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Council votes down sale of Sunny Cove

By Randy Thoms May 9, 2023 | 6:00 AM

Image: Randy Thoms

Sunny Cove Camp will remain in control of the town of Fort Frances.

Town council rejected, at their meeting last night, a motion to sell off the historic camp by a vote of 5-2.

Mayor Andrew Hallikas and Councillor Mike Behan voted for the sale.

The town took over the camp from the Kiwanis Club in a deal reached in 2009. The club came to the town saying it could no longer afford to run it.

The camp last operated in 2019. The town has also suffered annual operating losses of $25,000 since taking over.

Sunny Cove is also in need of urgent upgrades.

Interim Chief Administrative Officer Travis Rob estimates the cost to be hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“I’m somewhere in the ballpark of about half a million dollars to get Russell Hall up to a safe state,” says Rob. “That’s really just the start of it all. Beyond that, we have a number of cabins that need windows, doors, siding, roofs, entry stairs, walkway repairs, et cetera, et cetera. The list goes on and on. But really, it’s Russell Hall that’s the most important. That’s step one because, as of right now, I would not be comfortable opening Russell Hall up to the general public.”

The town has not budgeted for any work this year nor submitted any grant applications.

Councillor Wendy Brunetta feels the town needs to explore those options before thinking of a sale.

” It’s my opinion that we have neglected this property since we received it, and now that we’ve let it fall in disrepair, I don’t believe we should be just divesting ourselves of it,” says Brunetta.

Councillor John McTaggart also opposes the sale. He suggests turning to the area’s federal and provincial representatives and having them tour the facility and identify potential funding sources.

“My concern is that once we dispose of this property, it’s gone. We’ve lost it, and I think it’s a real jewel. Yes, it’s going to cost some money to upgrade it, and we will lose money probably at running it, but we do that with a number of other facilities that we have in the town,” says McTaggart.

Mayor Hallikas doesn’t want to see the camp sold, but his biggest concern is the money already spent on a facility that many people don’t use or can’t access because of its distance from town.

“Right now, the people using Sunny Cove are not a large segment of our population. We’re expending significant dollars operating that, but we are not servicing a large portion of our population. So you have to ask yourself, could we do more for others if the money was spent elsewhere?” asks Hallikas.

Councillor Behan is also concerned with the lack of access. He also feels the town would be saving the campsite by having someone else take over.

“If we find the right entity to take over this and be able to use it as it historically has been used in the past, we are saving Sunny Cove because I’m not sure we as a town, as a community, can afford to operate and maintain it any further,” says Behan.

Councillor Dave Kircher says anyone taking it over now would likely face the same issues and costs the town is trying to come to terms with.

“So, I think it’s a little disingenuous to think that someone else could operate it cheaper, or they wouldn’t have to put in the resources that we’re discussing tonight,” says Kircher.

Rob warns that without any action being taken on the camp soon, some buildings could be at risk.

“If we do nothing for the next twelve months, the next report that comes is that we’re going to have to tear Russell Hall down,” says Rob.


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