Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Talkin’ ’bout my generator

I read Henry Maxwell’s letter to the editor of the Cape Breton Post about the apparently over-sized backup generator recently purchased by the CBRM for the Myles F. Burke Police Headquarters in Sydney with great interest. That particular item has bugged me since it appeared in the CBRM budget back in the spring of 2021. I’m going to quote my own coverage at length, because I’d honestly forgotten how skeptical councilors were about the purchase—and that was before the bill doubled:

This one really got up my nose — the CBRM will spend $400,000 on a new generator for the central police headquarters — and it was the subject of some pretty close questioning by a number of councilors, too.

[Public Works and Engineering head Wayne] MacDonald explained that the need for the generator was identified in 2012 — the existing generator is “small” and not adequate for the facility, it covers the “computer system and cells” but most of the building has no power when there’s an outage and there have been “a few instances” of power outages in the past nine years.

The money for the generator, in case you’re wondering, is coming from “some of the operating efficiencies in place and associated saving in police budgets and other budgets in CBRM this year.”

If you’re wondering where the notion that this money should be spent on a new generator for the police station came from, I can’t help you, MacDonald said only “the suggestion was that if we wanted to…we could fund it out of the operational reserve,” without mentioning who had made this suggestion. (Or why, given the police were expected to come in $1 million under budget this year, they couldn’t buy their own generator.)

Councilor Steve Parsons asked what I thought was an excellent question, namely, if the police have survived since 2012 without this generator is it really necessary? Parsons said he’s made five requests for street lights that have been turned down because there was “no money” and yet there is $400,000 for a generator?

And Councilor Steve Gillespie asked if the old generator could at least be donated to another facility in need of one — perhaps to a community center that could double as a warming center in case of a power outages? But Bill Murphy said it was a “very, very small 1990 kind of generator” with “no real adaptability.”

I find it really hard to believe that a department with a budget the size of the police department’s — $28.4 million this year — has been unable to find $400,000 for a new generator over the past nine years.

But we’re long overdue for a conversation about the amount of money we put into our police force.

Diesel generator specs

Detail from tender for generator.

 

Discussion of the generator continued into the next session of council’s budget deliberations:

As the afternoon session of the April 29th budget discussions opened, councilors were still talking about a $400,000 generator the CBRM proposed to buy for its Grand Lake Road Police HQ, described as one of our “premier emergency buildings.”

District 12 Councilor Lorne Green was quizzing Wayne MacDonald, director of engineering & public works, and Bill Murphy, director of building, facilities, parks, grounds and recreation, about greener options for backup power. Or as Green (“The name says it all”) put it, shouldn’t the island be looking at going 100% green rather than investing in “1970s technology,” meaning a diesel generator?

Green asked that staff consider energy storage (read: battery) systems. He pointed to a company in Vancouver called Extreme Vehicle Battery Technologies, which proposes to both extend the life expectancy of and reuse batteries to cut into the growing problem of electronic waste and which lists “backup power systems” as one of its “battery solutions,” all of which sounds good, but there is little information about the company’s products — it seems to be early days for their technology — and their use of the buzzwords “AI” and “blockchain” is a little concerning.

MacDonald suggested that battery backup systems make more sense in new builds than existing buildings (although Green didn’t feel this was necessarily the case). MacDonald said battery backups are in place “to a small degree” in other facilities, but that he doubted they could purchase a battery backup system for the police HQ. He said they’d seek advice from Efficiency Nova Scotia, but his bet would be that, for a system that would only be used occasionally, that advice would be to go for three to four hours of diesel backup.

Sadly, none of the councilors questioned the size of the generator and even had they been told it was 1,000 kilowatts, I’m guessing none would have twigged—as Maxwell did—that this was “extreme overkill.” That’s the term he used in his letter, in which he considered the size of the generator based on his experience working in a “remote northern airport” that relies “solely” on generators for electricity:

For comparison sake, we run our whole airport in the north on a 300kw. That includes the maintenance shop, the firehall, the terminal, the control tower, all the runway/airfield lighting and three trailers and we have to run a load bank to burn off the excess power because we can’t use it all.

The Sydney Justice Center has a 125kw generator, the new hotel in Membertou has 100kw back up, Home Depot has 100kw back up but our city staff want 10 times that generation for the police station.

I think council needs to reassess this tender and have staff justify why one building requires a generator that is big enough to run a small town. The fuel costs alone on this unit will run into $500-$600/hr as a unit of this size burns an average of 260L of fuel per hour.

