Saturday, October 25, 2008

New Roads and Traffic Lights

One of the great things about living in Grand Bay-Westfield is the lack of stop lights. Think of it... we can drive all the way to Saint John and not encounter a single traffic light until we get into the city. For over 20 years I've driven to and from work and only had to contend with two lights on the trip. How many other places can claim that? Quispamsis is riddled with traffic lights. It's not a huge thing but I think the fact we're small enough not to need a light is a plus for a lot of people. I'm not saying that traffic isn't sometimes a problem because it is. Try turning left out of the liquor store on a Friday night. But so far we've managed without traffic controls and most people I think, like it that way.

I bring this up because the province and the town want to know how we feel about the new highway interchange planned for Grand Bay-Westfield. This is the same Highland Road interchange that's been talked about for years. The plan is to build ramps to allow access to and from Highway 7. The design also includes a new core collector road running back into the heart of town. The idea is for this two kilometre stretch of new road to link up with the main business area of town. Some of it would be zoned for commercial development so it would expand the commercial space available in town. Right now there isn't very much room for new businesses along the existing commercial strip on River Valley Drive.

This is an exciting development for Grand Bay-Westfield. Mayor Grace Losier said in a radio interview that this new road would open up over 400 acres in an area that has never seen any development. In addition to the potential for new business this will also allow for the building of new homes. Of course any time development is talked about some people become concerned about 'out of control' development. Most people living here would like to see more stores and services in the town but they aren't prepared to have the area turn into another Quispamsis. This is in no way meant to be taken as a slight toward the Kennebecasis Valley but it's clear the area has grown very quickly with a commercial zone that looks like that found in any other city. I think people in GBW want something different. They clearly want the small town atmosphere preserved. The mayor calls it sustainable growth and says people will have a say in that growth through the review of the municipal plan.

In the meantime you can have your say about the new interchange right now. Proposed project plans and a questionnaire about the project are available on the Department of Transportation's website at This information is also available at the municipal office, 609 River Valley Dr., Grand Bay-Westfield. Completed questionnaires should be sent to the attention of Mike Taylor by fax (506-453-6714) or by mail to Mike Taylor, Department of Transportation, Design Branch, P.O. Box 6000, Fredericton, N.B., E3B 5H1. Comments may also be e-mailed to

So bring on the new road and highway interchange and all the new housing and stores that might result from it. Just make sure it's done properly. And with another way to get on the highway and another road through town, traffic congestion should actually be lessened. I just hope they can do it all without installing a traffic light.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Super Highway

I can't begin to figure out how many thousands of kilometers I've driven on New Brunswick highways over the past twenty years but it's substantial. Like many people, much of our driving happens in the summer during vacation time. We've made a trip to Ontario almost every year since we've lived here. This summer was no exception. We probably put on over 4,000 km on this trip alone. About a third of the journey happens on New Brunswick highways, so I've gotten to know the road between Grand Bay-Westfield and Edmundston quite well over the years. The drive through New Brunswick always used to be the worst part of the trip, mainly because of the poor state of the two-lane Trans Canada Highway. Not anymore. Today the drive through our province is by far the best part of the journey.

This summer we decided to go through the States on our way to Ontario. As the crow flies, it's a shorter, more direct route through Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and upstate New York. Add to that the saving of almost 30 cents a litre for gas and traveling south of the border makes sense. If you've done the trip you know how pretty it is driving through New England too. But I had forgotten about the winding roads and the towns you hit every five miles. It may be scenic but it's a long, hard drive. After spending a full day motoring through the back roads of New England, we had had enough and the next day changed course and took the Interstate right to the Canadian Border in Niagara Falls. In many ways, driving through New Brunswick used to be like that, but again not anymore.

On the trip home this summer we followed our normal route through Canada and got our first taste of the fully completed, super highway through New Brunswick. The last 98 kilometres of the four-lane Trans-Canada in the province opened last fall. Now the entire 516 km stretch of highway from the Nova Scotia border to the Quebec border is a smooth, divided, four-lane highway. It's safer to drive and much faster. I bet we saved close to an hour on the drive down from Edmundston. Usually there isn't much to see along these super highways, just pavement, rocks and trees. But this road manages to retain some of the scenery of the St. John River Valley with vistas of rolling hills and glimpses of the river here and there. It's just a joy to ride on compared to the bumpy highways through much of Quebec.

