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Essex Council responds to Kingsville’s request for a comprehensive review of E.L.K. Energy

by Sylene Argent

At the Monday, November 1 regular meeting, members of Essex Council discussed the letter Kingsville Council voted unanimously to send at its October 12 meeting, regarding E.L.K. Energy.

  Essex Council moved to forward that letter to the local utility’s Board of Directors for a response.

  The letter from Kingsville Council asks the Town of Essex, as the owner of E.L.K. Energy Inc., to direct the local utility to get its executive leadership and Board of Directors to complete a comprehensive review of the electrical supply to determine why its supply is unreliable, why E.L.K. is unresponsive to customer complaints and concerns, and why E.L.K. won’t work with the Town of Kingsville on a road use agreement.

  Failing a satisfactory resolution from the Town of Essex and E.L.K. within four months, the resolution will have Kingsville Administration bring a report to Council on options available to the Town to hold E.L.K. accountable, which could include a complaint or application to the Ontario Energy Board.

  Kingsville Councillor Kim DeYong made the motion, which notes E.L.K.’s disruptions and outages results in economic hardship and losses to local businesses; personal hardship as homes and family lives are disrupted; loss and damage to electronic equipment; and stress and concern arising from uncertainty as to when the service can be relied upon.

  The resolution states, “The Town of Essex must be accountable for E.L.K. and cannot simply take dividends without any expectation of delivering reliable service, good customer service, and reasonably requiring E.L.K. to operate safely and cooperatively with the Town government within which it operates.”

  On Monday evening, Councillor Sherry Bondy put forward a motion that the Town of Essex forward Kingsville’s letter to the E.L.K. Energy Board for response. In a recorded vote, it was unanimously passed. Councillor Steve Bjorkman was absent from the meeting.

  Bondy said people want to hear from E.L.K. as to updates being done and in regards to asset management. She said its Board members are not bringing information back to Council and to the public.

  She said communication regarding power-outages, regardless of if the issue comes from this utility, is subpar.  

  “If we look at the Kingsville letter, it is time to really start paying attention and say, ‘hey, like we have a problem here,’” she said.

  “When Kingsville Council says items, like E.L.K. has frequent disruptions and outages that are economic hardships for businesses and residents, and whereas they are talking about poor customer service complaints and concerns unanswered and a seemingly uncaring and unresponsive E.L.K. executive leadership, E.L.K. Board of Directors, and the Town of Essex, this isn’t good. This isn’t good for our developers, this isn’t good for our shareholders, our reputation,” Bondy said.

  When Kingsville’s staff are having a hard time talking to E.L.K. executive members, that is concerning, she added.  

Bondy said, to her understanding, there are concerns coming from the Town of Lakeshore as well.

  “It is time for this Council and this E.L.K Board, I really think, to start answering questions,” she said.  

  Mayor Larry Snively said he, CAO Doug Sweet, and Deputy Mayor Richard Meloche have put in a request to meet with representatives from the Town of Kingsville. He said he is getting information from E.L.K. to present regarding problems that are with Hydro One.

  “I don’t like the false information that’s out there and it continues on a regular basis…it has got to stop. And you don’t think we are working on this? Come on, give me a break,” he said. “So, stop. I am asking you to stop relaying false information. We will meet with Kingsville, and we will meet with Lakeshore, too, if we have to. But, 90 percent of the problem is not E.L.K., and I wish you would tell the people that, instead of continuing at the rate you are going,” Snively said to Bondy.

  Snively said Bondy knows he and Meloche have met with representatives of Hydro One, and “they admitted there [were] issues. They are working on the issues. What do you want us to do, Councillor Bondy? We are pushing Hydro One. What more can we do?” Snively said.

  At the July 19 Essex Council meeting, a majority vote approved Integrity Commissioner Robert Swayze’s recommendation to suspend Bondy’s pay as a member of Council for 30-days, as a result of an investigation he conducted regarding a complaint Mayor Snively made in April.

  Snively, through the report on the matter, said Bondy was posting negative comments about the local utility on social media and recorded a video in front of the company’s premises.

  Snively complained Bondy was publicly and continuously harassing the staff at E.L.K. Energy Inc.

  In the Report to Council, Swayze added that if Bondy continues with her public criticism of any staff after this report, his recommendation will be 90-days each time.

  During Monday’s meeting, Councillor Chris Vander Doelen said Bondy was a member of the Board and claims she brings up the subject to get answers. As a member of the Board, presumably, she had the answers. Then she resigned. Now, there are questions. He claimed the situation is just politics and will work itself out.

  Councillor Kim Verbeek said she was confused as Council was talking about the letter sent by Kingsville. “To be honest, I feel like we are talking in circles, talking about Hydro One and making it about Councillor Bondy, because she has been asking a lot of the questions. And, we all know the profile of this situation.”

  She said did not think there was any confusion as to why Bondy stepped down from the E.L.K. Board. “She wasn’t able to get the answers, because she wasn’t able to ask them as a Board member. She gave that up, so she could ask the questions. It would be pretty silly of her not to continue to ask now.”

  Verbeek said Bondy just wanted Council, on Monday evening, to support the letter from the neighbouring community.

  Councillor Joe Garon asked who would pay to have the report completed that Kingsville requested.

  CAO Sweet responded, the way he sees it, if Council gives direction, the Town of Essex would be asking the E.L.K. Board and administration to respond back to the Town of Kingsville, and that would be his recommendation at this point.

  Garon said complaints are received by Essex residents and he thinks they echo Kingsville’s concerns. He did not have an issue asking E.L.K. to respond to Kingsville’s letter.

  Deputy Mayor Meloche said there is a meeting set up between reps from Essex and Kingsville to get a better understanding of what Kingsville was asking for and maybe have a discussion on examples.

  “There [are] a lot of accusations in this letter that [have] no backing; it is just general...we need to have more concrete examples, so that we can go back to E.L.K. and say, ‘what happened in this case,’ because you are not guilty as charged, you are guilty once you have time to prove your innocence or not.

  “I know there are power-outages, we all know there are power-outages, there are blips and so on. What we need to find out is are these blips a normal amount of blips, because I can tell you right now, Leamington has more blips than what Harrow or Kingsville does right now, and they’re not under E.L.K., they are under Essex Powerlines,” Meloche said.

  He said it is known it has something to do with feed from Hydro One. “We are trying to work with Hydro One,” he said, referring to the meeting Snively previously mentioned.

  The OEB is the watchdog for hydro distribution companies. If E.L.K. was not doing a proper job, Meloche said the OEB would come down hard on E.L.K.

  For more Essex Council news, see the article, “Essex Council Notes for Monday, November 1, 2021” in this edition of the Essex Free Press.