Woohoo! The shovels are in the ground at last! Many of you will have noticed the thirteen new “noble” species trees planted along the waterfront in the past few weeks. These trees were the first wave of the actual “boots on the ground” work that should continue from now until March 31st, 2018. That’s the “end of fiscal year” date when the Department of Economic Development’s (DEC) funding for the Waterfront Project will vanish like Cinderella’s coach at midnight.

The members of the Wakefield Waterfront Project’s Steering Committee (PSC) read with some amusement in the Low Down’s October 25-31 edition about the “lull” we’d experienced over the summer in our efforts to get this refurbishment project happening for the community.  Lull?!? As lovely as a break might have been, rest assured the PSC volunteers have been going flat out since we came together in the fall of 2016, and even harder since the Project’s funds were liberated at the end of April 2017.  Many of you will recall last winter’s brouhaha over the municipality’s borrowing bills for the $379,000 in matching funds needed to access DEC’s $479,000 contribution (the balance of matching funds is coming from the CLD and hopefully, Tourism Outaouais). That was a near death experience for the Project.  While new and better borrowing bills were eventually approved unanimously by Council, DEC chose not release any funds to us until these new borrowing bills were officially signed by Quebec City – a long and protracted process complicated by a strike. We forged on with planning but were unable to sign any contracts for the studies and engineering work that were the necessary first steps until we knew the money was available.

Still, why has it taken so long to get shovels in the ground?

As recipients of Federal and municipal funding, the Project Steering Committee and Wakefield-La Pêche Chamber, are bound by some very specific rules regarding contracting that are designed to ensure fairness and transparency in the dispersal of public monies. Every component of the Project requires the development of a detailed Request for Proposal (RFP); each of these 25-30 page documents takes about 3 weeks to prepare, review, release and publicize; then there is another 3-4 week period to allow bidders to respond and the PSC to prepare an impartial evaluation grid, followed by another 2-3 weeks for adjudication of the bids and finally, the preparation and signing of the contract itself. We have managed 9 of these major RFP processes to date and still have a few more ahead and it all takes a great deal of time and effort. We’ve been told a Public Works department managing a project of this scale would normally schedule two years with a full time staff; because of the time limitations on the Canada 150 funding, we are a group of volunteers with full time jobs of our own trying hard to get it out the door in less than one.

And then there were the required environmental authorizations. Working beside a river triggers a bevy of provincial laws and regulations that require every aspect of the project be studied by engineers, biologists and soil experts to allow the Quebec Ministry of Environment to determine if the Project will have any impacts on the river or cause any contamination. This very laudable but complex two-step process has now been accomplished with the help of a qualified environmental engineering firm. Our first “L1” report numbered 800 pages; the final application that went in to the Ministry on October 17th was over 1000 pages. Whew! We were given a partial green light in early November to move forward on some aspects of the landscaping but champagne corks popped when we received our full authorization in record time on November 15th.  The project will be moving ahead fast from here on in, weather permitting, so look for new developments on a daily basis.

Other work now underway: community dock, boardwalk, train bridge decking and more!

There is still more action going on behind the scenes. We’ve held a contest for benches, picnic tables and bicycle rack designs and all these will be constructed by local artisans over the fall and winter.  The dock is on order and will be ready for the spring – you may even get a sneak preview if there is time to install the anchors this year before the river freezes. We’re in negotiations with the successful bidder on the Boardwalk contract – rest assured this can be constructed during the winter months – not ideal, but entirely possible. The critical go-ahead factor there will be a geotechnical study that will allow the engineers to determine how deep they will have to dig to install the pilings – a big variable in terms of costs. If we get good news there, we can move forward immediately with the final engineering plans and construction. You will also be seeing the paving of the parking lots and new decking on the train bridge– still sorting out some structural issues there – as well as renovations to the washrooms, the lookout in Geggie Park and other wooden features. It’s all finally happening!

The Chamber and particularly the Project Steering Committee are very grateful for the continued support and collaboration of DEC, the CLD, the Municipality, DM Design and the community in moving this project forward. We’ve greatly appreciated your faith and patience while we’ve ploughed our way through all the necessary planning, engineering, RFPs, authorizations and paperwork. I apologize in advance for any inconvenience that this current construction phase might impose – there will be a few days when traffic may be slowed along Riverside while they bring in materials or work with heavy equipment. It will be a nuisance, no question, but thankfully very temporary. We’re hoping the reward will be great!

Now if the snow will just hold off for a few more weeks…

Liane Benoit

Chair, Project Steering Committee

Wakefield Waterfront Revitalization Project (Canada 150)