This highway did not come cheap. It was built in chunks over the years with funding from both levels of government with a total cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Our premier says the new four-lane Trans-Canada is paving New Brunswick's way to a brighter, safer, self-sufficient future. But there are some concerns over the new road. The town of Hartland is complaining that the number of tourists visiting the longest covered bridge in the world is lower this summer because of a lack of proper signs on the new highway. That problem is being looked into.

The new highway also has long stretches of wildlife fencing on both sides of the road. That'll go a long way to improving safety, especially with a speed limit of 110 km per hour along the entire highway. You can't appreciate just how good this road is until you drive it.

Of course that thrill of traveling on a new highway ended abruptly when we took the Highway 7 exit to Saint John. Yes the road has been improved a lot over the last 20 years and crews are out right now putting up moose fencing, but it's no Trans-Canada. At least not yet. The Welsford bypass is going ahead and one day I'm sure the entire highway between the provinces largest city and new energy hub, and the capital city, will become a four lane super highway too. Until then enjoy the new Trans Canada and give credit to the province for making it a reality.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Living Off-Line

My trusty laptop has been unplugged from the internet for almost three weeks now. It's accompanied us on vacation to places where connectivity is limited or mostly non existent. At my father's house I was able to get on his wireless network and check email but that was weeks ago. Usually this column is written using the online version of Google Documents but right now I'm using the new offline feature that saves the file in the computer until you can connect to the internet again. We're at the family cottage on a lake in northern Ontario. We have a phone so I suppose I could order dial-up internet but it's not worth it for a few weeks in the summer. There is no high speed available unless you subscribe to the expensive satellite service. My neighbour tells me an over-the-air high speed service may soon cover this area but I don't know when that will happen. Even in the nearby town of Parry Sound, I can't get this laptop online. There are no internet cafes or a Starbucks with free wi-fi. The only way to get my internet fix is by visiting the library and using one of their computers.

The funny thing is we have better TV here in this cottage than we have at home. My brother-in-law who was here before us brought up his satellite receiver and he subscribes to almost every channel you can get, including movies. It's a far cry from the cottage life I remember as a kid. There wasn't a television here for the longest time and when we finally brought one up it could only pick up one grainy channel with the built in rabbit ears. Local radio also used to be limited in this part of Ontario. Now there are numerous FM stations that boom in here but when I was a kid and the radio dial was mostly AM, it was difficult pulling in any signals, especially during the day. But that all changed at night. The AM band came alive at night, especially here, far from any interference and I remember spending hours tuning the dial, listening to stations from all over North America. About the same time I discovered short wave radio and the world literally came to me through that little speaker. I think I developed my love of radio by spending many long nights scanning the bands here in this cottage.

But back to the present and the need for internet. I say that because these days I am almost always connected. When you think of it, most of us are. Aside from basic email, we get our news and weather online, we read newspapers and magazines, we watch videos and download podcasts and consume all types of content at the click of a keyboard. It's probably an addiction.

Three weeks without it now and I'm surviving. The truth is it's been a lot easier to ween myself off that digital lifeline than I expected. The usual course of cottage activities keeps one busy, everything from swimming, kayaking, fishing, playing horseshoes and visiting with family. Then there are the ongoing repairs and jobs that need to be done at every cottage. It's also a time to really dig into a book. I always get more reading done here than anywhere else. And yes the radio reception is still fantastic at night.

So I haven't missed the internet very much. It's actually been a nice break pulling the plug. Soon enough I'll once again be tethered to the online world so I should enjoy this short period of digital freedom. My only problem now is finding a way to email in this column.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Take the Bus or Scooter

"I have a limo that's 40-feet long". Go ahead... sing the rest of it. I know you know that jingle. I took the new Commuter Express Bus into the city the other day for the first time. It was the 8:40 morning run and there were six of us on the bus. I know it's summer but I expected a bigger crowd, especially considering the price we're paying for gas. First let me say I'm not going to lecture anyone because I don't use the Comex either. I know I should but I don't, unless I'm forced to. That morning one of the cars was in the garage and I had no other way of getting into the city. It's perfect if you don't have a car or if you're tired of filling the tank of your SUV or if you have to pay big bucks for parking. These circumstances don't apply to me so I'll probably continue driving my old, not so bad on gas consumption, Saturn to my free parking spot in town. But the Grand Bay-Westfield numbers don't look good.

