Water infrastructure, arena upkeep top Shawville priorities since 2017

STEPHEN RICCIO
SHAWVILLE March. 10, 2021

EDITOR’S NOTE: Over the next several months, THE EQUITY will be reporting on the progress each municipality within the Pontiac has made since the last slate of municipal elections in 2017. This series aims to uncover and expand on what key accomplishments, challenges and notable events each community has dealt with over the past four years.

While the last four years have brought the town of Shawville its fair share of challenges, the municipality moved into 2021 having accomplished its key priorities from the 2017-2021 electoral term.
The major theme of those priorities was water, as Mayor Sandra Murray told THE EQUITY in 2017 prior to her re-election that the maintenance of water and sewage systems was goal number one. She also cited surface-level infrastructure and the upkeep of the Shawville Arena.
Over the last several years, the focus fell on projects that had been largely neglected in years past, mainly the installation of a new chlorination system and repairing the town’s water tower.
“Water is the most important thing in any town,” explained councillor Bill McCleary. “So [those were] the biggest things and previous councils had kind of put it off for many years, because it was expensive, and blah, blah, blah, etc. So we finally bit the bullet and used some of our gas tax money, and that was kind of the priority in this term.”
Murray said that it’s hard for the municipality to ever be able to afford some projects with how expensive water infrastructure costs are.
“We felt we couldn’t afford it but there comes a time where whether you can afford it or not you have to do it,” she said.
While the repairs over the past year contributed to a higher number of water service interruptions in town, councillor Keith Harris said it was essential in order to solve lingering issues.
Director General Crystal Webb said that the Gas Tax Fund and Quebec’s Contribution (TECQ), from 2019-2023, played a major role in the progress made since 2017.
According to Webb, Shawville spent $397,000 of municipal funds on projects in order to secure an additional $1,008,791 from the 2019-2023 TECQ program, which is made up of provincial and federal funds.
Of those funds, roughly $300,000 went to both the repairing of the water tower in 2020 and the first phase of the chlorination system installation in 2021. With work still to be done at the town springs, phase two of the chlorination system work should begin this year.
The municipality also recently spent $80,000 of the gas tax fund on building a booster pump house in the town’s west end to increase the pressure for those living in and around the Frank Finnigan Drive subdivision. According to Harris, who heads the committee for water, sewage and streets, the pump house and accompanying work should be completed in roughly two months. 
Harris said that the $15,000 purchase of a sewage system camera in 2019 would also pay dividends in the long run, as it eliminates the need for the town to hire anyone to investigate sewage blockages. 
Another area that received significant attention was the Shawville Arena, a town asset that Murray said is expensive, but essential.
“We have to have it, you cannot run a town without a rink,” she said.
Among the improvements made to the arena was the purchasing of a chiller system for the ice. McCleary, who chairs the town committee for the arena, said the system is necessary to avoid ammonia leaking from under the ice. The town also secured help from Will Armitage and the Flying Elbows hockey tournament to install new boards in the summer of 2020.
McCleary said that a grant went towards fixing up the player benches, while another grant will be going to the upcoming installation of proper flooring, which would replace the current setup of rubber mats.
“We’ve got a partial grant at the arena to put flooring in the lobby that will allow the kids to walk around with their skates on, should we ever get back to the point where we can use the arena,” he said.
While the town typically covers expenses of at least $60,000 on the arena each year, Webb said it is still too early to tell if the facility lost a greater amount of money with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing activities to be shut down throughout the winter. 
The arena was one of the many victims of the pandemic, along with the long list of businesses that had to either temporarily close or adjust their business model throughout the past 12 months.
While a select number of businesses were assisted by MRC grant funding in 2020, the town council decided that it had to do whatever it was able to do to assist with tax payments.
Webb said it was fantastic that the council ultimately agreed to allow for several months of grace, instead of the normal one to two weeks, as well as not charging interest and applying no penalty fee for late payments.
“I feel bad for the businesses, the small businesses, it’s tough,” Murray said.
She spoke of one local business owner who’s dealt with ongoing stress.
“She’s watching the news everyday, she’s afraid they’re going to close down again. She said if they close again, she doesn’t know what she’s going to do.”
McCleary said that the one upside to the pandemic might be the real estate boom throughout the region, which he thinks could be the cause of a slight population increase in Shawville.
“Housing prices have jumped big time because we do have reliable internet, we do have a hospital, we do have a pharmacy, we do have grocery stores,” he said. “So it attracts people now that they figured out that they can work from home.”
In regards to road infrastructure, Webb explained that the town oversaw paving of King Street, drainage patching on Maple Street and paving on Bristol Street. 
From 2017 to 2021, the municipality also paid $5,000 per year for a total of $25,000 to the Villa James Shaw project that remains in its preliminary phases. Another key decision was the purchase of a Battleshield firetruck for the Shawville-Clarendon Fire Department.
Despite the reality of directing the council’s focus almost solely on infrastructure and the unexpected impact of the pandemic on businesses, Murray remains grateful.
“We’re fortunate here that we have two schools, we’re fortunate that we have the hospital,” she said.
Aside from the by-election appointment of McCleary in 2018, the council and the DG remained constant throughout the four years, making for a competent and dedicated team, as Murray, Webb, McCleary and Harris all put it.
“We have good employees,” Murray added. “Out [of the office] and in.”
“Damnedest, right now we have the damnedest,” Harris agreed.

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