Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Friday, April 21, 2006

Truck/Car-pal Tunnel Syndrome

I had a very long telephone conversation with Al Teshuba some time ago and, as he emailed to me, he believes in tunneling "as the best thing to do to facilitate international truck traffic through our city." This comment, therefore, is not meant to criticize him personally but right now he is the guy talking about tunnels in public so he gets the flack based on what he says.

Just to let you know who he is, Al Teshuba got publicity in the Star respecting his pro-tunnel views. He is the Co-chair of a group called "Choose Tunneling" and runs three websites dealing with the tunnel issue. He was the Conservative candidate in Windsor West, but lost to Brian Masse, and is a rumoured candidate for a Council seat in Ward 1 or Ward 2.

On the same day as Al's news story, there was quite a long Letter to the Editor in the Star, 50% longer than normally allowed to be vigilantly fair about it, slamming Dwight and Sandra as the Star had done a few days before in an Editorial and also supporting tunnelling.

I guess that this is what Windsor Star executive editor Marty Beneteau meant when he said (in relation to the Dupont inquest) "We did things that newspapers can do to bring about change, positive change. I think we got a lot of results this year and this now validates the results we got."

Whew, good thing for Windsorites that the Star is no longer a DRTP supporter.

According to Al, "Failure to construct a border traffic tunnel in Windsor will cost governments an additional $2.5 billion in the long run."

Al runs a number of websites with respect to this matter and eventually, if you follow the path, you get to his tunnel analysis and cost justification. If the analysis is meant to convince bureaucrats that constructing a tunnel in Windsor makes sense from an economic perspective, I do not think he makes a convincing case on the numbers.

Here is part of an email I sent to Al on April 8 after visiting his websites:

  • Hi Al,

    If you calculated that the 50 year savings are $2.5 billion, ["Our group estimates over 2.5 BILLION DOLLARS of calculated negative impact damage on Windsor and its residents (over 50 years) if an above grade route is built instead of tunneling.] then you are just about breaking even with the cost of a 6 km tunnel and road as described by Henderson and the Star Editorial a week ago.

    At the Cansult Engineering number of $300M per km, figure out what putting a tunnel under the entire route will be! PLUS you know that engineering numbers are rarely right eg the Big Dig.

One other point that requires some consideration: Ventilation Design Options. I do not remember hearing much about that from tunnel proponents.

It seems that the answer is "Full Transverse Ventilation – 6 km tunnel tunnel would require one large building or three smaller buildings; Design issues include noise, large land requirements but provides pollutant dispersal. Examples include the Detroit/Windsor Tunnel."

If you want to know the size of such a building, go downtown to our heritage designated Tunnel Ventilation building...It is costing us millions to renovate by the way! DRIC suggested 1 large or 3 small buildings along the 6 KM corridor so we would probably need many more of them for the full route. I also show a picture at the top of this BLOG of the DRIC drawing of such buildings and their scale. Who will want one of them beside his/her house spewing truck fumes?

Oh and a secret too..From what I have been told, I do NOT believe that the air from the City owned Tunnel downtown is scrubbed clean either. Perhaps that could be an environmental project for the Mayor/Windsor Tunnel Commission Chair to complete to put a checkmark against in his Report Card!

I wonder how bad the air around that building and nearby is downtown with all of the vehicle fumes in the Tunnel being dispersed. If you have driven through the Tunnel, you know the smell from the exhaust can be strong sometimes. "Polluntant Dispersal" would make an interesting project for the Ministry of the Environment!

Schwartz/Estrin Fees

I am very worried about the financial position of the City of Windsor. Can taxpayers be assured that someone at City Hall knows our true financial picture? Let me give an example why when the simplest of matters takes forever to be accomplished.

Councillor Budget on Cable TV on Monday night clarified after the Council meeting that Council did not pass an "election budget." I thought perhaps Council was acting "rationally" by acting as politicians do at election time. You know, show voters how well they are doing by keeping tax rates low so they can be re-elected.

But his denial made me very concerned. Re-read again my BLOG Thursday, April 13, 2006 "Wiggle Room" and the comments there:
  • "Department overspending a chronic problem,"
  • "departments overspent their budgets last year by $7 million,"
  • "Coming in with deficits every year is not OK,"
  • "That model is not sustainable in the long run" and
  • "colleagues on council "need to be realistic" when the budget is set."

Do you see my concern---it is not an election year budget after all. It's much worse.

Here is a proposed memo I thought about sending to the Audit Committee just to get the ball rolling. Let me know what you think:

Memo to City of Windsor Audit Committee

Maxwell Zalev
Councillor A. Halberstadt
Councillor Cassivi
Bill Carter
Sanjay Gupta
Federica Nazzani
Patrick Sasso

RE: Total Breakdown of City Accounting System

Clearly there is a major problem with the City's books and record keeping system that can prejudcice the financial well-being of the City of Windsor.

It seems to be impossible to collect some very simple data---for example, how much money has the City spent, directly and indirectly, on outside fees to lawyers and consultants on the border file. The Mayor suggested the amount was about $1.7-1.75 million at year-end (although that was also the number released in the previous August). At the end of February, Councillor Halberstadt thought the figure was $2 million while Councillro Postma upped the ante saying it was $2.2 million. What is the true number?

Just so you know, the Star reported:
  1. "The city will disclose what it has spent on Toronto lawyer David Estrin and his consultants to fight its border battles, city solicitor George Wilkki said" on March 7 ..."There is no difficulty in giving a total"
  2. "Onorio Colucci, acting city treasurer, said billings related to Estrin and his associates are spread through the mayor's office and the city's legal department, requiring some effort to assemble. "We have asked staff to put that together and will have that shortly"
  3. Mayor Eddie Francis said he has no problem releasing amounts related to Estrin's expenses. ...We have consistently revealed those numbers. People should know what we are spending on the border file.