During one week in June, 347 rides were counted from Grand Bay-Westfield to and from Saint John. That's way down compared to 1019 rides on the KV Express and 931 from Hampton. But all ridership on the Comex service is up over the last three months by about 25% and that's good news for Saint John Transit. But the skyrocketing gas price that is forcing people on the bus is also driving up operating costs for public transit. It's already $300,000 over budget for fuel this year and if this continues it could be half a million in the hole by Christmas. If that happens what options does Saint John Transit have? It doesn't want to do it but it could raise the bus fare. Right now at $3.00 a pop it's the best transportation deal going. Or maybe they'd look at all the routes and cut out the weakest one to save money, the one with the least passengers, the Grand Bay-Westfield Express. No one has said this or even hinted at it but given the amount of money involved you have to think it might be an option they'd look at. Like I said, I'm not preaching here because I'm guilty too of driving my car every day but I sure wish more of us would take the bus because in the long term we just can't afford to lose it.

Everywhere you look people are doing what they can to beat the high fuel prices. Gas-busting scooters are selling like hot cakes. I went over to see Mark Anderson and Wendy Spencer at Cruisers Custom Cycle in Martinon. They carry a line of made in China scooters that range from the 'no motorcycle license required' 49 cc model to the more powerful 150 cc. I took a little one for a test drive and found it fairly peppy and a whole lot of fun. They start at under $2000 and have a top speed of about 70 kph, great for running around town but not meant for the highway. A few dollars will fill the tank and keep you going for miles and miles. But these scooters are not toys. Even though you're allowed to operate the 49 cc model with just your regular drivers license you should still take a safety course. These are after all, low powered motorcycles that share the road with big trucks and you should know how to protect yourself.

People are even riding electric bicycles these days. I was kidding a friend of mine who has one because he also runs and does long distance cycling on a road bike. But I saw him half peddling-half letting the electric motor carry him along on this high tech looking bike and kidding aside, I liked it immediately. I haven't had a chance to try it yet but given the ever increasing price of gas, I'm sure I will soon.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

A Warm Summer Run

I had a topic for this column in mind but that all changed when I went for a run on a warm summer evening in July. It's funny how that happens sometimes. I knew what I wanted to write about but on that run I saw some things that reminded of other things and by the time I got back I started putting together a completely different piece.

It was actually the third evening in a row that I was out running and when I passed by the fields at River Valley Middle School they were packed with people as they had been the previous nights. What must have been about a hundred kids were on the field for soccer practice. Parents were either helping out or sitting on the sidelines watching. There was a lone runner using the track. The ball field next door was equally as busy with a girl's team playing and a men's softball team waiting for their turn. Cars were parked everywhere. Some had music playing. People were gathering in small groups and talking. It was a hive of activity and great to see. This is what an active community should look like.

As I continued on to the trail, I got thinking again about the track and how great an addition it is. Just a few days earlier Grand Bay-Westfield had been the site of another successful Canada Day Run with all the proceeds again going to support the new track. The event was different this year. The half marathon was replaced by a 10 Mile Race and the 10 km run was dropped. The feedback from all the participants was very positive but the number of runners was down this year by a little more than a hundred. The event went off without a hitch and everyone said it was well organized and a lot of fun, thanks in large part to the many sponsors, supporters and volunteers including the RCMP and the River Valley Community Centre. The organizers are looking at some changes for next year including a possible return of the popular 10 km event.

I'm on the Run committee and I know there was one big disappointment we all expressed. Again this year as in past years, the event seems to have been overlooked as a major Canada Day activity in town. It was never mentioned in a write up of Grand Bay-Westfield Canada Day events in the Saint John paper. And just before my run that evening I picked up a flyer from the town that had arrived in the mail that day thanking all the Canada Day volunteers, participants and sponsors who made possible a wonderful day of activities at Brundage Point but there wasn't a single mention of the Canada Day Run. It was signed by the Mayor and all of council. I know the town supports the event because it is a regular sponsor. This annual run has been raising money for charity and bringing a lot of people into the community every Canada Day for the last 7 years. Maybe if it was included in the promotion of events our numbers wouldn't have dipped this year. All the members of the committee are hoping we'll be included next year.

