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No course of action over separate Howson Dam groups, council says

Wingham’s Howson Bridge and Dam, showing its age and state of disrepair, is the centre of an ongoing debate for North Huron council as they face the options of removing the dam or repairing it. (Andrew Smith Photo)

WINGHAM – Concern over the direction of the Howson Bridge and Dam Committee was cause for some discussion at a recent North Huron council meeting, including the declaration of a vacant seat by council.

Councillor Chris Palmer spoke at the Jan. 13 meeting of council, expressing his concern over the apparent confusion in the community over the two separate groups discussing the future of the Howson Dam, with one group appointed by North Huron council (the Howson Bridge and Dam Committee) and another, the Howson Dam and Pond Community Committee, a separate group established by citizens. With both groups putting information out regarding the dam, Palmer said it could be misleading to the public.

“I’m a little concerned over the confusion, some people think that the other one is pulling the reigns,” he said. “Can you ask the other committee to disband at least temporarily while this is going on?”

Coun. Kevin Falconer, chair of the Howson Bridge and Dam Committee, said residents are allowed to form any committee they like, and council has no authority over them.

“There is no direct connection between their committee and our committee of council,” Falconer said. “It’s no different than if it was a skating club or the boys scouts, they’re allowed to have whatever they want.”

However, Falconer did share Palmer’s concern over the possible confusion, including some circumstances where both Howson Dam interest groups cross over.

“That committee themselves has direct representation on our committee of council, for that purpose for them to have a voice,” Falconer said. “It’s unfortunate that they’re using the same content and trying to blur the lines between the two.”

Falconer noted that their voice is just one vote of six on the committee of council, and that they were brought on to the committee to generate a discussion.

“I don’t think it’s going to weigh unfairly on our committee, but I do share your restraints on that information,” Falconer said. “It’s social media, there’s not much we can do about it.”

Council also addressed the matter of a seat vacancy on the Howson Bridge and Dam Committee, with one member requesting a leave of absence last October until the end of March 2020. Clerk Carson Lamb said the Ontario Municipal Act allows the replacement of a committee member if three consecutive months of meetings have been missed, with the next committee meeting scheduled for Jan. 22.

“Once the committee member is absent from that meeting, the seat will be declared vacant,” Lamb said. “Because the Howson Bridge and Dam Committee is a committee of council, council is responsible for determining the composition.”

The options presented to council included filling the vacant position, or wait until April, at which point the committee member would be allowed to participate in full. The terms of reference for the committee only requires four members of the public plus the committee chair, and with six members currently, a replacement isn’t required.

“If council found it prudent to declare the seat vacant, they could without amending the terms of reference,” Lamb said. “The other option would be to appoint someone to fill the vacancy, however seeing as the committee only operates until June, it wouldn’t make sense to appoint a new member.”

Palmer questioned how the loss of one member would affect the committee, with Falconer saying it was the choice of the committee to grant a leave of absence.

“The unfortunate part of him coming back in April is I’m hoping to have decisions narrowed down to a recommendation by that point,” Falconer said. “I really don’t know how it would affect our committee, that’s to be determined.”

Deputy Reeve Trevor Seip also spoke in support for granting a leave of absence, and that the member is still free to stay up to date with the committee through news and online videos, and he’s free to return if he feels it’s important.

“Just because you’ve declared him a leave of absence, it doesn’t mean he can’t attend those meetings,” Seip said. “If we don’t allow this leave of absence, the seat becomes vacant, period.”

Council approved the leave of absence for the committee member, choosing not to fill the vacant seat.