Central council plans to consult rink users on its decision to only open Providence Bay arena


CENTRAL MANITOULIN – A delegation from the Mindemoya Thunder hockey team slammed Central Manitoulin council for making the decision to not open the J.H Burt Memorial Arena in Mindemoya for the 2020-2021 season without first consulting the user groups that would be impacted. The town was set to decide to only open the Providence Bay War Memorial Community Arena.

Mindemoya Thunder President Brian Phelps said the issue was of huge importance to his members. “My inbox has been flooded with emails after the news,” he said, pointing out that the organization he represents is the Mindemoya Thunder Minor Hockey Association, “not the Central Manitoulin or Providence Bay minor hockey association.”

“Keeping hockey going has been a challenge,” said Mr. Phelps. “Moving to a smaller venue does not make sense to us.” He went on to point out that the smaller arena will present many issues for the team members and their families, including less space between officials and players, while bathrooms and change rooms are closer together, unlike the Mindemoya facility, which has change rooms and bathrooms at opposite ends, which allows for the maximum distance between players and those attending the games.

All of these points and more would have been considered had the municipality consulted with the user groups before making their decision, he said. 

Mr. Phelps went on to hand back the words uttered by members of council during the OPP substation closure over the lack of promised consultation with the municipality.

“I was told that the Mindemoya Thunder was involved,” said Mr. Phelps, but he was not aware of any consultation. Mr. Phelps requested that the decision on not opening the Mindemoya arena be deferred until an opportunity for consultation could take place.

Council had previously (pre-COVID) assured hockey parents that the Mindemoya arena would open for the 2020-2021 season.

Mayor Richard Stephens then opened the floor for questions and discussion by councillors. 

Councillor Dale Scott said that Mr. Phelps had “raised some good points,” but went on to note that the hydro costs of the Mindemoya arena were twice those of the Providence Bay facility, that the ice surface of Providence Bay is 87 percent of the size of Mindemoya and that the new chiller was put in Providence Bay. “Right or wrong, that is where it was put,” he said, noting that the ice is easier to put in at that site as a result.

A new chiller was installed in Providence Bay following a previous debate at council when it was decided to seek funding for a new multi-use facility that would have replaced the Mindemoya arena. That funding application eventually fell through, leaving council with the decision on which arenas to open.

Councillor Scott agreed with Mr. Phelps that the lack of consultation was wrong and that council was indignant over the lack of consultation in the OPP matter. He went on to note that both Little Current and Gore Bay facilities were opening much later than normal and that the rush to make a decision was not necessary.

Councillor Steve Shaffer read a prepared statement as his commentary.

“Well here we are, if you are experiencing a deja vu moment that’s because we have been down this path before,” he said. “As most of you will recall, at about this same time last year, September 12 to be exact, this council had a meeting in which approximately 40 ratepayers attended to express their concerns regarding the planned closure of the Mindemoya arena.”

“After public outcry council passed a motion to spend approximately $30,000 on repairs to the Mindemoya arena in order to make it safe and useable for the 2019/20 season. Additionally, council requested a snow load and west wall monitoring program be immediately implemented. After constant monitoring of the arena during the 2019/20 season, no adverse issues were identified in the operation of the arena that required additional action. 

“So here we are a year later, back at this same debate, one has to ask what has changed and why is this debate continually taking place. On March 12, in response to a letter from Mindemoya Minor Hockey, council passed the following motion ‘Shaffer and D. Stephens, that council directs staff to respond to Mindemoya Minor Hockey’s inquiry that the municipality fully intends, barring any unforeseen circumstance, for the Mindemoya Arena to be open for the coming hockey season (2020-2021) and that operations remain status quo.”

“Other than the obvious COVID-19 requirements, nothing has changed, there are no unforeseen circumstances. As of now, minor hockey will continue, albeit with some modifications and new safety measures in place. Mindemoya Minor Hockey ice rental requests for the 2020/21 season are similar to previous year’s request. 