As I continued my run I got thinking about Brundage Point and the great facility it is. Just that morning I had been to the other new River Centre in our region in Hampton. It too is an attractive building, a little bigger than ours I think and just as important an asset to their community. They have meeting facilities and a boat launch site, much the same as we do but they have one attraction that we don't. Rafe Hooper and his local outfitting company 'Osprey Adventures' is operating in the lower level of the centre. He offers canoe and kayak rentals as well as guided tours of the Kennebecasis and Hampton Marsh. Rafe tells me he's been pretty busy since he opened about a month ago. I know the Kennebecasis River in Hampton is more suited for that kind of operation. The river is calm, protected and not prone to the tides, waves and current that we experience in Westfield. They also don't have a cable ferry to contend with when they launch their kayaks. But I think it would be a terrific addition to Brundage Point if somehow down the road we could figure out a way to offer a similar outfitting service here.

I went for a kayak paddle myself just a few days before my run that evening. The weather was perfect and I've never seen the River Centre or the river in general so busy with traffic. Boats were everywhere and people were busy in almost every cottage and camp along the shore. I was disappointed however to discover a new chain gate across the road to Westfield Wharf and the beach. I don't know why it was there and locked on one of the busiest days of the summer. For years kayakers like myself have been able to drive right to the waters edge to unload our boats and then park the car out of the way beyond the gate. It was easy for a number of kayakers to unload at the same time and launch from a sandy beach in protected water. Now it's a lot more difficult to do. I had to pull up to the locked gate, unload my kayak and carry it by myself through a narrow gap in the gate and all the way down to he water. With two people it might be OK, but if you're on your own it means a lot more work, if you're able to do it at all. The only other alternative is to put in at the boat launch on the other side of the ferry. But it's meant for power boats on trailers and it's all concrete, pavement and rocks, not the kind of surface that is kind to a wooden kayak like I have. If the locked chain across the gate remains, I'll have no choice but to launch by the government garage on the Nerepis River. I'm sure many other kayakers will do the same. I spoke to the town manager about the situation and was told the chain is there to prevent people from launching boats on the old ramp because it isn't safe anymore. The town wants everyone to use the new boat launch on the other side of the ferry. I can understand that. I was thanked for my call and told they would look at the situation. I hope something can be done because blocking off access to the water doesn't make any sense when you're trying to attract more people to the river centre.

As I continued my run that evening I witnessed an event that I knew I had to write about. It was one of the most ridiculous, dangerous and careless things I've seen in a long time. An ATV with two people on it was tearing along at high speed on the railway tracks. That's right.... on the tracks. From my vantage point it looked like the tires were right on the rails, if that's possible. Either way they were going fast. With helmets on and the engine noise, I suspect it would have been difficult or impossible to hear a train coming. And at that speed they could have easily slid off the rail or hit it and tumble down the embankment. From what I witnessed I think these two idiots are lucky to be alive. Kings County has already experienced five fatalities this summer in motor vehicle accidents. We don't want anymore.

Yes I did get worked up about a few things on this run but overall the positive outweighed the negative. I came home feeling pretty good about the community and especially good about this wonderful summer weather. And I'm ready for many more evening runs. Next time it's the column I didn't write this time.... about beating the high price of gas and taking the bus.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Tracks, Trails, Tourism and Taking out the Trash

The trail choppers are back at it again. First it was the railroad that cut and slashed trees by the side of the walking trail along River Valley Drive in Grand Bay-Westfield. Now NB Power is cutting down trees along the other side of the trail beside the road. They're clearing trees and branches from under the power line that runs along the side of the road. I know they have to do this. Tree limbs that touch or could easily fall on a line are a hazard. But like NB Southern on the other side, why are they so eager to cut down the trees? Why can't they selectively trim the offending branches around the wires as I've seen them do on many other streets? Has no one bothered to ask them to cut judiciously along that stretch of road because the trees form an important buffer for the trail? On some stretches the trees have been cleared right to the road. We might as well pave the trail and call it a sidewalk. At least the cutters are cleaning up after themselves. Crews are following behind with a wood chipper to grind up the branches. But there is still plenty of downed brush that has to be dealt with.

NB Southern left everything it cut lay by the tracks all winter. In the spring the railway said it was going to clean up the mess and it did, to a point. A clean up was done on the southern section of the trail, for which everyone who uses it is grateful, but there are still tree limbs and branches strewn by the side of the tracks at the north end.

