Clegg’s Corner – Our Ugly Duckling is back in the news

You have every right to believe the Esso lot is High Prairie’s Ugly Ducking, but it still doesn’t warrant breaking the bank to beautify it.

We all hate the empty lot in the middle of town, especially when our beautiful Civic Square is right across the street. Talk about a contrast, sort of like putting Miss America beside Camilla Parker Bowles and asking which is prettier.

May 8, 2001 was the day the old Esso building was demolished. Since that time, citizens and councillors have whined about the Ugly Duckling, Black Hole, weed-infested lot. Esso, being the outstanding, community-minded organization they are, doesn’t give a damn about what High Prairians think, or how their empty lot looks.

Past councils, even the former economic development officer for three years, worked on the project “tirelessly” to no avail. A trip to Calgary to talk with Esso was a waste of time and effort, unless the lucky people who went attended a Flames hockey game or a Stampeders football game.

But, here we go again. Council has placed the High Prairie Park Survey on its Website asking for citizens’ input.

I didn’t know about the survey until I made a few rounds around town on Jan. 23. I got my ear chewed off at two locations. I only hope the next time I see some councillors they also look like Vincent Van Gogh.

The big beef: do not spend of taxpayers’ money on a lot the town doesn’t own.

Lori Matthews attended council’s meeting Jan. 23 with the same message. She called it an “irresponsible” use of money.

It’s difficult to argue against these citizens. Is there a potential danger or spending money only to see Esso pull the plug? Remember, this is the same corporate Fairy Godmother that would yank a little girl’s wish for a doll from her hands at a moment’s notice.

This columnist and newspaper have long argued to “make a deal” with Esso for a lease, then beautify it. We never argued to spend a lot of money. Perhaps tear up the concrete, level it, seed it to grass, built a few benches and flower beds. That’s it.

However, take a close look at the survey. First, note it was prepared by the Mackenzie Municipal Services Agency. High Prairie taxpayers paid this agency to put together this survey. Council will argue the work is done as part of a larger contract, but council should be identifying projects they will be proceeding with before tossing money into the fireplace.

Taking a look at their survey, one of High Prairie Elementary School’s finest Grade 5 students could have done as good a job.

Oh, well! I am sure Mackenzie has already cashed its cheque and laughed all the way to the bank.

When we scroll down to see ideas suggested, we see lights, shelters, gazebos, community gardens, fountains, a playground, etc.

Warning flags should be raised everywhere. Let’s see, a playground by today’s standards similar to the Civic Park will cost over $100,000. A gazebo will run you $15,000 to $20,000.

Cha-ching! Cha-ching! Do you hear taxes rising?

No wonder citizens like Matthews are concerned!

All this, keeping in mind that council has no deal in place with Esso for a rock-solid lease to ensure the taxpayer that their money will not be a complete waste.

Meanwhile, don’t buy the pathetic excuse that High Prairie needs to present a plan to Esso for them to “buy into” any project.

If Esso cared at all, the lot wouldn’t have remained an empty eyesore for almost 17 years while they rake in monstrous profits at the expense of ripped off people like the good old High Prairie taxpayer.

Spend a little money if you must to beautify it, but not a lot. It is Esso who should bear the brunt and expense of any major beautification.


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