“At a property committee meeting of September 8, a lengthy discussion was had regarding opening of arenas in a COVID-19 world. At that time Manitoulin Minor Hockey and Mindemoya Minor Hockey were just developing their plans for the upcoming season. Without those plans the committee chose not to make any recommendations at that time; further, it was determined that it wasn’t a pressing matter, in fact only 10 days’ notice was required in order to put ice in. 

“Hockey registration was still taking place and we would wait to see what Mindemoya Minor Hockey requirements would be. Now 14 days later, suddenly it is an urgent matter, this despite the fact that staff have indicated that ‘they continue to prepare as usual until council says otherwise.’

“Again, I ask what has changed that we need to consider closing the Mindemoya arena? Answer: nothing. In fact, last year’s successful operation of the arena proves it’s possible. Once again council is considering closing the Mindemoya arena without consultation, or input from its user groups. Have we not learned anything from the past? Not only did we not consult, we provided assurance that we would attempt to maintain the status quo. What this council needs is a plan going forward. We bought a $30,000 lottery ticket in hopes of having that plan, we didn’t win that lottery. We must now develop a plan B, which really should have been our plan A all along. Until that plan is developed, with timelines and community consultation, we must honour our previous commitment to our ratepayers and user groups. COVID aside, closing one of our most used buildings for no reason is not honouring our commitment to taxpayers and our youth. We need to listen to and consider the advice of those that rent our facilities; they are the subject matter experts on their needs, not us. They know what they want and we should make every reasonable attempt to provide that service to our ratepayers. I will not support a motion that for no apparent reason takes away opportunities for our youth within the municipality, especially in these times,” Councillor Shaffer concluded.

Councillor Derek Stephens noted that the decision to only open the Providence Bay arena was made in the interest of good husbandry of taxpayers’ dollars. He pointed out that the Providence Bay facility already has handicapped washrooms, modern dressing rooms and costs considerably less to run, utilizing only half of the hydro costs. He also noted that the Mindemoya arena remains a precarious gamble, with the potential for snow load causing the west wall to shift—which would entail the closure of the arena, possibly in the midst of the season.

Councillor Angela Johnston noted that not receiving the funding for a new multi-use facility does not change the need for a greater focus on recreational facilities in the community. She supported the closure of the Mindemoya arena as she felt only opening one arena was the wisest course of action and the Mindemoya arena could malfunction part way through the season. She also cited the added costs of operation and was ready to move forward with the decision.

Councillor Al Tribinevicius said that he was disappointed that the municipality did not succeed in its funding application, but he said he felt the fact that the ice surface in Providence Bay was only 13 percent smaller was not a major concern.

Councillor Rose Diebolt said that the council needed a solid idea on how they would repair the Mindemoya facility, but that the Providence Bay arena should be the one to open for this year.

Mayor Stevens provided a short recap of what had been said so far in the debate and indicated that the municipality had not communicated the issues well. He was not adverse to holding a public meeting where the information used by council to come to their decision could be shared widely.

Councillor Stevens noted that he had pushed for the $500,000 that council had earmarked for the new facility to remain in the capital reserve rather than put back into general coffers so that the needed repairs and upgrades could take place. He noted that it is the taxpayers who wind up having to pay the bills.

In a recorded vote on the motion to only open the Providence Bay arena, Councillors Dale, Shaffer, Diebolt, Tribinevicius and Mayor Stephens either voted against the motion outright or indicated a wish for a deferral. Councillors Stevens and Farquhar voted in favour.

Mayor Stephens took the result as a call for a public consultation.

A public meeting will be held through video conferencing tonight, September 30 at 7 pm. Those seeking to attend the meeting should call or email the municipality no later than 4 pm on September 30 to be invited to the meeting.

Be prepared to provide your full name, whether you are an observer or speaker and how you will be attending, such as by computer/device with video and/or audio; with a combination of computer video with telephone; or by telephone only.