Concerned Citizens of Alma worried meeting attendance limits will mute message

ALMA – Members of a citizens group opposing a proposed underground propane distribution facility here are concerned limits on attendance at indoor gatherings will impact their ability to get their point across to Mapleton council.

A delegation from Concerned Citizens of Alma (CCA) is planning to make a presentation on a proposed zoning amendment that would permit the facility on Core Fuels’ Alma property at the Sept. 8 Mapleton council meeting.

CCA has encouraged members of the community to attend the meeting, which will be held at the Alma Community Centre at 7pm.

Due to provincial COVID-19 pandemic restrictions the total attendance at the meeting will be limited to 50 people, including councillors, staff, media and members of the delegation

CCA spokesperson Amanda Reid told the Advertiser in a Sept. 1 telephone interview the group is anticipating 50 to 100 or more community members will attend the meeting.

She said the township has advised her “they will turn away” anyone arriving after the capacity limit has been reached.

“So they are going to have over 80 residents who will, in turn, be upset about not being able to come into a meeting where a possible large decision will be made that will affect us all in Alma,” Reid wrote in an email.

The CCA suggested setting up speakers in an outside area, moving the meeting outdoors or livestreaming it to allow for further public participation, said Reid.

However township officials, including Mayor Gregg Davidson, who called Reid personally, have advised her they won’t be taking any additional measures to facilitate larger attendance on Sept. 8.

“They said they would allow us – allow us – to Facebook Live it,” said Reid, who noted, “Not everybody’s on Facebook.

“I think that’s going to look very poor, especially to people who feel like they haven’t been listened to anyway.”

Davidson told the Advertiser the township has made efforts to accommodate Alma citizens, including moving the meeting to a local hall.

“We’ve actually decided to have the council meeting at the Alma Community Centre so that Alma community members will have an easier opportunity to come to the council meeting,” the mayor stated.

Davidson also noted the township hosted a Coffee with Council session in Alma on Aug. 5, with Core Fuels representatives on hand to answer questions from local citizens.

“Normally we wouldn’t allow for livestreaming but I’ve advised the [CCA] that, for those members that cannot physically get into the facility because there is a capacity of 50 according to provincial guidelines … that they can livestream that portion on the agenda that concerns the Core Fuels application.”

Asked if the council had the authority to prevent livestreaming at a public council meeting, Davidson was not sure.

“I’d have to check out our bylaws,” he said. “I guess allow is likely not the right word. We just gave them the opportunity as a suggestion; ‘You can livestream it.’”

While noting “there is a lot of interest from the community,” Davidson stressed, “We are stuck with provincial guidelines of only 50 allowed into the centre.”

On the idea of moving the meeting outdoors, Davidson said, “It’s impractical.

“We don’t know what the weather’s going to be like and we’re not going to purchase tents for an unknown – we don’t know how many people are going to show up – when we have a perfectly good hall to be inside of.

“We’re trying our best to make sure that Alma community members are heard. We postponed having this … come to council.

“It was supposed to come to council in August … but we postponed it to September to allow more members of the community to respond.”

The zoning amendment council is considering would allow Core Fuels to add a provision for “bulk fuel storage” to the site-specific highway commercial zoning of a property at 6976 Wellington Road 7. Bulk fuel depots are currently only permitted in a general industrial (M1) zone.

The 9.05 acre site currently contains a 4,800 square foot office building. The applicant also owns the neighbouring site at 6974 Wellington Road 7, which has a Fast Stop gas refuelling station for public use.

Core Fuels is proposing to add four 226,800 litre underground propane tanks to the site for the storage and distribution of propane and to relocate their bulk storage operations to the Alma site. Two tanks are proposed in the initial development.