Central Manitoulin council delays agreement on e-bike charging stations

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CENTRAL MANITOULIN – A motion regarding Central Manitoulin’s participation in an Island-wide e-bike program failed to pass at the municipality’s property committee meeting and was re-submitted to the township’s October 14 council meeting by Councillor Derek Stephens. The motion reads, “given the $30,000 commitment that Manitoulin Island Cycling Advocates (MICA) has made to the e-bike project, that they approve the installation of the charging stations in two locations with a $3,000 cap on the municipal contribution to installation costs.” It was brought forward to the committee of the whole at the October 14 council meeting by Councillor Derek Stephens.

Mayor Richard Stephens questioned whether the procedural requirement for reconsideration that requires one of the councillors from the winning side of the vote to propose reconsideration applies to decisions made at committee. 

CAO Ruth Frawley noted that Councillor Stephens was within bounds to bring the motion to the council table, “as just a motion.”

Councillor Stephens put forward the argument that since MICA was putting forward a $130,000 project that would benefit the community with a $30,000 commitment and considering the municipal contribution would be capped at $3,000, it made sense to move forward with the project. He pointed out that the municipality’s building superintendent was in favour of the proposed locations, municipal staff were in agreement, the Discovery Board was in agreement with the location and also it did not make sense for council to micromanage the location themselves.

“Parking at Providence Bay is a different issue,” he said.

Mayor Stephens said that the property committee had sought to gain more information on the location from staff and that they were not shutting the door on the concept.

In fact, everyone who spoke on the motion prefaced their remarks by indicating support for the charging stations concept, but many voiced concerns on one of the proposed charging station locations.

Councillor Angela Johnston said that while she did not want the municipality to lose out on acquiring the charging stations, she had travelled to the proposed location and felt that locating the charging stations across the road on a grassy portion was more appropriate. She noted that she did not want to see decisions being made “piecemeal.”

Councillor Rose Diebolt agreed with Councillor Johnston. “Yes to charging stations,” she said, but questioned that the town was putting in the cement pads for the stations, and paying for the hydro. “Are we doing that for every business?” she asked.

Councillor Steve Shaffer said that he did not see a problem with the proposal and that, “like everyone else I support e-bikes; I think we are getting hung up on location.” He also pointed out that the location was okay with municipal staff adding, “I don’t think we should be putting up roadblocks.”

Mayor Stephens interjected that he felt the decision by the building superintendent was “rushed.”

Councillor Stephens rejoined that the building superintendent had indicated the proposed locations were the cheapest. 

“Cheapest isn’t always the best,” replied Mayor Stephens.

Councillor Dale Scott offered up that he owns an e-bike himself and would probably use the proposed charging stations himself, but added that he agreed with Councillor Johnston that the proposed location may not be the best place. He added that he did not think it would take long for reconsideration and that there was plenty of time to get the stations in place by May.

“A little bit of extra money won’t be that big a deal,” suggested Councillor Scott.

“The best place is a subjective opinion,” said Councillor Shaffer, reiterating the support of the building superintendent, Discovery Board, staff and MICA for the proposed locations.

When polled by Mayor Stephens for his opinion, Councillor Al Tribinevicius said “I need more time.”

Mayor Stephens then polled CAO Ruth Frawley for her opinion. “My feeling is that council is trying to micromanage staff,” she said. “It’s going off the rails.”

Councillor Scott suggested that elected officials should have input and that the parking issue in Providence Bay is “a significant issue,” adding that “we need to think about parking in the future.”

One of the concerns raised by councillors was the potential impact the stations could have on council’s future plans for the Discovery Centre and the impact the stations could have on parking.

Councillor Stephens reiterated that parking was a “totally separate issue” and that council should not be doing the work of staff. He noted that any new construction or revamp of the existing structure could incorporate the charging stations.

“That’s your opinion,” rejoined Mayor Stephens.

Councillor Scott said he did not believe they were micromanaging staff. “Staff will have the final decision,” he asserted.

In a recorded vote, Councillors Shaffer, Stephens and Tribinevicius were in support of entering the agreement with MICA, while Councillors Scott, Johnston, Diebolt and Mayor Stephens voted against the motion.

MICA spokesperson Maja Mielonen said she remained optimistic, given that nearly all councillors expressed support for the program. “We have six (Island) municipalities that have come on board,” she said. She noted that, while Central Manitoulin council could have input on the Providence Bay site, it was ultimately MICA who would decide if the e-bikes would be placed in the locations suggested by council. “If it is tucked in behind the arena out of sight, that would really defeat the purpose,” she said. “This is an Island-wide service.”

Ms. Mielonen said that the sites chosen by the town’s building superintendent, MICA and town staff was really the best. “It is at least three metres from the walkway to the bathrooms, to the changerooms. It doesn’t impact any of the existing parking. It has visibility, really, it is the ideal location. MICA would have to agree.”

Visibility is key to the program as the e-bike must be utilized if the program is going to pay for itself, she noted. As for electricity cost, only the need for an established service is key. “It costs about 10 cents to charge a 500-watt battery,” she said. “But if we had to pay for a new service, all that goes along with that, it probably wouldn’t be sustainable right now.”

Ms. Mielonen noted that with the other municipalities, the e-bike charging locations were chosen in consultation with staff.

In the end, however, Ms. Mielonen said that the program is moving forward well and is truly a good news story for the Island. “This will allow people to get out and explore the Island,” she said. The e-bike program is the culmination of two years of sustained effort and lobbying by MICA. “We are very excited to see this finally taking place,” she said. “It’s a very good thing.”

Council made no mention of the other location put forward for the e-bike charging stations, beside the Mindemoya arena.