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MURF risk assessment gets OK

In Orillia
Jan 30th, 2010

CITY COUNCIL: Ministry of the Environment approves remediation plan for brownfield site
The city has won a major victory in its struggle to build a multi-use recreation facility (MURF).
The Ministry of the Environment has approved the latest risk assessment, The Packet & Times has learned.
In a letter to the city Friday, the ministry confirmed it has accepted the risk assessment — the city’s third attempt.
A certificate of property use may be issued following a 45-day public comment period.
“It’s one of the most exciting things I’ve learned since being elected to council. It will benefit the entire community when it’s built,” said Coun. Ralph Cipolla, who commended the ministry for “making absolutely sure that the site is safe to use” and that “the citizens of Orillia were protected.”
Coun. Michael Fogarty said the ministry’s green light is good news overall.
“We know what we need to do to use the property. The question is what are we going to use that property for.”
Since the city started dreaming up a MURF plan about a decade ago, the recreation landscape has changed significantly, Fogarty said.
Construction on a $27-million twin-pad facility in West Ridge, beside the future Lakehead University campus on the former Horne farm, is already underway.
The West Orillia Sports Complex will boast two ice rinks, four soccer fields and four tennis courts, Fogarty noted.
Those facilities are all major components of the MURF, he said.
“Does the city need six ice rinks? Because if we build the MURF, that’s what we’re going to have.”
Fogarty, who has been a stalwart opponent of what he terms the city’s “open-wallet policy” for the MURF, says it’s time for a fresh needs assessment.
If the city builds something on the West Street South brownfield, it should be considerably scaled down, he said.
Cipolla also said it’s time to prioritize the needs, but noted the pool, gym and arena are must-haves.
“We have to really look at the budget and what we can afford to do at this time,” he said.
But that should be for the next council to decide, Fogarty added. “I don’t think this council has the moral authority to move forward on such a huge project, just before an election.”
Moving forward with a full-blown MURF would spell electoral suicide, Fogarty suggested.
“I would fear the wrath of the voter.”
Coun. Tim Lauer called the ministry’s approval “great news.”
“The bottom line is that we have 32 acres in the middle of town. We have an opportunity to locate a recreation centre of some sort there.”
Bound to be a big election issue in October, options for West Street South should be handled by the next council, Lauer said, echoing Fogarty: “In my opinion, it will be decided by the next council.”
Cipolla would like to see some $20 million pared off the budget, bringing it to the $45-million figure that was floated in 2003.
“I think it can be done for that,” he said, adding the city must make sure that “what we build will be used and that people can afford to use it.”
Now that the risk assessment has been approved, it’s also time to “go after the provincial and federal governments for funding,” Cipolla said.
The MURF has been a touchy topic among local residents, who have watched the price jump from a proposed $18.7 million in 2002 to the latest official tally of $63.4 million.
The city purchased the West Street South property from Molson for $1 in late 2002, but, before finalizing the deal, the city didn’t conduct an independent environmental study of the site, accepting instead the vendor’s assessment.
When the price peaked in early 2008, more than 200 citizens attended a town hall meeting organized by MURF critics and clearly expressed their opposition to the cost of the project.
Despite the many varying opinions about the project, Cipolla, who has maintained his support for the MURF since Day 1, is optimistic.
“Hopefully, the community will reunite behind this project and finally make it a reality that Orillia so richly deserves,” he said, referring to the ministry’s approval as “one of the most exciting things I’ve learned since being elected to council.”

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