It seemed like a simple deal at the time.
While never without controversy, the City of Abbotsford’s 2016 deal with pipeline company Kinder Morgan seemed like a relatively simple way to improve a city asset that was already slated for renovations.
The city had bought Ledgeview the course for $1.1 million in 1980 with a promise to maintain it as a public golf facility. The city receives rent and a share of profits under the terms of its contract with the operating society. And for decades, the course had used a repurposed house as its clubhouse.
So in January of 2016, city put pen to paper on a deal worth $1.3 million to replace the Ledgeview clubhouse. The pipeline company, for its part, would add Abbotsford to its list of municipalities that had signed “community benefit” agreements contingent on the twinning of its aging Trans Mountain pipeline. There was opposition from Coun. Patricia Ross and local environmental groups, but things were looking up for Ledgeview Golf Club members and the society that runs the course.
“This will be the most transformational thing that has happened to Ledgeview in the past 30 years,” the club’s president, John Hambley, said when the Trans Mountain deal was announced.
But two-and-a-half years later, there is still no new clubhouse and none of the partners involved the pipeline deal seem very happy.
It started with the fire – but didn’t end there.
On April 19, the existing clubhouse burned to the ground.
The building was a complete loss, as were many items that catalogued more than 50 years of the club’s history. But there was optimism among members and officials; within hours, golfers were back on the links, and temporary amenity buildings were soon on site.
The clubhouse had been insured to the tune of around $1.5 million, and while the fire was a setback, those insurance proceeds would further bolster the money available to finance a new facility. On top of the $1.3 million already promised by Trans Mountain, the city was working to secure another $1.5 million for the use of right-of-ways – money which could also be put into the pot for a new clubhouse.
But all that pipeline cash had a fairly large asterisk attached to it: the money would only be released to the city once “all regulatory, government and corporate approvals are obtained and/or until Trans Mountain has completed all due diligence it deems necessary.”
No pipeline meant no money.
There were other stumbling blocks. The city had a hard time finding a builder for the project, issuing multiple requests for a builder to complete the project. And the nature of the fire also complicated insurance matters.
Still the plan proceeded, and last November, council gave the thumbs up to a $5.67 million facility that would include a 225-seat clubhouse and banquet hall, in addition to facilities for golfers. In addition to the Kinder Morgan and insurance money, the city would put in around $1 million of its own cash, while the Ledgeview society would raise another $270,000.
But even as the city found a builder, the pipeline issue loomed large.
Protests dogged construction on Kinder Morgan’s Burnaby facilities, and the B.C. government continued to back legal challenges to the project. In April, Kinder Morgan suspended most construction activities, and the next month, the federal government promised to purchase the pipeline. In August, though, a court ruled that the government had failed to properly consult First Nation groups.
The society says the public delay announced Friday was only the latest of four proposed construction start dates that have been abandoned.
Lawyers have also become involved. Earlier this year, the city’s insurer sued the Ledgeview society, alleging it didn’t have proper fire protection for the building. And in July, the society sued its own insurer, asking the court to immediately release money it was owed under the terms of its coverage. Neither lawsuit has been resolved.
And then, last Friday, the city publicly conceded it was unsure if it would actually be getting the money from Trans Mountain.
In a press release following a closed-doors meeting, the city announced that uncertainty over the Trans Mountain pipeline announced council had voted it was delaying the impending groundbreaking for the new facility. With half of the construction cost to be paid for with funds dependent on the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, council determined that more time was needed to determine the ramifications of a recent court ruling and that it wasn’t ready to kick off construction at an event scheduled for Sept. 15 and set to include local PGA stars Adam Hadwin and Nick Taylor.
Two days later, the Ledgeview Golf & Country Club Society condemned the move in a sternly worded statement that called out Mayor Henry Braun.
“This is a tremendous blow to the golf community, especially for Abbotsford residents, our charitable partners, and the dozens of volunteers who support us,” society president Chris Gaudet said in the press release. “We can no longer support Mayor Braun’s leadership on this issue.”
The society also suggested that the city didn’t have enough fire insurance to rebuild the clubhouse after it burned down in April of 2016. Since the fire, the society has operated out of temporary buildings, a situation it said had compromised its ability to host revenue-generating events and tournaments.
Braun, though, said the $1.5-million insurance payout received by the city was enough to pay for a like-for-like replacement of the destroyed clubhouse. But he said that he believed the city and the society were in agreement that a larger facility was needed in keeping with Ledgeview’s status as the city’s only full-length golf course. With the insurance money to be added to more than $2.5 million promised by Trans Mountain, Braun said the opportunity had existed to develop a major community asset.
But Braun said council decided last week that it would be imprudent to proceed as planned without a guarantee that the Trans Mountain money would actually come through. Without those funds, the cost to taxpayers would more than triple.
Last month’s court ruling that the government hadn’t properly consulted First Nations took many people by surprise, Braun said.
“We haven’t cancelled the project,” he added. Rather, staff will report back in a few months. “At the end of 60 to 90 days, we may know much more than we know now.”
Braun said he was surprised by the society’s statement.
“I think we were working [together] very well,” he said.
He said that if the society is prioritizing a speedy construction that doesn’t rely on pipeline funds, council could consider such a plan, although he maintained that the course should have a bigger building.
“If Ledgeview wants a clubhouse that’s the same size as they had before, we can deal with that at the next council meeting,” he said. “My impression is that’s not what they wanted.”