Obviously the Mayor and Council want people to know what the amounts are and Administration is eager to gather that information.

However, over a month has passed and that information is still not available. Why not? Clearly, there is no desire at City hall to hide the true story from the taxpayers from what was said so it must be due to the financial systems failing.

I know that there was a mess at Enwin (some of you are involved with Enwin aren't you and received all of that extra pay because of the crisis there) and a fiasco at the Library requiring an audit. Now here is another potential disaster that you should look into.

Oh by the way, if you check my Blog...."January 26, 2006 "Audit Of Windsor Tunnel Commission Needed" there may be another problem at the Windsor Tunnel Commission you might want to check out too if you have a spare moment or two.

Batten Down The Hatches


That is the only word to describe what the E-machine must be thinking. They need to tie up any loose ends before the Mayor's May 1 State of the City speech and the major loose end is Bill Marra and whether he is running for mayor or not!

Obviously, there must be a DRAFT MARRA campaign. Perhaps friends of Bill (or, perhaps instead, it is former friends and now "foes" of the Mayor) are out there getting people together to try convince Bill that running for Council makes no sense for someone with his ability and that if he runs, that mayor is the only race that he should enter. Moreover, they are probably telling him that Windsor can no longer afford Eddie Francis as mayor for 3 (or will it be 4) more years.

From what I understand, the pressure on Bill to run is enormous. Clearly, the Henderson story in his column the other day is is a reflection of that and another attempt to force him not to run! Bill may not get to have published a Letter to the Editor forever now that Gord has again profiled him as a potential candidate. "Vigilant fairness" you know!

What has Bill Marra got to do with St. Clair College coming or not coming to the downtown that his name pops up in a Henderson column? But there was the shot, this time not with an unnamed "one of his closest supporters" as before but this time with a real name, someone who was known to support Marra in the past election, Mark Boscariol:

"Boscariol, who backed Bill Marra's failed 2003 mayoral campaign, swore he would switch sides and support Francis in 2006 if he could bring a campus downtown."

Astounded I wrote Mark about the quote and got this reply:
  • "He [Henderson] must have taken that from my article 2 years ago where I said "If Francis does what he says he's going to do, I'll pound in signs for him". I'm happy to support Mayor Francis helping downtown, I don't like being used to give a shot at Bill Marra."
Oh well, the E-machine needs to get those hatches battened down. However, the real surprise might be, if Bill decides not to run, the name of the person who is hanging back to let Bill decide first so there will NOT be a three-way race! In other words, there will not be an acclamation as some have hoped.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Better Get Those Students Downtown Quickly

Not even Super Bowl could help us with cross-border traffic when numbers were down drastically over that weekend contrary to expectations.

I sure hope those St. Clair College kids are big spenders because downtown will need them if they are our salvation. I can just imagine the line-ups at the Keg as they want lunch or a snack between classes. The bars with their 20 cent chicken wing nights will do very well too I bet.

It's getting ugly now. Tourist numbers are horrible, no-smoking ban coming, IDs being required, rising dollar. Can it get any worse?

Actually it can---we are being asked to spend billions on a new border crossing based on optimistic traffic projections. Oooops I forgot, this is just a "blip" we are going through.

Cross-border car travel at all-time low in February News Staff

Same-day car travel from the United States to Canada fell to its lowest monthly level on record in February, dropping below the 1.2-million mark for the first time, Statistics Canada reported Thursday.

"In addition, the estimated 1.1 million overnight trips taken by American residents to Canada was the lowest monthly level in almost nine years," the government agency reported on Thursday.

"Overall, only 2.4 million American residents took trips to Canada in February, down 2.3 per cent from the month before and the lowest month on record since May 1979."

Meanwhile, Canadian residents set a new record for trips abroad with 547,000 travelling overseas in February, which represented a 1.5 per cent gain from January, the third consecutive monthly increase.

But it appears Canadians were more reluctant to travel south of the border, as they made fewer than 3.2 million trips to the United States during February, down 7.1 per cent from January.

Similarly, the number of same-day car trips by Canadians fell 8.0 per cent to just under 1.9 million, the lowest level since June last year.

In addition, they made fewer than 1.3 million trips of one night or more, a drop of 5.7 per cent.

The report was released as Canadian authorities express their concerns over Washington's plans to require secure identification requirements for cross-border travellers by 2007.

Politicians and travel industry stakeholders say they fear ID requirements will deter casual cross-border travel and hinder trade between the two allies...

Though Statistics Canada didn't provide analysis for the numbers, it noted that the Canadian dollar was worth 87.0 US cents on average in February, up 0.7 per cent compared to January. The loonie also rose against the euro, British pound sterling and Japanese yen.

Schwartz And The Academics

No, "the Academics" is not the name of a a new rock group that was started in Windsor, although some may say that the four professors may become the "Fab Four" of the conflict resolution world after this BLOG is posted.

Three Professors, Daniel Friesen, James Higginson and Kevin Li, from the Odette School of Business at the University of Windsor and one from the University of Hawaii – Leeward, Jason Levy, did a study on the Schwartz Report that I found while surfing the net. I met with the three Windsor academics (I know, I know....I should have gone to Hawaii but that's another story). Their paper is copyrighted by the IEEE and the Professors gave me permission to quote excerpts from their paper.

What made the paper fascinating to me were the conclusions reached (within about a month from the Schwartz presentation date), the fact that, from the benefit of hindsight, they were very accurate in their analysis and finally that their model has a practical, business application side to it as well. It is NOT just another toy for academics to write about to meet their "publish or perish" requirements.

