Where’s Warwick’s natural gas?

207
Jackie Rombouts speaking during the all-candidates meeting in Watford Oct. 5.

Nancy Mastronardi wants to know what happened to the plans for natural gas in Warwick Village.

The woman, originally from Strathroy, was excited to learn in 2018 the provincial government had a plan to bring a natural gas line into the village. It was part of a $243 million investment by the province for projects which, on their own, would not be feasible for Enbridge to complete.

Then Infrastructure Minister, and Lambton-Kent MPP, Monte McNaughton, made the announcement about the program, with the agriculture minister, at a farm on the outskirts of Warwick Village.

But the Warwick project has been passed over twice in the provincial program.
Mastronardi wants to know why. And – during the all-candidates night Oct. 5 – she wanted to know what those running for Warwick Township Council – who were proclaiming the township’s low tax rate – are going to do about it.

“I have a $4,000 propane bill so the low tax doesn’t hold water,” Mastronardi said while holding a petition she’s started hoping to bring natural gas to Warwick.

“I thought about starting a business in Warwick; I’m not thinking about that now.” She’d hoped to start a farmers’ market.

“I see a lot of development happening in Watford, not in Warwick and were not helping our farmers.”

Mayoral candidate Jackie Rombouts said she’d met with Mastronardi and urged the room to support the project through a petition. But Mastronardi was quick to point out the petition wasn’t about politics and it was her idea, not the incumbent mayor’s.

All candidates agreed with the resident that it was unusual for a minister to come to a community touting a new program and then the community to be left out in the cold when the funding was announced.

Rombouts says council has raised the issue with the province a number of times, including at meetings in August. She and council candidate Jerry Westgate attributed the move to politics.

“Politics being what it is, the money got moved to the north, they wanted to focus on the north,” says Westgate.

Mayoral candidate Todd Case, who served as the township’s mayor before Rombouts, said Warwick officials had been working for some time to get a natural gas investment in Warwick and they were “pretty sure we had it” in 2018. “I thought it was a done deal.”

Case pledged to make it his top priority if he’s elected adding natural gas and third phase hydro is key to getting more economic development in the community.

The candidates also addressed what almost everyone agrees is the biggest issue facing the community – the expansion of the Twin Creeks Landfill. Case touted his experience with the first phase of the project and said that even if the municipality opposed the move it was likely “a done deal.” He said he would work to get the best deal possible for the community and said if the expansion were to move ahead, the landfill once again needed a full time employee from the Ministry of the Environment to monitor it.

Rombouts says council has been pressing the ministry for that for years.

Council candidate Bill Davies was blunt, saying “we can say no until we’re blue in the face, but we’re going to be overruled.

“I’m sorry. I hate it. The reality is it’s here,” he said. “The reality is we have to negotiate the best circumstances for the community.”

OFFICE LEASE QUESTIONED

At least one Warwick council member says they were told they couldn’t release the cost of the rent for the new municipal building to the public.

The issue came up at an all-candidates meeting in Centennial Hall Oct. 5. That same day, The Independent published some details of the deal which saw a new municipal office built on Nauvoo Road by Watford Investment Group. The township is leasing the building for over $13,000 a month. It can purchase the building four years into the 25 year lease. If it continues to lease the building for the full term, it will pay over $4 million in rent.

The council candidates were asked at the all-candidates meeting how much it is costing taxpayers. “Under the Municipal Act, cannot comment on a deal with a landlord,” Incumbent Councillor Wayne Morris told the crowd “I don’t know exactly, but we can’t comment… We were told in camera that it’s confidential. We weren’t allowed to say anything.”

Mayoral Candidate Todd Case asked Morris if he had seen the CAO had released the information to the newspaper and added, “It is the taxpayers’ money. Whatever happened to transparency?”

Jackie Rombouts, the current mayor who is running for re-election, didn’t directly address why the information had not been public until now but said the investment is a good one.

“The downtown looks amazing and beautiful” with the municipal office anchoring a new set of buildings. “It was a good thing for the downtown and for economic development.

Rombouts added she would like to see the township purchase the building after four years.