Friday, July 14, 2006

Letter to City Council regarding Centennial Capital Initiative for December 7, 2005, Special Meeting

December 5, 2005

His Worship the Mayor
And Members of City Council
City Hall
Saskatoon, SK
S7K 0J5

Dear Mayor Atchison and Members of Council:

Re: Centennial Capital Initiative (December 7, 2005 Special City Council Meeting)

“We will most likely never realize the full importance of painting the Tower, that it is the essential element in the conservation of metal works and the more meticulous the paint job, the longer the Tower shall endure.”

Gustave Eiffel
From his book “The 300-Meter Tower” (1900)

The Eiffel Tower was built for the International Exhibition of Paris of 1889 commemorating the centenary of the French Revolution. The construction work began in January 1887 and was finished on March 31, 1889. The Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII of England, opened the tower. Of the 700 proposals submitted in a design competition, Gustave Eiffel's was unanimously chosen.

The official website ( says: ‘Being made of iron, the Tower has been protected from oxidation by several layers of paint, which ensure that it will last for ever.’ It states further that: ‘The Tower has been repainted seventeen times since it was built, an average of once every seven years,’ and that, ‘The 18th coat of paint was begun in December 2001 and was completed in June 2003.’

The steel truss Victoria Bridge in Saskatoon opened in 1907. Oddly, no one seems to know how many times it has been painted. The City has stated that the last time painting took place was in 1979. Perhaps this is the only time painting of any significance has been done. For the sake of argument, had the City followed a schedule similar to that of the Eiffel Tower the Victoria Bridge would have been painted 14 times by now and, as evidenced by The Tower, likely still in service as a functioning historic landmark. One only needs to look at The Tower as proof that painting is crucial to structures vulnerable to the elements. StarPhoenix business columnist Murray Lyons, in his November 18, 2005 article ‘In river city bridges always current event’, put it nicely by saying, ‘You never see stories about the rusting out of the Eiffel Tower, as Paris has preserved its famous landmark by painting it.’

Steel is a metal alloy whose major component is iron, with carbon being the primary alloying material. Iron and steel, the most commonly used metals, corrode in most outdoor atmospheres.

At the November 28, 2005 City Council meeting some councillors and administrators took exception to remarks from the public that the Victoria Bridge has been ‘seriously neglected’. This seems preposterous given what the bridge looks like today and from observations made during inspections by independent consultants Earth Tech Canada Inc. and Stantec Consulting Ltd. Their final reports show just how vital a role painting plays in a steel structure like the Victoria Bridge, and what the outcome is when it’s not done. Neglect may be an understatement.

Earth Tech’s October 2002 inspection showed:

Page 1-1: ‘…severe corrosion on most members at or below the deck level continues due to exposure of the unprotected steel to moisture from the deck.’

Page 3-1: ‘The majority of exposed members below the deck level have little or no remaining coating and thus no protection.’

Page 3-3: ‘The absence of suitable drainage on and around the bridge has resulted in accelerated deterioration of some structural steel and concrete elements of the structure, particularly where dirt and debris has been trapped.’

It is interesting to note that a review meeting took place between the City and Earth Tech on November 12, 2002.

Stantec’s October 2005 inspection noted:

Page 3.1: ‘The inspection results revealed that in general the truss steel members at a level above 1.5 metres from the roadway elevation are in fair condition considering the age of the structure. However, the protective paint system is badly deteriorated and corrosion is occurring but a significantly slower rate than the steel members below the 1.5 metre mark. Deterioration of elements below the 1.5 metre mark is severe and is especially noticeable where salt, sand and moisture have accumulated on horizontal surfaces such as the bottom truss chord and any horizontal bracing connection plates.’

Page 3.2: ‘Comparing these inspection results with the previous inspection reports reveals a significant increase in observed deterioration over the last ten years. This deterioration is consistent with a structure of this age with limited structural steel maintenance such as coating upgrades and/or steel repairs.’

Despite decades of neglect, it appears that rehabilitation of the bridge is still possible. Page 3.6 of the Stantec report states: ‘The main issue faced by this scenario (Option 2 – Upgrade Superstructure to Like New) is that re-coating the latticed structural elements will not be 100% successful due to the pack rust and configuration of the elements being restored. Therefore, it is expected that the service life of the structure will not extend beyond 20 years at which time additional re-coating and/or structural upgrades to the truss elements will be required.’ Page 3.9 states, ‘Based on the estimated costs and the assumptions identified the lowest life cycle cost appear to be Option 2. However, we understand that the City plans to replace the existing bridge structure in 2006, therefore, Option 1 will then provide the least life cycle cost solution.’ It appears Stantec’s report was written with the knowledge that the City was planning to replace the bridge so it seems rehabilitation or restoration was not an option. Like River Landing it seems the process was pre-determined.

In its November 15, 2005 ‘Draft Centennial Funding Proposal’ the City goes to great lengths to illustrate the historical and heritage importance of the Victoria Bridge to Saskatoon. However, rather than rehabilitate or restore the bridge, which may be more suitable with the federal guidelines of a heritage or cultural legacy project, the City wants to replace it. It seems the City’s decision has more to do with the panic of losing a traffic and pedestrian bridge at that location than it does about celebrating history or heritage. I feel its plan is essentially an infrastructure project wrapped-up in colourful language about culture and history. It appears all the City wants is a new bridge to compliment its costly and dubious River Landing development. If the City were truly serious about celebrating history it would consider restoring the Victoria Bridge – a true piece of heritage.