The paper, "Windsor-Detroit Border Crossing Problem: Conflict Analysis of the Schwartz Report" used the "graph model for conflict resolution to predict, in advance of any announcement, the most likely outcome of the [Schwartz] proposal given the preferences of the governments of Canada, Ontario and Windsor, and of a pooled body of three competitors vying to become the key new route between the two countries."

The model was "a recently developed decision aid tool to handle strategic conflict with multiple participants." The use of their model by the City (or by a business) would help in determining the chances of success of a proposal. If the chance was low, it would allow for various actions to be taken in the model to see if something could be done to increase the likelihood of being successful. Alternatively, it could suggest dropping the proposal entirely and trying something else since there was little possibility of success. An analogy is the use of a spreadsheet for budgetary purposes where numbers are plugged in to see what the end result will be if different values are used.

As in any process, it is only as good as the work undertaken in advance that sets up the various assumptions. In this case, the professors had to determine who the key stakeholders and decision makers were, what were the important issues that influenced them and what was their position on each issue. Those factors were then inserted into their model and conclusions reached based on the output.

Now their conclusions:

  • "Using the graph model for conflict resolution, our analysis suggests that it is most likely that nothing will happen, at least in the short term. The governments that have been asked for some CAD 1.5 billion have little to gain by spending money quickly. Deferring action until the bi-national report is a reasonable way for them to look like they are doing something without actually making any commitment of funds at all. They have, therefore, nothing to gain by acting quickly

    The Mayor of Windsor, responding to the Schwartz Report in the hearing of two of this paper’s authors, indicated that he would press Canada and Ontario to give Windsor what it “deserved.” That contributes nothing to the likelihood of the City getting its way, using our model. The parties being asked for funds will make up their minds according to what they view to be in their own best interests – and the City has not sold its perspective from that angle."

They were absolutely accurate. Now we understand the Feds and why Sandra and Dwight say what they do about DRIC! And now Fulvio has his answer as to why no one listens to Windsor. We are irrelevant!

What it means is that the Professors concluded early on that Schwartz had little chance of success. Eddie's approach also was the wrong one to use. If the City had any hope of being successful, then it had to change its approach to accommodate the needs of the Senior Levels or come up with an alternative solution.

The City did neither until it was too late and after making enemies of almost everyone. We saw the City's approach changing with the remark of Councillor Valentinis that Schwartz was just a "starting point." Then, in desperation, the Mayor and Council adopted their new position that was set out in the Resolution passed in Tecumseh.

Unfortunately, they wasted time, effort and money on a losing proposal, failed to recognize that for months, and failed to adapt it to meet the needs of the other decision makers in the process. This model could have helped them early on, even before they went public with Schwartz. A proper strategy could have been developed that would have benefitted Windsor.

Frankly, is it any different now with the City PLAN on tunnels and the location of the bridge, roads and plaza? Perhaps the Professors might be hired to run their analysis! But then again, do the Mayor and Council want to change or give up on another "losing" proposition if it can help them "win" re-election? I wonder if the model factors that in!

More On Hazardous Goods

Wouldn't it be easy if life was all black and white, say if you were a Federal NDP member involved in the border issue. Then when you are no longer holding the balance of power in Parliament, you can write letters demanding an investigation by saying "Should an accident occur it will have grave consequences to people, the environment, and trade. It is without doubt the status quo is completely unacceptable."

Hey Mr. Masse, when your party could have done something on the border "status quo" what did the NDP do for Windsor?

Obviously, this BLOG continues on with the Star story involving the transport of alum across the bridge. When we get into the story we find out that Masse's real complaint is: "it's "complete hypocrisy" for Canada not to have the same safety regulations in place as the American authorities have on their side of the Ambassador." So it seems it is a Government issue not a Bridge Co. issue after all.

Our salvation for hazardous materials is the barge isn't it? I had gone back in history about the barge operation for some work I was doing and was shocked that the NDP and others had objected to its operations at one time. In fact, believe it or not, the Clean Water Alliance wondered "why putting pressure on the Ambassador Bridge to allow trucks with dangerous goods isn't also an option for the federal government to consider."

Here is a different perspective from the past just to let you know it is not always black or white!

Windsor Star October 30, 1987

A proposed barge operation between Detroit and Windsor is being slowed by concerns over the transportation of hazardous materials.

A Detroit company, Barge Transport Incorporated (BTI), has made application to both American and Canadian customs to transport large trucks from Detroit to a dock at the foot of Russell Street in the city's west end. Many of these trucks would be carrying compressed gas and other hazardous materials.

The barge operation would accommodate transport and tanker trucks that presently have to drive to the Blue Water Bridge in Sarnia to cross the border because of their contents, said the manager of BTI, John Ward.

Because the operation will require the consent of a variety of departments including the ministries of the environment, transport and communications and immigration as well as both countries' coast guards, Ward wouldn't say when the barge will start crossing the river.

"We're not ready to start yet," said Ward who was scheduled to meet with local environment officials today. "We're not going to push it."

Despite Ward's assurances that he is committed to making sure both the environment and residents are in no danger, local MPs are suspicious.

Steven Langdon, (NDP Essex-Windsor), called the operation "an accident looking for a place to happen," Thursday in the House of Commons.

In an interview this morning, Langdon said the Ministry of the Environment should have been involved in the planning from the beginning. He also said the potential for disaster through leakage or any type of accident is so great both customs and environment officials should think hard before allowing such a business to set up shop.

