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Elliot Lake mayor says opposition to golf course sale rooted in online misinformation

After three years of warnings, the owner of an apartment building in Elliot Lake has been fined $3,500 under the Environmental Protection Act. (File) After three years of warnings, the owner of an apartment building in Elliot Lake has been fined $3,500 under the Environmental Protection Act. (File)

Elliot Lake Mayor Dan Marchisella said this week that opposition to the sale of the city-owned golf course was rooted in misinformation spread online.

Meeting on Monday, councillors easily defeated a motion that would have started the process to sell Stone Ridge Golf Course to a private investor for $1.5 million.

The sale would have generated around $27,000 in tax revenue and saved Elliot Lake about $120,000 a year it pays in operating costs for the course.

Councillors met last month in a closed-door meeting to discuss the offer, as they are allowed to do under Ontario law. But details of that discussion were leaked, and Marchisella said misinformation about the sale spread on social media.

That led to councillors receiving numerous calls from angry residents.

Councillors and staff were also unhappy with a local media report that said staff was recommending the sale. In fact, at council's request, economic development manager Steve Antunes prepared a report, not with a recommendation, but outlining how the sale would have to work if it was approved.

Bid was unsolicited

Antunes said the city received an unsolicited bid to buy the golf course. The proposal was discussed in a closed session Jan. 10, when he was directed to prepare the report.

"The purchaser would retain all existing full-time staff and operations (would be) set to continue in typical fashion this spring while the new owners make incremental improvements to the business over time," he said.

Marchisella said the discussion councillors had Jan. 10 was very different than the one they were having Feb. 14, and he blamed pressure from the public generated by misinformation on social media.

"I'm not too happy social media can dictate so much," he said, describing much of the online conversation as "total misinformation."

The potential buyers have not only committed to keeping the golf course, but to make investments in it so it can grow, Marchisella said.

"It wouldn't mean the public would lose access," he said.

Valid concerns

But Coun. Chris Patrie said he received a lot of calls and messages about the sale, most of whom raised valid concerns.

"Yes it was leaked," Patrie said, adding he has been told who leaked it, but wasn't going to make a report to the integrity commissioner for an investigation.

"There was no misinformation by the people who contacted me."

He said residents are concerned the selling price is too low, that other potential buyers weren't given a chance to bid and that the buyer didn't commit to keeping it a golf course "in perpetuity."

"I don't want to lose this asset," Patrie said.

He said the course is a major asset to Elliot Lake, and said keeping the sale offer "hush-hush" meant that other bidders couldn't step forward.

"There is another offer on the table," Patrie said.

"I can speak to this because the proponent has told me that I could speak to this live. I'm not going to say the numbers, it is slightly higher than the current offer. But the fact is if we would have brought this out in the open earlier, there may have been other potential purchasers."

In the end, the motion was defeated 5-2. Read the staff report here and watch the full debate on the proposed sale here. Top Stories

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