Harbour Grace’s water meter plan for seafood companies is back on track

By Craig Westcott/February 24, 2023

Harbour Grace council is pushing ahead with plans to start charging the local Harbour Authority for the use of Town water after all.

Council voted in late January to install a water meter at the Harbour Authority premises later this year when a multi-million dollar upgrade to the fish landing facilities is completed and to charge the organization $2.50 per 1,000 gallons for the use of town water.

However, when newly elected councillor Terry Barnes, who was absent for that meeting, objected to the increase when he returned to council in February and appeared to convince his colleagues to rethink the idea, the plan appeared to be in doubt. That’s despite the fact Barnes was in a potential conflict-of-interest by even discussing the policy given that he works for a seafood company that is a major player on the wharf.

But as of this past Monday’s latest council meeting, the plan to charge Harbour Grace’s largest water uses for the privilege of having the service appears to be back on track.

This time the discussion about the water meter policy began with Mayor Don Coombs asking Barnes to leave the chamber.

Coombs then brought the rest of council, and the 41 people watching the council broadcast over the internet, up to date on the latest development. Coombs said he, along with finance committee chairman Gordon Stone, and Town Manager Amy Dwyer recently with the Harbour Authority’s chairman Ross Greene and executive directory Peggy Hearn.

“I must say it was a very, very productive meeting,” Coombs said. “Mr. Green is a very respectful individual and we had great dialogue. And for the councillors who are tuned in, we are moving ahead with the project as directed.”

Coombs thanked Dwyer for a suggestion to resolve the matter that he noted hadn’t been thought of before.

“We’re moving ahead as scheduled,” said the mayor. “We’re getting some information for the Harbour Authority, and overall, it was good, and I want to thank Mr. Green and Mrs. Hearn for coming in… So as an update to councillors it was a very productive meeting (and we’re) moving ahead as per the wishes of council after much discussion.”

With that, Barnes was invited back into the public council meeting.

In an interview later, Coombs said the fee of $2.50 per 1,000 gallons of water will stand. The suggestion Town Manager Dwyer made that he alluded to at the council meeting was that the Harbour Authority include the cost of installing the water meter in the $6.3 million upgrade the wharf is getting this year.

“So it (the cost of installation) might be costing nobody anything at the end of the day,” Coombs said.

The mayor admitted the seafood companies operating at the wharf are the biggest users of water in Harbour Grace, even though it’s mostly on a seasonal basis.

“Everybody has to pay for the use of water,” Coombs said. “Water is a very expensive thing…. What will happen is we’ll invoice the one invoice, and they’ll divide (it) accordingly and do it that way.”

Coombs said council had already decided during its budget planning last fall to start charging the Harbour Authority for water, which Barnes wasn’t aware of before being elected to council in a by-election on December 8. 

And Coombs’ view of whether Barnes broke conflict of interest rules?

“I spoke to him after, and under the new Code of Conduct and conflict of interest thing, he wasn’t up to date on the new one,” said the mayor. “So, what we did was we spoke to him and he understands now and that’s why he left the meeting the other night. The conflict of interest (policy) and the Code of Conduct now is so intense, and there’s no more government dealing with it, council deals with it. So, we had him do the conflict of interest course right off the bat (on Tuesday this week).”

Coombs and some other councillors and staff also took training this past week with visiting officials from the Department of Municipal Affairs.

Coombs added that when Barnes made the interjection, it was only his second meeting since being elected and returning to council after more than four years in which time there have been major changes. 

“I just spoke to him after about how you have to be extra careful and this and that, and he fully understood,” Coombs said. “So, we’ve moved on.”

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