respect to potential cuts with the hair… if anybody disagrees with that, well, that’s all well and good, but anybody that I’ve shown it to, we’ve all had that concern… Our standards are probably a little bit higher than the Facebook crowd in that we have to make sure that our public is protected from that kind of liability… Municipalities get sued a lot… and if we’re not going to be following advice and information from our experts, we run a risk of not having that liability covered under our [insurance for] general damages.”
He added that the original concept was to have Marina mounted at the municipal fountain, but that was not feasible and Minnehaha Bay became the next option. He called it a political decision belonging to council, that administration was there “to provide advice as to what our recommendation is”, with that recommendation being to decline having the statue on municipal property at all.
Coun. Tessier twice asked if the consulting engineer provided reasons against the boat launch area, and was eventually told by Community Services Manager Stephan Poulin, “He did not. He provided us with his preferred location …What the consultant looked at in making his decision, he did consider public safety, vandalism, location, access for public viewing and overall aesthetics. … He clearly articulates why exactly he selected that site as his preferred. Council could decide to go with the consultant’s recommendation or not.”
Meanwhile there were about 15 people in the audience who were interested in Marina the Mermaid’s fate, some of them who contributed financially to her purchase as a way to beautify the town. One was heard to mutter under his breath, “This is a bull***t report.” Council members wanted to make it clear they appreciated the volunteer efforts of the Beautification committee and made it a point to laud the group and its work, though that did not allay their concerns.
“They’re doing a great job. Everything that they’ve contributed has been fantastic. What I’d like to see moving forward, and this isn’t a criticism… is just to have a little bit more communication, a little bit more dialogue with council or staff, or both, whichever it can be… I see the enthusiasm, I see the purchase that was made and that’s great. It’s a beautiful piece …but I have concerns with it as well in terms of the safety of it,” expressed councillor Jamie Restoule. He suggested that better dialogue on a suitable location would have kept Marina out of storage for two years. “It’s a very dangerous piece of art if it is somewhere that can be accessed by anybody… I put my hands on the scales and almost cut my fingers, and that’s just me touching it. I would never want …a young child in shorts to maybe sit on the mermaid… because, almost guaranteed, they’re going to come out of there with cuts on [their] legs. For sure it’s a liability piece in that perspective.”