The NDP's critic for economic development and trade and industry received a government document which outlined BTI's proposal. Langdon said the company's barge has the capacity to carry six trucks every hour and they have a line on another transport ship that could carry 24 trucks. Langdon said the report shows BTI hoping to run from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. from Monday to Friday.

Ward would not confirm this, saying that a market survey was not yet complete.

Both Langdon and Liberal MP Herb Gray have written letters to the federal Minister of the Environment, Tom McMillan, asking for a full investigation into the venture.

Richard Miles, a spokesman for Canada Customs in Windsor, said the union is worried about the safety aspect of having to inspect these trucks.

Miles said they received BTI's application about a month ago but no further action has been taken.

Windsor Star March 18, 1988

Essex-Windsor MP Steven Langdon, who first publicized the barge plans, has come to similar conclusions after discussing the barge proposal with federal officials.

"I suspect that either it's dead or it's been put in cold storage for at least a year or two," said the NDP industry critic.

Under the proposal, trucks carrying explosive, flammable and toxic substances, which are not allowed on the Ambassador Bridge, would have been loaded onto a barge in Sandwich and ferried across the Detroit River.

The barge would have carried up to 30 trucks per hour to Detroit. Residents of Sandwich complained the trucks would be a disruptive and potentially dangerous hazard to the neighborhood. They argued the barge operation would destroy attempts to upgrade and revitalize the surrounding community.

The project also raised strong environmental concerns and was strongly attacked by local members of parliament in Ottawa.

Windsor Star, July 7, 1990

The approximate 260-km detour from Windsor to Sarnia to Detroit has trucks with dangerous goods passing through Chatham, Wallaceburg and Sarnia, as well as smaller communities.

The councils of all three municipalities endorsed Barge Transport Inc.'s proposal to ferry trucks across the Detroit River because it would lessen the number of dangerous trucks on their streets.

Windsor City Council and Essex County Council unsuccessfully pressed the federal government to carry out a full environmental assessment of the barge proposal. The Windsor and District Clean Water Alliance has also pushed for a thorough environmental assessment with public hearings.

Federal Transport Minister Doug Lewis says his department has carried out a thorough, internal environmental review of the barge proposal, and approved the operation. This hasn't satisfied critics.

IN RESPONSE to the controversy, Ontario Environment Minister James Bradley has required an environmental assessment on the movement of trucks carrying dangerous goods into and out of the west-end Morterm dock area used by BTI. But the province has no jurisdiction over the movement of barges on an international waterway such as the Detroit River.

BTI vice-president Gregg Ward said Bradley's decision has had no direct impact on the operation, which has been under way without problems the past two months.

BUT WARD feels the provincial environment ministry is attempting to intimidate potential trucking customers of BTI, and put them out of business without dealing with any real environmental issues.

The Ward family has invested about $1 million and more than two years of their time to start up the barge operation and feel they're providing a valuable service to local industry by reducing trucking costs and risks.

Ward said they find it frustrating that government officials - provincial and federal - are aware of reports demonstrating that barge operations have a superior safety record in the transportation industry, but have been reluctant to relay that message forcibly to the public.

Rick Coronado, president of the Clean Water Alliance, said his group isn't claiming that BTI's operation is unsafe. He said they simply wanted a public environmental hearing to demonstrate that all the risks have been considered, and the alternatives to barging are shown to be more hazardous.

Coronado said the federal transport minister recently promised to convene, and attend, a public meeting in Windsor to answer questions about the barge operation.

But Lewis's press secretary told The Star the minister has only promised to ask the Windsor Harbor Commission for input on whether a public meeting should be held, and isn't committed to attending him self.

The harbor commission says it hasn't received anything in writing from Lewis yet.

Coronado said he's sympathetic to communities along the detour trucking route that have backed the BTI proposal. But he wonders why putting pressure on the Ambassador Bridge to allow trucks with dangerous goods isn't also an option for the federal government to consider.

Coronado, who's also a member of the Binational Public Advisory Committee overseeing preparation of a cleanup plan for the Detroit River, said he's unconvinced that governments on both sides of the border are adequately prepared to deal with spills.

Marine spills of all kinds are a major threat to the Great Lakes, and anything new that comes along - like BTI - should be thoroughly evaluated, said Coronado.

And BTI shouldn't be singled out, Coronado adds. The Detroit and St. Clair river railway barges should also be scrutinized, he said.

Ward said his operation has a detailed spills procedure that doesn't depend on government support.

BTI has arrangements with Windsor and Detroit companies with equipment such as booms and skimmers to clean up if a spill occurred, said Ward.

But more important, he feels, are the precautions BTI has taken to avoid the risk of a spill.

BTI's barge itself - unlike most on the Great Lakes - is designed to contain any spills on board from the trucks being carried.

THE BARGE is also overdesigned for its use in a protected waterway like the Detroit River, Ward said. It's capable of being used on the ocean and is licensed to carry up to 1,500 tons. The biggest load to date has been about 240 tons, he said, giving it a comfortable safety margin.

The barge was built with 16 separate compartments and could be cut in two, and both sides would still float, Ward said. Another safety factor is that if the barge did sink, the tanker trucks should be able to contain their cargoes until retrieved, he said.

The barge has radar and sonar to reduce the risk of collision, as well as being patched into the Detroit River communications system which constantly tracks the position of all large vessels. Ward said they can adjust the timing of their crossings to avoid conflicts with other vessels.

In short, Ward feels the barge operation has being unfairly labelled as an environmental threat.

He finds it ironic to look at all the controversy BTI has aroused when the railway barges and ships pass through the Detroit River all the time carrying the same sorts of cargoes - fuels and chemicals - as the tanker trucks he ferries.