I was talking to a friend of mine who lives in the city the other day. He told me about going to the landfill and asking if you could still drop off old paint. He was told yes you can do it every Saturday but come early to avoid the long lines of people from Grand Bay-Westfield dropping off their weekly trash. He asked why are they doing that... don't they have garbage pickup? My friend couldn't believe it when he was told there was no garbage pick up in the town. He was even more surprised when he found out he was being told this by the new deputy mayor. He asked me how a town this size that always looks so clean doesn't have its own garbage collection. I explained how I can go to the landfill in off peak hours and drop off my trash for just a few dollars. I did tell him however that with this setup it's sometimes difficult to compost on a regular basis. He left me shaking his head.

There was a big crowd at council the other night. An unusually large group of spectators showed up at the June 23 town council meeting. They came to hear a presentation by ADI Limited, a consulting firm reviewing our municipal plan. The parameters of the review and some of the process involved was explained to council and the public. Some people wanted to give their input right away but this wasn't the place. There will be a series of sessions where the public will have input into the plan. These will be scheduled early in the fall. It's good to see so many people are interested in having a say in the new plan.

As well a number of residents gathered at the Brundage Point River Centre to hear a presentation about tourism development in the area. Local resident Laurel Reid, a consultant in the tourism industry prepared a detailed report making about 20 recommendations on how to develop and implement a tourism plan. Again it was great to see so many people interested enough to come out on a beautiful, warm evening to hear the presentation. I think most people left the session excited about the tourism possibilities in Grand Bay-Westfield.

Finally I just want to say how wonderful it is to run on the new track at River Valley Middle School. I've sneaked on there a few times already, usually at the beginning and end of my regular run along the trail. I usually do a couple of laps which translates into half a mile. Even though I'm slow it makes me feel good to know the distance I've traveled. Our new track will feature prominently in the Canada Day 10 Mile and 5 km race. Local runners and walkers as well as visitors will be able to test out the track because it forms part of the race route. About the only time I'll stay off the track is when the field is being used for soccer practice. I don't mind the kids but it's the comments and stares from the soccer moms who are sitting in chairs by the side of the track, that I want to avoid.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Snow in June

We were out walking one warm evening recently and I thought I saw snow gently falling from the sky. I knew it wasn't but if you squinted a little, it could almost be snow. The wind that night was making it 'snow' dandelion seeds. They seemed to be falling everywhere. I was delighted.

Now most people would look upon dandelion seeds blowing in the wind and feel much the same as if it were real snow falling in June. They'd see the seeds as a plague, spreading the dreaded weed throughout the community. They'd be right because that's how nature spreads the plant. But I see these seeds floating through the air as proof that people are using less pesticide and herbicide on their lawns and I see that as a good thing. It's not that I love dandelions. I also sometimes get a little annoyed when the stems stick back up above the grass just a couple of days after I've mowed the lawn. But I'm getting better at just accepting that as the natural way my lawn is. I know pesticide is not the answer.

Dr. Robin Walker was speaking in Saint John recently. He's vice president of medicine at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax and a professor of pediatrics at Dalhousie University. He was invited here by the Canadian Cancer Society which is lobbying for a ban on the use and sale of cosmetic pesticides in New Brunswick.

"There is sufficient evidence to conclude that pesticide exposure can be harmful to children," Dr. Walker said. "Research suggests that some of the substances found in pesticides may increase a child's risk of cancer, as well as have neurological and reproductive effects."

The doctor says the science shows a link between pesticide use and a risk of cancer. He isn't opposed to pesticide use when there is some kind of tangible benefit to be gained, such as in some agricultural applications or to control the spread of disease bearing insects. But he draws the live when it comes to purely cosmetic use. He says even if the risk is extremely low it just isn't worth exposing our children to potentially dangerous chemicals just so our lawn is green and dandelion free. It just doesn't make sense.

And people are beginning to realize this. According to a poll commissioned by the Canadian Cancer Society, in November, 2007, 70 per cent of New Brunswickers support a ban on the cosmetic use of pesticides, while 79 per cent believe pesticides used for lawn and garden maintenance have the potential to pose a health risk to people. Ontario and Quebec already have bans on cosmetic pesticide use in place.

Now when I go for a walk around town and I see that perfect, weed free, green lawn I tend to stay clear and cross to the other side of the street. As beautiful as it looks there is a sense that something unhealthy and dangerous is lurking underneath. In fact, those perfect lawns are becoming less attractive to me all the time. I much prefer a lawn with a good mix of grass and clover and yes even the dreaded dandelion. For me it's a sign of a healthy lawn, a place where children and pets and adults too are welcome and safe to play.