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NPCA considers adopting Morningstar Mill

By Karena Walter, The Standard
Friday, October 23, 2015

St. Catharines has found a suitor for Morningstar Mill as it considers unloading the property.

The Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority’s board voted Wednesday to enter negotiations with the city to take over the mill for a two-year trial period.

After the two years, the NPCA would decide if the mill is a good fit for its family of properties.

“We see tremendous synergies with our Ball’s Falls operation,” said NPCA chair Bruce Timms, a St. Catharines regional councillor.

Timms said it’s within the conservation authority’s mandate to mange key natural resources and the gorge and falls by Morningstar Mill are significant features in the watershed. The mill itself would add to the NPCA’s village properties.

“Ball’s Falls is certainly our flagship at this point but Morningstar Mill is an excellent addition to our inventory of recreational facilities,” he said. In February, St. Catharines’ ad hoc budget review committee asked city staff to look into opportunities to partner Morningstar Mill with another agency that may be better able to maintain and own it.

City staff approached the NPCA, which had some concerns about the challenges and risks in acquiring the Decew Road property. They include what capital improvements need to be done, what the revenue generating possibilities are to offset operating costs and the degree of liability.

Timms said the intent is to have an agreement for two years so the board fully understands the issues before talking about full possession.

“I think the negotiations will go very well and I’m optimistic the NPCA will have an operation of some sort within St. Catharines,” he said. “This seems like an excellent opportunity.”

St. Catharines city council still needs to give the OK to enter negotiations with the agency.

Running the site will cost the city $116,500 this year.

St. Catharines CAO Dan Carnegie said the city is not just looking at how much money it will save giving up Morningstar Mill. It’s about nurturing a unique piece of property. “Is it a core business for us? We think there’s a better fit with the conservation authority,” Carnegie said.

Timms said St. Catharines contributes 30% of Niagara’s portion of funding for the NPCA. Yet the conservation authority doesn’t have any operations in the city. It does maintain Rockway Glen, which is partly in St. Catharines and partly in Lincoln, but it is a naturalized area.

“(Morningstar Mill) would be a great asset for the conservation authority and a little bit of fairness to the city of St. Catharines that does contribute, through the region, 30% of the 80% of funding of the conservation authority,” Timms said.

“We’ll be giving back in some way with this operation.”

Timms said both the city and NPCA want to see Morningstar Mill continue, produce flour again and possibly improve or enhance the site.

One of the NPCA’s concerns, outlined in a report to the board, was that capital improvements at the mill could be close to $2 million over the next five to 10 years.

But the report said the impact is lessoned by the fact the city recently did $590,000 of capital work. The city has another $780,000 that was previously approved for additional projects at the mill.

David Oakes, St. Catharines director of parks, recreation and culture services, said in recent years the city replaced the roof on the grist mill, painted the house and did led removal, replaced the bridge and added fire alarm and emergency lighting.

Still to be completed is a turbine shaft replacement and rehabilitating the dam which will require a structural review. It also needs to do structural repairs on the grist mill and put up protective fencing.

“From our end, we’re really looking at making sure the integrity of the site is maintained,” said Oakes.

“We’re a steward of the property so we don’t want to change that. It’s a heritage building and obviously we want to make sure it fits within that mandate.”
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