And then those same trucks roll down city streets, he points out.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

BEWARE: Windsor Has Moles

It's always gratifying to receive an email from a reader with comments about a BLOG I have written or a suggestion about what I should write or even providing me with some background information.

But when a reader actually writes a BLOG, now that is spoiling me rotten. Here is what one reader thinks about tunnels and megaprojects.

BEWARE: Windsor Has Moles

"I read with great interest the Star article about the Choose Tunneling group and about the “cost savings” in the long run of a tunnel. Let’s ignore for a moment the immediately preceding Blog on “Machiavellian Megaprojects” (which fully applies to be sure, just play along)… and let’s assume that we spend many millions on a mineshaft to the border to “save” $2.5 B in the long run … and finally, let’s assume just for fun that Eddie rises in the polls (by going “under”) and is re-elected… Only an advocate kept in the dark like a mole would propose such a thing with a straight face!

What common sense do we have to ignore to accept a tunnel to the border at all costs?

Redundancy – You can’t have just ONE route to the border, you would have to dig several. Schwartz, DRIC & Borderline Insecurity would all agree. I mean, come on, there would be no security checks prior to descending into Windsor’s underworld. And there is only ONE place these evil, un-inspected international trucks would be going. Talk about a tasty target! Don’t worry about terrorist engineers wracking their brains to topple a new crossing, just send a rented truck with fertilizer & diesel fuel to the Windsor Underworld. One tunnel to the border would be futile, and since there were “twin towers” at least THREE separate tunnels to the border would be required. (Wait-on September 11, the Pentagon was hit and the White House was targeted – why not 5 or 6 tunnels, just to be safe. Price is obviously no object because we don’t know how much ONE costs…)

Come on, all it would take is one little fender-bender 80,000 leagues below to tie up border traffic for hours. No escape for multi-kilometre backups if you were behind a breakdown (can’t hang a left to avoid delay…) The leader of the Choose Tunneling group fears that we will be “creating a surface superhighway.” Excuse me, but, err, ahhh, but we already ARE on a superhighway corridor, just without the infrastructure… How many other multi-kilometre tunnels are along the 401? I-75? I-94? Exactly: NONE, and with good reason.

Perhaps this Choose Tunneling gambit is just a ruse because besides the Windsor Star who faithfully publishes the virtues, who really believes it is feasible, affordable or possible in our life time? Is the goal to make Windsor the laughing stock of civil engineering conferences throughout the world? (Yeah, and you thought the diagonal and “S” bridges were creative… City Council would ultimately HAVE to pass one of Eddie’s in-camera resolutions to suspend the laws of physics.)

Have you ever seen the gigantic fans that circulate fresh air into the Windsor Tunnel? Apply this exponentially to the multi-kilometre Windsor Underground, and ask where they would be located? What impact would the noise & location have on property values? And what of the concentration of offensive diesel fumes concentrated around giga-fans? Are we to assume “out of sight, out of mind” or should we apply common sense and realize that after hundreds of millions spent on a tunnel that we still have air quality issues in our beloved Camelot?

Oh I forgot, it's not a problem. After all the Tunnel Ventilation Building on University is a Windsor "heritage" building. With the need for many of such buildings along the corridor and in keeping with the Sandwich area proposed designation, expect Council to turn the corridor into a "heritage" area too!

Navigate through all that and you are still left on the horns of a dilemma: Local Origin International trucks. Oh, yeah – almost overlooked that didn’t we? Choose Tunneling assumes a trail to the border will eliminate unsightly trucks from the border to the 401. But DRIC quietly documented (validating WALTS and other confirming studies) that over ONE THIRD of these evil international trucks are LOCAL in origin or destination. A million trucks today have the audacity to serve employers in Windsor. I’m sure with a little more clandestine economic development headlines for our beloved Mayor, that we can drive these numbers DOWN as well. But if we want employment locally, manufacturers need parts & materials and that means trucks. If we want consumer choice, our stores will have to obtain stock for their shelves, and that means glorious trucks. If we want food, it is not going to materialize in our refrigerator – again, trucks. And an Underground Windsor Tunnel would add wasteful miles (and cost) for our local quality of life.

I have an easier solution: Road signs. I must admit, it would require quite a few both at the city limits and along the 401. The message could say, “Turn Back – Trucks not Welcome in Windsor” or “DANGER: City with its head in the sand ahead.” After all, Sarnia loves trucks, and Windsor is helping them tremendously"

Between A Pepsi And A Lemon Juice

Now I think I get it. Now I think I know the reason for the two news stories about the hazardous goods crossing the Ambassador Bridge. It was when I read the story about the Star being nominated for all of those newspaper awards that it all started to become clear to me.

Here is what was said:
"[Windsor Star executive editor Marty] Beneteau credited the news team for helping to bring about positive change through its coverage of the Lori Dupont slaying at Hotel-Dieu Grace Hospital.

"I think we can take partial credit into calling an inquest into the nurse's slaying," Beneteau said. "We did things that newspapers can do to bring about change, positive change. I think we got a lot of results this year and this now validates the results we got."

So shall we insert "Ambassador Bridge" in place of "Lori Dupont" to explain the coverage? Is the Star on another mission to change things, like building a public bridge perhaps?

I was pretty worried when I read the Star story about Alum being transported across the Ambassador Bridge. There it was in black and white..."When concentrated aluminum sulfate comes into contact with water it can cause the formation of sulfuric acid." We were told it was "highly corrosive." I could just picture in my mind what would happen if there was a spill.

But then something did not make sense. The alum was being delivered to Windsor's Lou Romano Water Reclamation Plant. Why would the City use a chemical in its Water plant that would turn into "highly corrosive" sulphuric acid when it touched water and presumably could cause major damage to the plant. I wondered as well where this sulphuric acid was being dumped too. The more I thought about the consequences, the more worried I became.