In its November 22, 2005 letter to City Council (attached), the Saskatoon Heritage Society, whose efforts I support, wrote, ‘A new bridge, even if it looked similar, would not have the heritage landmark value.’ StarPhoenix columnist Les MacPherson, in his November 5, 2005 column ‘Bringing down Victoria Bridge would be a travesty’, wrote ‘… the Victoria Bridge must be restored at whatever cost. History demands it. We could no more give up this bridge than Paris could scrap the Eiffel Tower.’ I feel both he and the heritage society are right.

Of the various centennial funding applicants identified so far I would support the proponents of Station 20 West and The Children's Discovery Museum on the Saskatchewan first, since they offer something new to Saskatoon, whereas all the others, in general, do not. I feel any remaining monies should perhaps go to the Western Development Museum and/or the Mendel Art Gallery.

At present it seems unclear how the federal government could provide any type of funding to Persephone Theatre if it is to be located on the Gathercole site. Consider the following:

Page one of the City’s April 13, 2004 Canada Strategic Infrastructure Fund program submission requesting federal funding for the A.L Cole site states: ‘In conjunction with this project, the City will be developing the adjacent land, called the Gathercole site, entirely at the City’s expense.’

In his April 14, 2004 cover letter to the federal government Mayor Don Atchison said:
‘In conjunction with this project, the City will be developing the adjacent land, called the Gathercole site, at our own expense.’

The November 1, 2004 memorandum signed by The Honourable John Godfrey states:
‘Further to this project, the City plans to develop, and finance, the adjacent land called the Gathercole site.’

On December 10, 2004 a ribbon joining ceremony involving the three levels of government was held at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market. Through a Freedom of Information request the federal government provided me with a document from that event called ‘Questions and Answers – Government of Canada’s contribution to the A.L. Cole Site restoration project.’

Question six states:
‘Will the federal government play a role in the development or funding of the Gathercole project adjacent to this site?’

The answer:
‘No, the Gathercole site development project will be funded entirely by the City of Saskatoon. The federal government is not a funding partner in the Gathercole project.’

There is no ambiguity in these statements. The message is consistent and very straightforward, that the development of the Gathercole site would be funded entirely by the City of Saskatoon. In fact, the federal government, in its Q & A document went so far as to emphasize that point by underlining the words ‘funded entirely’. If this arrangement were no longer in force then I would hope that both parties will exercise full disclosure and release all documents related to this and every aspect of River Landing so the public knows exactly what is going on. To date nothing meaningful has been released saying otherwise.

As for the Meewasin Valley Authority (MVA) its record of protecting the natural and built heritage in the South Downtown has been abysmal. The Gathercole Building, cited by Heritage Canada as the worst loss of heritage in Canada in 2004, was demolished without protest. The mature American elms on the site will likely disappear to make way for Remai Ventures’ spectacularly dull and needless hotel. Now the Victoria Bridge appears doomed which Meewasin has remained completely silent about. I am sure that Meewasin’s plans for expansion are important but as a taxpayer and citizen I feel there currently exist serious governance and policy issues hindering it from carrying out its mandate effectively. I feel these must be addressed first through using an independent party.

I am concerned with the City’s overall South Downtown process. Since October 2003 approximately 20 special closed-door Executive Committee meetings have been held, many dealing with River Landing. Despite numerous Freedom of Information requests the MVA, City, Province and Federal governments continue to withhold hundreds of pages of River Landing documents. Most recently the City denied access to the April 14, 2005 letter it sent to Western Economic Diversification Canada informing them that its choice for the $10-million centennial funding project was the River Landing Destination Complex. Why won’t the City disclose it? What is it hiding?

In his November 30, 2005 letter to me (attached) City Manager Phil Richards wrote, ‘City Council has decided that, rather than do temporary repairs, which will only delay the bridge’s inevitable loss, the Administration should proceed with the necessary steps to replace the bridge.’

On the contrary, City Council had decided nothing. Only sitting as the Executive Committee on November 21, 2005 was it resolved that, ‘a report be submitted to City Council, recommending that the Administration be instructed to submit a proposal to Western Economic Diversification with a financial request of $7.5M for the replacement of the Traffic Bridge and $2.5M for Persephone Theatre; and that the Administration prepare a report on alternate projects for submission to the Centennial Capital Initiative.’ No decisions were made at the November 28, 2005 Council meeting. Perhaps it was simply a poor choice of words by the City Manager but I feel his letter provides a startling look into how City Council functions. On many occasions the City has told the public that no final decisions can be made at the Executive Committee level, yet it does not appear that way. More and more business is being conducted behind closed doors, with final decisions by Council a mere formality. Take for example the December 5, 2005 Executive Committee meeting held in camera to discuss the bridge and federal centennial funding. Why all the secrecy?

When it comes to openness and transparency I feel the citizens of Saskatoon are being shortchanged.

Thank you for taking the time to receive my correspondence.


Joe Kuchta
Saskatoon, SK



Rob Greer, Acting Manager, Special Programs, Western Economic Diversification Canada
Ian E. Bennett, Deputy Minister, Finance
Andre Juneau, Deputy Minister, Infrastructure Canada
Honourable Lorne Calvert, Premier of Saskatchewan
Victoria Neufeldt, President, Saskatoon Heritage Society
Meewasin Valley Authority Board


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