Sandy Casselman
Record Staff

BERWICK – While the township of North Stormont lost its first bid for funding through Phase 2 of the province’s Natural Gas Expansion Program, the municipality is preparing to submit a second application in the hopes of finding success in the next round.

“While I appreciate your interest in Phase 2 of the program, I regret to inform you that we will not be able to provide funding for the Avonmore, Monkland, Bloomington, and Moose Creek proposals at this time,” Ontario’s Associate Minister of Energy Bill Walker said in a letter addressed to Mayor Jim Wert.

The letter was included in council’s June 15 agenda package under correspondence items. Local politicians discussed the letter briefly at the close of the public portion of the meeting.

“We’re back at the table working on this,” Wert said. “There are other avenues that are being explored. The partners in this project are very well respected, so I have not given up hope yet. We’re in the early stages of recalculating what direction we’re going in right now.”

All council members agreed that the news was disappointing. Coun. Steve Densham, who has been pushing for the township to hire an economic development officer for quite some time now, said this is another example of where having an EDO could have been beneficial.

“It’s no surprise to me that we were declined,” Coun. Roxane Villeneuve said. “I believe our local [Stormont, Dundas, and South Glengarry] MPP Jim McDonell has dropped the ball on this. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t have a political strong hand. I’m very disappointed with our local representative that he couldn’t get this in place. It’s very unfortunate. However, I’m happy to hear that he’s reached out for the stakeholders to reapply. This could have been different, if it had been handled differently.”

Wert quickly responded to Villeneuve’s attack on McDonell. He said that the local MPP had reached out and that he has “had a hand in getting this thing looked at.”

As for the letter from Walker, it included a lengthy explanation of why North Stormont’s application was denied. The Ontario Energy Board (OEB) received 210 applications from across the province. Together, the 210 applications represented a funding request of roughly $2.6 billion. The province’s budget had been increased, but only to $234.24 million, which is far less than needed to approve every application.

“I can assure you that, in assessing the project submissions, my ministry used consistent criteria to assess each and all projects,” Walker said. “Our top priority was to connect the most customers, as broadly across the province as possible, in the most economically feasible way. To account for these factors, we used the OEB’s Profitability Index Indicator to guide us in recommending the most suitable projects for eligibility under Phase 2.”

Chief administrative officer Craig Calder, has provided a brief update on the Natural Gas Project in his report to council for the July 13 regular meeting. Here he’s noted that the township is working with all levels of government, as well as the township’s energy and landfill partners, to complete the application for the second round of funding.