I picked up the phone and did a bit of investigation and found the following:

Here is some information on Liquid Aluminum Sulfate “alum”
1. Alum is considered GRAS “Generally Recognized As Safe”
2. Alum has been used to purify potable water for over 2,000 years.
3. Alum became the potable water purification product of choice in Canada and the US in the 1880’s
4. Alum added to water does not form sulfuric acid. It forms aluminum hydroxide which is a coagulant that removes fine particles and sediments from potable water.
5. Alum is used in clean water treatment plants to remove phosphates. This prevents algae blooms in the streams, rivers, or lakes where the purified water is discharged. So it is very important to maintaining healthy ecosystems.
6. Alum is used in lakes to remove phosphates which controls algae and restores the lake for fishing, recreation, and potable water uses. We have an application that used 14 million pounds of alum on an 1100 acre lake. The application was approved at the federal, state and local levels.
7. Alum is used in foods, for example, pickles.
8. Alum is used in cosmetics and antiperspirants.
9. Alum is used medicinally to stop bleeding from minor cuts and abrasions.
10. Alum is shipped with placards only because it is slightly corrosive.
11. If alum is spilled it is easily cleaned up with water.

The credentials of the person who gave me this information, a Water Chemist, included degrees in chemistry and biology with twenty-nine years experience in water treatment chemistry including five international patents.

That did not satisfy me however. I needed to know more. Another source told me that product similar to what the City receives "has a pH value (measure of acidity) somewhere between a Pepsi Cola and lemon juice. Obviously any dilution by the addition of water would reduce that acidity."

I thought I could rest easy now. I felt comfortable that the Bridge could handle a spill from a can of Lemon Pepsi!

I wondered if Mr. Beneteau would nominate me for an Investigative "Blogger" award. Better yet, I wonder if the Windsor Star will correct the facts and quell the tempest in a soda can that they initiated? And what about the ‘pickle’ created for willing politicians by Alum-scam? Stay tuned, dear readers – but don’t hold your breath!”

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

How Not To Lead

You should take a look today at the City's Employee Morale survey undertaken by Dr. Alfie Morgan before it is removed from the City website after the Council meeting tonight.

In general, after reading through the Report, you'd have to agree that most employees are pretty happy campers. But then again, the City has not gone through a purging of the staff that will obviously come after the next election. Already one can see that benefits after age 65 for union staff will come under attack just as the non-union benefits may be cut now.

I tried to find the numbers from the earlier morale Report that was undertaken in 2004 but could not find them on the website. It would be interesting to see how morale changed in the time period. Also, I wonder if the numbers could have been broken down by salary groups as well ie how did those in more senior positions feel compared with those in other jobs.

The one area that fascinated me was the relationship between the permanent employees and Council. In that relationship, Council did not fare well at all! (The numbers for the CAO and general managers in their categories were not too good either).

  • 53% rarely or never know Council's direction for the City
  • 46% rarely or never feel that Council appreciates them
  • 40% rarely or never feel that Council supports Administration

If most of the employees who work with Council every day have no idea what they are doing, then I don't feel so bad now that I don't either.

In reading the Globe on Monday, I came across the following article dealing with Management. I wondered if there was a correlation between the poor numbers in Dr. Morgan's Report and the style of Government that we seem to have in Windsor. You decide that one for yourself.

Monday morning manager

First Item: Harper's hub-and-spoke not the best model for management

If you read about Stephen Harper's hub-and-spoke management style and were thinking of applying it to your office -- don't. Management experts say the Prime Minister is committing a classic mistake of new managers by trying to make all of the decisions revolve around him.

Over-control means out of control

"If you try to control everything, you control nothing," says Jim Fisher, associate dean at the Rotman School of Management. Instead, focus on one or two priorities, controlling those, and leave subordinates discretion on the many other matters your team faces.

Paralysis inevitable

When one person tries to make all the decisions, very little gets done, and the world does not stand still waiting, so opportunities are lost and problems simmer until they explode.

Sabotage and rebellion encouraged

"The message the leader is sending the staff is 'you are stupid and I am smart' -- and after a while, people hold back and watch you make mistakes," Prof. Fisher says. "They'll be prepared to see their leader make a mistake even though it comes back to bite them. In the end, there's more satisfaction in that than in winning."

Leaders must lead, which means setting forth the strategy and organizational purpose, communicating to people, and letting them discover the best ways to implement based on their expertise. "Everyone in the organization must be leaders and followers, depending on the situation," says organizational behaviour expert Gerard Seijts of Richard Ivey School of Business. The exception, he says, is in a crisis when for a time -- but only a short time -- a leader must be highly directive, the hub for decisions. Beyond that, don't try the Prime Minister's approach.

Machiavellian Megaprojects

Doesn’t it seem like someone has already made a decision to go forward, and we are going to have another crossing in Windsor whether it is needed or not?

Doesn’t it seem like someone has already made a decision where roads, a new bridge and plaza are going to be constructed regardless of Community concerns on both sides of the river?

Doesn’t it seem like we are involved in a process that is costing millions and millions of taxpayer dollars in studies and may cost billions by the time this is done that seems out of our control?

If that is what you are thinking, then perhaps the next book on the Oprah Book Club list of required reading (which Eddie will read a few times thereby becoming an expert on the subject as he has done with several other books) should be Bent Flyvbjerg’s “Megaprojects and Risk: An anatomy of Ambition.” He is a Professor of Planning at the Department of Development and Planning at Aalborg University, Denmark. Check out what I have posted about him already at April 13, 2006 “Windsor's "Big Dig." Thanks to a reader for suggesting I do some research on Prof . Flyvbjerg's theory!

