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Neskantaga First Nation orders Kingdom Construction workers to ‘leave the community immediately’





It’s been almost 25 years since residents in Neskantaga First Nation, about 450 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, Ont.,  have had access to safe, clean drinking water straight from their taps and it could be months yet before the country’s longest unbroken boil water advisory is lifted.

Chief Wayne Moonias said Wednesday the community has decided to cease all operations on the new water treatment plant and has ordered workers and officials from Kingdom Construction Limited (KCL) to “leave the community immediately.”

“We basically terminated the contract with Kingdom and that’s basically all I can say at this time,” Moonias told CBC News Wednesday. “It’s relating to our water treatment project that’s been ongoing for the last few years or so.”

The federal government stated in December 2015 that the community would get a new treatment plant by May 2018.  However, after several construction delays and equipment failures, the new date of completion was set as March 2019. But a tour of the community’s new water treatment facility suggested the project is far from its promised completion date next month.

“We were supposed to complete this back in the spring of 2018 and it is already winter 2019,” Moonias said, while refraining from blaming Kingdom Construction Limited for the delay.

“The main issue right now is we want safe, clean drinking water in the community,”  he said.

Every classroom at the elementary school in Neskantaga First Nation had this public notice warning posted on their wall to remind children not to drink water straight from the tap. (Christina Jung / CBC)

While terminating the contract with KCL, Moonias also asked Indigenous Services Canada to decommission the temporary water filter system and supply the community with unlimited bottles of water.

Community ‘getting tired’ of temporary water system

The only safe clean water that residents in Neskantaga can access is from the temporary Reverse Osmosis (RO) Unit that’s located in a small wooden shack by the motel near Attawapiskat Lake.

Moonias said they have been using the temporary filter system for about 10 years now and people in the community “are getting tired of using the RO Unit.”

This is the community’s filtered water station. The operations and maintenance technician with Matawa Technical Services said the reverse osmosis unit, located inside this wooden shack, often has problems as it is temperature sensitive and not meant to be operating out in the cold. (Christina Jung / CBC)

The unit also hasn’t been the most reliable solution for the community.

“What we found with the RO Unit is that its very difficult to treat the water in Neskantaga,” Aaron Wesley, the community’s operations and maintenance technician from Matawa Technical Services, told a group of reporters, touring the community Wednesday.

He said “in the remote north a lot of the lakes have a high colour,” which meant that the community had to spend “a lot of money and resources” to try and “fix the membrane system.”

“So we went through trial and error trying to get it right … We pretty much developed our own type of system to upgrade the unit,” Wesley said, adding that problems still exist with the unit because it was “not meant to be operated out in the cold.”

‘Frequent’ visits from patients with rashes

The boil water advisory in Neskantaga was first imposed in 1995 and residents in the fly-in Ojibway community are still forced to boil their water before using it.

“When I started out, I did see patients being brought in for skin conditions like rashes, scabies and all that from the water,” Sharon Sakanee, the Nishnawbe Aski Nation health director explained.  “That happened frequently.”

She said she also has rashes from showering with the community’s unfiltered water.

“Just recently it started again, having all sorts of sores on my body,” Sakanee said, “and it’s very uncomfortable because you are just itching and itching and itching even throughout the night.”

This is what the tap water looks like in Neskantaga First Nation. (Christina Jung /CBC)

She, and many others in the community, also expressed how not having access to clean water for over two decades has negatively affected their mental health.

“Even when I travel, I don’t drink from the tap,” Sakanee explained. “I know for a few times when I checked into hotels, I’ve asked is the water safe and they would look at me like, of course it is.”

Sakanee said for her 25-year-old daughter, who has never had access to safe drinking water in her community, being able to turn on the tap and drink from it one day will be “something new” for her.


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Virtual farmer’s market comes to Ottawa





Ottawa first-ever virtual farmer’s market has begun delivering food from local farms straight to people’s homes.

Farm to Hand is making it easier for people who cannot access their local farmer’s markets to find local, fresh organic food by bringing ordered food right to their doors. 

“The difference between us and the farmers market is really just the convenience and the on-demandness,” Sean Mallia, the co-founder of the business, told CBC Radio’s In Town and Out.

“[Often times a] person wants to make the purchase but they don’t have the time on Saturdays to go to the farmers market. Everyone wants to eat local … so when it’s easy for them to do it, it just happens.” In Town and Out No time to drive to the farmer’s market but really want to eat local?

Connecting farmers with people 

The online platform allows farmers to list all their own products, and buyers can have the goods delivered. 

“What we really are trying to do is build that connection between farmer and consumer,” Mallia said. “When people fill up a cart … they’re not just filling a cart full of food, they’re filling a cart full of farmers and farms and their stories.”

Mallia said the aim is to connect people to the “vibrant food ecosystem” around them, and to local support farmers.

The virtual market is currently limited to the Ottawa area as a pilot project, but Mallia, 21, said the company is looking to expand.

