May 20, 2009

A new vision for Erin? What's the rush?

As published in the Erin Advocate

Last week I invited students to think about the type of place they would like Erin to become, and to put their ideas into the mix during the "visioning" phase of the Town's Master Plan project. They will surely be adults by the time the plan has its full impact.

Of course, everyone is welcome to contribute to the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP). At this early stage, we are asked 1) What do you really like about your town? and 2) What would make it a better place?

Send your responses (including photos if you want) to Project Manager Matt Pearson, who will use some of them in Erin's SSMP website. Email to:, or send letters to B.M. Ross, 62 North Street, Goderich, ON N7A 2T4.

It is an "early stage" for the SSMP, but really it is the start of a new chapter in a long saga that revolves around sewage, housing growth and protection of the environment.

I found an Advocate article from September 1995 on a standing-room-only public meeting regarding a $25 million sewage treatment plant for Erin Village. As soon as Reeve Terry Mundell had made his opening remarks, an audience member expressed concern about lack of information, and requested that the whole project be put on hold until there was consensus in the community. Many questioned the need for a plant, and criticized the planning process.

A sewage plant still has not been built, and while there are lingering concerns about septic systems and the type of growth we are getting, nobody seems too upset about the situation. Maybe we will still be looking for consensus 10-15 years from now.

Town Council is wise to seek people's views of the future and promise full communication, before making detailed growth plans. Ultimately, though, most people just do not care enough about municipal affairs, or do not have the time to participate. Among those who do care, some are actively opposed to any new costs or disruption of the status quo.

Nothing seems to happen quickly around here. That is frustrating at times, but like it or not, it forms part of Erin's character. We're a work-in-progress – a little rough around the edges. There are a lot of things it would be "nice" to have, but when there's not enough money or political will, they just have to wait.

And we are making progress – services and facilities are improving. For example, the new pedestrian bridge is being installed on Millwood. It provides a safer crossing of the river for students of St. John Brebeuf School, which opened 30 years ago.

We moved to Erin in 1985 because we wanted a community with lots of open space, walking trails, fresh air, clean water, views of green hills, historic buildings, safe streets, reasonable taxes and friendly, helpful people. Real estate was less expensive than in Georgetown, and it was within acceptable commuting distance for work in Brampton or Mississauga. Except for real estate prices, not much has changed.

Things that would make Erin better: a heavy truck bypass, bus links to neighboring towns, a few more stores, a better housing mix (more small homes, and apartments), a boardwalk on the Credit River, improvements to Stanley Park, more social and health care services, and high-speed internet access for everyone.

If it got really crowded here, I would want to move. But even with sewage treatment, Hillsburgh is only projected to grow by 800 people by 2031 and Erin village by 1,500 people. That does not qualify as crowded. The whole town would grow to 15,530, with 9,050 living outside the urban areas.

As part of that rural majority, I am willing to pay my share of studying Erin's future growth, since we rely on the urban areas for our local identity and economy. Obviously, though, I do not want a huge surcharge on my tax bill to pay for a sewage system to which I cannot connect.

Improvements need to be made to sewage handling in the urban areas, in order to protect the river and the groundwater, to allow moderate population growth (more customers for local stores) and to build up our commercial/industrial tax base.

I disagree with those who would oppose sewage improvements in an attempt to stop all new development, and I hope the SSMP process will come up with practical solutions that most people can support. Hoping for it to happen quickly, however, is probably hoping too much.