It seems strange already:

  • Hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars spent for an Ambassador Gateway project and now seemingly going to be tossed away so that billions can be spent on a new crossing a mile away
  • A new crossing may destroy communities on both sides of the border so international trucks can go across the river more easily and not spend one penny in the cities impacted
  • 4 new Customs booths on the US side costing a few million dollars solved our back-up problems in Windsor not a Horseshoe Road costing multi-millions
  • $21 million for studies on the US side only are projected (never mind what was already spent before the EA started) and millions more on our side
  • We spend $5 million on an overpass on Huron Church, even though one was offered at no cost before, and few use it.
  • We want to spend $30 million for what is, in effect, a vehicle “parking lot” at the Tunnel Plaza and not one vehicle will go through the Tunnel more quickly
  • Billions to be spent but no one has the nerve yet to tell us the real price, especially if there may be some road tunnels on our side
  • How would the new bridge undercut the tolls at the Ambassador Bridge given its gigantic cost and remove one truck from the existing crossing with the tougher question being who would finance it in the first place
  • Traffic projections always rising notwithstanding several revisions downward and issues like restructuring of manufacturing in the auto industry, Border ID requirements and no smoking rules all pointing to less cross-border traffic
  • Private enterprise proponent projects tossed out
  • It is the public who pays the cost with excessive "tolls" being the way the money is recouped. Of course truckers will not pay the higher amounts and will seek less costly alternatives while the projected volumes will be lower thereby causing huge losses which will bankrupt the bridge.

We know that no one in a position of political power is going to do anything about DRIC on the Canadian side: it is too valuable politically since one can pass the buck to them for the time being just as Dwight and Sandra did recently. DRIC is also valuable to kick at by creating scare-mongering if one is going for re-election after failing on the border issue as Eddie and Council are doing. We will have to see if the Michigan Governor or legislators have the nerve to kill DRIC or at least put it in limbo until some serious questions are answered satisfactorily.

To give you an idea in more detail about what the Professor is saying about megaprojects, I found this article that he wrote on the Internet and am setting out some excerpts from it.

Machiavellian Megaprojects
Bent Flyvbjerg
Department of Development and Planning, Aalborg University, Aalborg, Denmark;

Which projects get built? We found it isn’t necessarily the best ones, but those projects for which proponents best succeed in conjuring a fantasy world of underestimated costs, overestimated revenues, undervalued environmental impacts and overvalued regional development effects.

Machiavelli seems to have been Chief Adviser on these projects with his observation that ‘‘princes who have achieved great things have been those…who have known how to trick men with their cunning, and who, in the end, have overcome those abiding by honest principles’’.

In fact, there seemed to be a formula at work:
(underestimated costs) + (overestimated revenues) + (undervalued environmental impacts) + (overvalued economic development effects) = (project approval)

Many project proponents don’t hesitate to use this Machiavellian formula for project approval, even if it means misleading parliaments, the public and the media about the costs and benefits of projects. The result is an unhealthy ‘‘survival of the unfittest’’ for large public works and other construction projects.

During project implementation, when fact defeats fiction, the consequence is huge cost overruns, delays, revenues that don’t materialise, crippling debt and, to add insult to injury, often also negative environmental and social impacts.

Examples from transport, the main focus of our study, include Boston’s ‘‘Big Dig’’, aka the Central Artery/Tunnel Project, which is 275%, or US$11 billion over budget in constant dollars. The Channel tunnel between the UK and France came in 80% over budget with a cost overrun of US$4.5 billion and patronage 50–80% under the forecast. From the opening, Eurotunnel, the company that owns the tunnel, was locked in a debt trap from which it has never escaped. The Los Angeles Subway and many other urban rail projects around the world have similar problems. The cost overrun for Denver’s US$5 billion international airport was close to 200% and passenger traffic in the opening year was only half of that projected.

Funding such underperformance is an inverted Darwinism where the worst projects survive. It is the material of which financial and other disasters are made.

Each and every large construction project does not follow the pattern of understated costs and overstated benefits, needless to say. But most do. Nine times out of ten, costs begin to soar after projects have been approved, leaving taxpayers or investors to pick up bills of hundreds of millions of dollars. Cost overruns of 50% are common. Overruns above 100% are not uncommon. For rail projects, for example, half of all projects have cost overruns of 45% and higher. When this is combined with patronage, which for half of all rail projects is less than 50% of that forecasted, it becomes clear why so many projects have financial problems.

But are the proponents of these projects intentionally deceiving governments and taxpayers when they produce their forecasts of costs and benefits? In an uncomfortable number of cases the answer is yes.

Our data show that the old excuses—inadequate data or models, technical problems, over-optimism—are not plausible. For more than 70 years cost overruns have stayed largely constant, meaning they are highly predictable. But it seems no one is learning from past mistakes, or no one wants to learn. The situation is similar for forecasts of benefits. Either the people who do the forecasts of costs and benefits are incredibly incompetent, which is unlikely, or they deliberately manipulate costs and benefits to help projects get approved. Forecasters are on record stating the latter is the case.

The ends justify the means, or so the players reason. Moreover, the whole structure of incentives for large construction projects is geared towards underestimating costs and overestimating benefits. Each project is a multimillion and sometimes even multibillion-dollar business and when it goes forward a lot of people profit—engineers, contractors, bankers, landowners, construction workers, lawyers, developers. In addition, politicians with a ‘‘monument’’ complex gain satisfaction, administrators get larger budgets, and cities get investments and infrastructures that would otherwise go elsewhere.