“[We chose Ottawa because] Ottawa really cares. Ottawa really thinks about local [food] and thinks about sustainability,” he said. “It just made sense to come out of Ottawa.”

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Denley: Stonebridge and Mattamy show compromise is possible over development in Ottawa





In Ottawa, development proposals too often end up in acrimony and trips to the provincial planning tribunal. That’s why it’s so refreshing to see Mattamy Homes and residents of the south Nepean suburb of Stonebridge work together to resolve a dispute in a way that’s likely to lead to a victory for both sides.

A little over a year ago, Mattamy created an uproar in the golf course community when it announced a plan to build 158 new homes on golf course lands and alter the Stonebridge course to make it shorter and less attractive to golfers. To residents, it looked like the first step in a plan to turn most, or all, of the course into housing.

It’s easy to see why residents were upset. When people pay a premium for a lot backing onto a golf course, there is certainly an implication that the lot will continue to back onto a golf course, but without a legally binding guarantee, it’s no sure thing.

Mattamy’s situation was understandable, too. This is a tough time to be in the golf course business in Ottawa. There are too many courses and not enough golfers so it’s no surprise that golf course owners would find the idea of turning a course into a housing development to be attractive, doubly so when the golf course is owned by a development company.

This is a tough time to be in the golf course business in Ottawa. There are too many courses and not enough golfers so it’s no surprise that golf course owners would find the idea of turning a course into a housing development to be attractive.

In the face of the local opposition, Mattamy withdrew its development application. When things cooled down, the company, the neighbours and the city started to work together on finding a solution that would satisfy everyone.

With the city-sponsored help of veteran planning consultant Jack Stirling, they came up with an unusual idea that will still let Mattamy develop its desired number of homes, in exchange for a promise to operate the course for at least 10 years and redesign it so that it remains attractive to golfers.

At the end of the 10 years, Mattamy can sell the course to the community for $6 million. To raise the money, the community working group is proposing a special levy to be paid by Stonebridge homeowners starting in 2021. The amount will range from $175 a year to $475 a year, depending on property values.

If the deal is approved by a majority of homeowners, Mattamy gets its development and a way out of the money-losing golf business. Homeowners get certainty about no future development. They can choose to keep the course going or retain the 198 acres as green space. It’s not a cheap solution, but it keeps their community as it is and preserves property values.

If a majority of homeowners backs the deal, both the levy and redevelopment will still need to be approved by the city, something scheduled for late this fall.

Stonebridge Community Association president Jay McLean was part of the working group that prepared the proposal and he’s pleased with the outcome. The community’s number one goal was preserving green space, and the deal will accomplish that, he says. Mattamy division president Kevin O’Shea says the deal “gives the community the certainty they are looking for.”

As useful as this deal could be for Stonebridge residents, it doesn’t provide a template to resolve a somewhat similar dispute in Kanata North, where the owner of the Kanata Lakes golf course wants to work with a group of local developers to replace the course with housing. In Kanata, a longstanding legal agreement saying the community has to have 40 per cent open space strengthens residents’ situation. In Stonebridge, there was no legal impediment to developing the whole course.

Golf course communities have become an anachronism in a city intent on intensifying within the urban boundary. Redeveloping those lands for housing is in sync with the city’s planning goals, but it’s not politically saleable to homeowners who thought they had a deal. If it goes ahead, the Stonebridge plan shows there is a reasonable middle ground.

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City eyes five big themes for Ottawa’s new official plan





As Ottawa maps out its future for the next 25-plus years, city staff propose focusing on five major areas, including the places we live and the ways we move around the capital.

A staff report to the city’s planning committee lays out five themes for future public consultations, before city council finalizes the plan.

1. Growth Management: City staff say Ottawa should focus on building up, rather than out. Staff also suggest the city provide direction on the type of new housing developments, rather than focusing on the number of units in a development, to encourage a wider variety of housing types.

2. Mobility: Staff say the city should encourage active transportation — like walking and cycling — and transit use by better co-ordinating land use and transportation planning. The report also encourages designing streets to better accomodate pedestrians and cyclists, as well as improving connections to the O-Train and Transitway.

3.  Urban and Community Design: Because Ottawa is a major city and the nation’s capital, staff say the design of our city’s buildings and skyline should be a higher calibre to reflect that status. Staff also suggest the city provide high-level direction for better designed parks and public spaces.

4. Climate, Energy and Public Health: Staff say residents’ health must be foundational to the city’s new official plan, with policies contributing to creating more inclusive, walkable, and sustainable communities.

5. Economic Development: Because much of Ottawa’s employment is knowledge-based, the city suggests those employment spaces could be better integrated into neighbourhoods and along main streets and transit nodes, instead of being isolated in business parks. City staff also suggest the city encourage more business incubation and identify opportunities to increase local food production.

The city’s new official plan will map out the city’s growth to 2046. The five themes and the plan’s high-level policy direction will go before the city’s planning committee, next week.

Public consultation and fine-tuning is expected to happen before city council approves the final version of the new official plan in 2021.

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