Pritchard meeting lively, now let’s move forward

Pritchard fire burned down outbuilding on New Year's Day.

Pritchard fire burned down outbuilding on New Year’s Day.

An editorial by Area P Director Mel Rothenburger.

PRITCHARD — About 50 people attended a lively meeting Monday night in the Pritchard Community Hall to discuss issues of concern to Pritchard North.

We talked for about an hour and a half, mostly about the community water system and the hydrant that wasn’t working the night of the New Year’s Day fire.

I asked for the meeting so residents would have a chance to ask questions directly and, hopefully, to provide a better understanding of the water system, what’s involved in maintaining it, and what happens next.

Some of those answers are clear: the TNRD takes responsibility for the hydrants, the hydrant in question has been repaired, checks and maintenance will be continued. As well, communications between the TNRD and the Pritchard Volunteer Fire Department will be improved.

Other things aren’t so clear. People in the community are clearly unhappy with the TNRD and question the cost of the services provided. They think things could be done better.

There’s even a fundamental disagreement on what caused the hydrant to malfunction. Some residents don’t believe it was frozen. The contractor who repaired it concluded that it froze due to a damaged seal that couldn’t be detected during a maintenance check done in December.

But, look, is the main objective to assign blame and argue the fine points of how fire hydrants work, or is it to make improvements and avoid a similar situation happening again?

At some point we have to get down to work on solutions. I didn’t expect the meeting to satisfy everyone but it was an effort in what needs to be an ongoing process to get answers and understanding for residents.

Fundamentally, water systems need to be paid for by those who use them. That’s the direction the TNRD has set, because people in one part of the region don’t want to be responsible for funding the services specific to people in another part of the region.

Which means if people in one community want to see improvements to their utilities, they’re going to end up paying for them. There’s no big pot of money that can be doled out painlessly to one part of the region at the expense of others. Priorities have to be set.

Still, people deserve answers, and facts are friendly. I’d be the first to object if I thought there was a reluctance to provide information to residents. The TNRD’s new communications strategy, which I initiated by the way, is aimed at transparency and engagement.

I’ve proposed to the Pritchard North community that it put together a committee of a half dozen or so people who can lead the way in getting people the information they want and deserve.

Gaining a full understanding and getting all those questions answered is not a quick process that can be accomplished with one or two public meetings. It takes time for questions to evolve and for answers to be put together, for the picture to clarify. One question leads to another.

It’s a two-way street, too. One administrator said to me after the meeting on Monday, and I know this was said with absolute sincerity because there was no one else in earshot, “It wasn’t just about us providing information. We learned some things, too.”

Ah, that’s the key. That’s the start of building trust and understanding that has obviously been eroding over the years. It takes time to get that back.

I’m genuinely excited about the prospect of Pritchard residents feeling a part of the process, of being involved in setting priorities for their community. That’s not an easy thing — it always comes down to where people want to spend their own money.

But if we go about it right, some good things can come of it. I appreciated the clear direction from the community that I should continue to investigate possibilities for managing the park at the north end of the bridge, and that there’s a clear preference for maintaining train whistles at the crossing.

I think we can carry that forward in dealing with the fundamentals of water and sewer and other issues, and a big part of it is feeling that the community has influence in the process.

The upside of the current discontent is that it’s opened the door to a broader discussion, and with an open mind and a willingness to respectfully discuss what’s important to the community, we can get some things done.

 

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