You can view the tender here. There were two bids, $842,157 by Brilun and (the winner) $808,047 by Joneljim Construction. The contract was awarded on May 12, so I’m not sure there’s any room for reassessment but I would still like to hear the justification for the 1,000kw generator.

 

Garbage season

I think I’ll file this one under “If you didn’t laugh, you’d cry.”

After listening to (and dissecting) Destination Cape Breton CEO Terry Smith’s presentation to council on Tuesday and reading the group’s 2022-23 Strategy, filled with photos of tourists in pristine Cape Breton landscapes, I went to the Post website this morning and was greeted by this:

Tourists dismayed by garbage on Cape Breton’s Kellys Mountain

David Bradley of Charlottetown writes that he and his wife visited the island last weekend in the company of three international students:

I know Cape Breton has some beautiful views – yes, some. I have noticed that almost every mountain lookoff people were throwing over their garbage, radios, mattresses, TVs, and a host of more human waste.

What really drove it home was Kellys Mountain, overlooking Seal Island Bridge. The place was plastered with spray paint everywhere. I don’t mean people’s initials. It was covered everywhere. The railing had no spots without paint, not to mention the cliff face across the road.

And yes, there was an enormous amount of garbage over the railing. I had three students with us and I was ashamed to show them the messes that people made in majestic places on Cape Breton Island.

I see two possibilities here.

One: Destination Cape Breton creates “Garbage Season” and brings in some micro-influencers to create a buzz around it. Visitors are encouraged to take selfies in front of piles of old mattresses and TVs and post them to social media. They might even be encouraged to bring garbage with them. Possible slogans: “Cape Breton Island—Your Fridge Never Leaves.”

Two: Destination Cape Breton throws some money into an anti-dumping campaign (a good one, not one that accidentally makes people dumping garbage look cool and people complaining look like losers.)

Maybe they could model it on this clever 2018 campaign from Sydney, Australia (where illegal dumping is apparently an urban rather than a rural problem) which featured ads like this:

 

 

The campaign also involved creating “3D illusions of furniture and white goods using vinyl anamorphic visualisations” which “allowed the public a fun way to engage, lining up the illusions through their smartphones, taking in the message about inconvenience, and coming away with increased awareness of the pick-up service.”

The City of Sydney, in lieu of a single, citywide heavy garbage pickup, offers a pickup service and the aim of the campaign was to increase calls for it by 10%. According to the ad agency behind it, the campaign resulted in an 81% increase in calls.

I have to think it’s in the best interests of an organization trying to sell the island to tourists to make sure the island is looking its best come tourist season

 

Poor Danny Ellis

Danny EllisThe May 27th edition of the Post invites us, once again, to feel the pain of everyone’s favorite local philanthropist/restaurateur:

A Sydney restaurateur’s plan to open a beer garden in Port Hawkesbury is in jeopardy because of recruitment challenges…

Danny Ellis, owner and developer of several Sydney restaurants, including the seasonal Portside Beer Garden, said last year he planned to set up a similar outdoor establishment in Port Hawkesbury as a way to help revitalize the town’s waterfront development.

Danny Ellis’ beer garden, which he’s planning to establish out of the goodness of his heart to help revitalize Port Hawkesbury’s waterfront, is in jeopardy people, what are we going to do? Should we call in the military? I think we should call in the military. They were such a help with the COVID-19 vaccination clinics and in those coronavirus-ravaged seniors’ homes in Ontario, why not bring them in to save Danny Ellis’ beer garden?

We’d have to train them, because Ellis doesn’t like to do that, as he told the Post, “it costs us money to train and we don’t really have that luxury.”

He’s managed to eke out a profit from his Sydney beer garden where he has “54 people doing the jobs of 75 people” but it looks like he’ll be putting a pin in his Port Hawkesbury plan for this season.

(Okay, seriously, is Danny Ellis the most un-self-aware man on the planet? Why would you tell the local paper that you’re too cheap to train workers and you’re the kind of boss who will continue to operate at full capacity with 70% staff and then wonder why nobody wants to work for you?)

The Post also spoke to the owner of Route 19 Brewing in Inverness, Wayne Gillis, who “believes” his is a “decent-paying establishment.”

Everybody gets above minimum wage except the servers, who get major tips here.

How much above minimum wage? The Post doesn’t say. But it did publish the lovely photo of Ellis that accompanied the article, so there’s that.

These “we can’t find service sector workers” stories have been dubious since they began—back when they were an excuse for people like Ellis—and, in fact, Ellis himself—to blame overly generous government COVID benefits for their woes—but the stakes in this story are particularly low. Worst-case scenario, Ellis doesn’t open a beer garden in Port Hawkesbury this season.

Who cares?