The spotlight on the Burgoyne Bridge massive cost overrun has shifted to the City of St. Catharines. At issue is two years worth of city emails, 2011 and 2012, that can’t be retrieved. The 2011 email file is corrupted and the 2012 emails have completely vanished.
The committee trying to get to the bottom of the massive cost overruns was provided with an update from staff at this week’s meeting.
Members of the committee learned that during the Burgoyne Bridge investigation emails from the City of St. Catharines that were requested were not readily available as they were archived. The city sent the archived tapes to a Hagersville computer company called Fast Computers who were tasked to retrieve the emails. Fast Computers had the tapes for six months until the Region asked what the holdup was. The tapes were then given to Regional staff whom, within the matter of a few weeks, were able to determine that the emails from the years critical to the investigation were either corrupt or missing completely. The tapes with emails from 2008, 2009, 2010, 2013 and 2014 were all accessible.
The Niagara Independent spoke to an IT security expert from Toronto who said it is, “definitely a red flag” that there is a problem retrieving the two years of emails that are critical to the investigation. He went on to say that normal practice is to have monthly backups plus an annual backup, all of which are stored off site in a secure location. In short, there should be no excuse to having emails corrupted or gone missing.
This latest revelation had the committee frustrated. Committee chair Selina Volpatti said, “It’s bewildering to me that all other emails are available but the years we really need are mysteriously gone.”
St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik has publicly voiced his displeasure with the request to get to the bottom of the missing emails calling the motion “absurd”.
The Mayor’s comments surprised Councilor Volpatti. “Walter’s reaction is confusing to me. He wasn’t the mayor of St. Catharines at the time and so I anticipated he would be far more cooperative and want to get to the bottom of this as much as anyone.” The mayor of St. Catharines during the years of the missing emails was Brian McMullan and the Regional Chair at the time was Garry Burroughs.
Volpatti said it is disheartening to try and get answers to something that has cost taxpayers millions of dollars only to be blocked at every turn. But she said, “I have had St. Catharines residents call me to encourage us to keep after this,” she said.
St. Catharines Regional Councilor Bruce Timms echoed Volpatti’s frustration. “People think it is this current administration that is responsible for this and I have to explain that it was a different Chair, a different St. Catharines Mayor – it’s not Walter or Al.”
In fact, Timms remembers Caslin, a rookie councillor at the time, being very vocal about getting answers to the ballooning bridge budget. “He was one of the few St. Catharines guys objecting to the cost increases,” explained Timms. I think coming from the private sector he just couldn’t believe the increases were always approved.”
“Now, under the leadership of Chair Caslin, these investigations have been pursued relentlessly.”
The cost of the new Burgoyne Bridge continued to escalate throughout the process going from preliminary estimates of $34 million, to $54 million, to the near $100 million it eventually cost taxpayers.
The staff presentation generated more concerns and more questions about a number of issues particularly the accuracy of information council received from former staff during the time of the bridge planning and construction. “How can we as council make good decisions when we aren’t getting accurate information?” asked Councilor Volpatti.
The entire Burgoyne Bridge affair is currently under active OPP investigation.