Therefore, something more insidious than overt deception may be at play: a culture of covert lying. … It might seem odd that low-cost, high-benefit forecasts miraculously fit clients’ and forecasters’ silent wishes time and time again. But their wishes may not be questioned or criticised. Rather it is taken for granted that the proposed highway, stadium, dam or rail line is the correct answer to the problem, and cost–benefit estimates somehow come out just right. Like patriotism, their conviction requires no rationale and allows no serious doubt. Once politicians, stakeholders and the media accept forecasted costs and benefits as if they were hard facts, projects follow by sheer momentum. As in any other culture where critical voices are suppressed, eventually the dominant players begin to actually believe in their own deceptions.

The problem isn’t that good projects don’t exist. The problem is that the Machiavellian make-believe world of underestimated costs and overestimated benefits projected by many project proponents to promote their favourite project distorts what we know, or think we know, and makes it exceedingly difficult to decide which projects deserve undertaking and which do not. The result is that too many projects proceed that shouldn’t have done. I would like to add that many projects don’t proceed that probably should have, had they not lost out to projects with ‘‘better’’ delusion, that is ‘‘better’’ underestimates of costs and overestimates of benefits.

…scepticism must now be applied to those involved in promoting and building large public works projects. In addition to the war on corporate deception, we need a war on deception in government, and with the same objective: to curb multimillion-dollar financial waste.

Government ethics stand as much in need of betterment as corporate ethics. Key weapons in the war on deception will be accountability and critical questioning… Our studies show, however, that their claims about costs and benefits mostly cannot be trusted and should be carefully examined by independent specialists and organisations and should be open to public scrutiny.

The lying game has long historical roots and is deeply ingrained in professional and institutional practices. It would be naive to think it is easily toppled. Given the stakes involved—including billions of dollars worth of misinvestments in underperforming projects—this shouldn’t deter us from trying.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Everything Old Is New Again

Have we finally received some good news on the job front! You try and figure this out since I am lost.

The Star on Saturday reported that "New plants to feed DCX." Just-in-time suppliers for DCX and Just-in-the-nick-of-time for Eddie's May 1 State of the City speech.

It looks like 7 suppliers are looking for plants in the area. But the story was not clear to me whether new jobs will be created or will we just break even since Chrysler is cutting jobs. "Some or all of the Windsor suppliers are expected to be unionized, the CAW has said. But the new plants will lead to a net loss of several hundred positions inside Chrysler's sprawling Windsor Assembly Plant on Chrysler Central."

It is a confusing situation to me anyway. In February, the Star reported:
  • "The layoff list at DaimlerChrysler Canada's Windsor Assembly Plant has reached 753 people, the company said this week -- the highest count since the Pillette Road van assembly plant closed June 12, 2003.

    But there is light at the end of the layoff tunnel, says Ken Lewenza, president of CAW Local 444. All of the 600-odd Chrysler assembly workers currently out of work will be recalled by the end of 2006, he predicted Wednesday as he learned 80 people had been recalled."

Back in September when the Chrysler-CAW deal was announced, it was said also
  • "Lewenza said he was confident enough of his members would retire over the next three years that the members of Local 444 wouldn't need to resort to a worst-case scenario the union negotiated into the deal, under which displaced workers would be put on a preferential hiring list for subassembly work with Chrysler's suppliers."
So I am not sure what the real status is and also what the pay rates are. Will the Jobless Rate numbers go down or is this just musical chairs, with workers going from Chrysler to a supplier? Will the new CAW supplier plants pay the same rate as Chrysler or lower? That is important to businesses in town.

Actually, this is old news being repackaged for political purposes. First on CKLW last Tuesday and now the Star. We have to make people excited don't we. This information was given out back on January 10:
  • "More than a dozen new automotive parts plants are coming to the city to supply DaimlerChrysler Canada Inc.'s Windsor Assembly plant for the next-generation minivan, LaSorda confirmed Monday.

    Most of the companies coming to Windsor will be building or acquiring new plants to provide Chrysler with sub-assemblies such as complete doors, axles and instrument panels."

No matter, it will be a big win for Eddie on the first!

And speaking of "supplier parks" being built around Chrysler's North American plants, doesn't that impact DRIC's border numbers too? Parks are being built in Toledo, Ohio, and near Belvidere, Ill. Doesn't that mean that the truck volume numbers should be revised downward, again! Doesn't it mean that the argument for another crossing is losing its strength, again! Doesn't it mean we need to change our focus to fixing the road to the border now? I would have thought so.

Accountability In Windsor

I see that the Conservatives have introduced the Federal Accountability Act.

Part of the Act deals with post-employment activities. The Government states that "These changes will give the Commissioner of Lobbying the independence and necessary powers to ensure that lobbying is done in a transparent and ethical way. Canadians will be reassured that former senior public-office holders do not use their personal connections to obtain special favours from government once they leave office, and that conflict-of-interest situations do not arise while they hold office."

The Act would "prohibit ministers, ministerial staffers, and senior public servants from registering and lobbying the Government of Canada for five years after leaving office."

We in Windsor had the opportunity to pass a similar Resolution with respect to post-employment conduct. (See September 30, 2005 "Conflicts" Motion That Council Has Forgotten")

On March 29, 2004, Councillor Postma introduced a Motion that I thought balanced fairly the competing interests of politicians and the public. I thought it took some guts for her to do that being a rookie on Council. However, our action-oriented Council, with only the Mayor declaring an interest and abstaining, deferred the matter "pending a report from administration in 4 weeks..." We are still waiting for the Report.

Perhaps it might be something for the new Mayor and Council to look into. It won't be dealt with by this group. I expect that some members of Council may now be very concerned about who their new employer might be after the November election.