December 26, 2012

Change is inevitable, but resistance is not futile

As published in The Erin Advocate

To simply say that change is unacceptable will not be a useful argument in the upcoming debate about population growth and sewers in Erin. Changes to our environment are clearly inevitable, so people have to decide if they have the energy and interest to have some influence on what happens.

It can start with a nostalgic feeling that this is a good place to live, with many things worth preserving. But it needs to step up to some practical strategies about what can be done to make the changes as acceptable as possible.

"Let's do nothing and see what happens" will only slow things down for so long, and if we remain passive, we may be very unhappy with the results. It's relatively easy to say what should not be done, but much harder to decide what should actually be done.

If there is to be an effective resistance, it has to be a constructive one.

Like it or not, we live in a high-growth region. With towns all around us taking their share of new population, have we somehow earned the right to stay the same?

Population growth appears to be Plan A for the federal, provincial and county governments, all democratically elected, and Erin's Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP) report in February will conform to those policies.

If we disagree with Plan A, we need to come up with Plan B, C or D. Sensing political danger perhaps, town councillors have said virtually nothing in public about where they stand on these issues. Soon they will have to vote on the SSMP report, and I hope they will each offer some words of explanation for their positions.

We should first decide what we really want, among the realistic options, and not allow other governments to dictate everything and take the blame. Once we have a long-term plan, we can pursue the funding to make it happen.

In the 20 years from 1961 to 1981, Erin village more than doubled its population, going from 1,000 residents to 2,300 residents. It wasn't done particularly well, but was the charm of the village destroyed? Some might say yes, but I think most would say no.

Many people didn't like the development of large-lot subdivisions in recent decades, but this is still a great place to live. I think the Town is a better place to live now, than when I moved here in 1985.

Now we have the prospect of doubling again over 20-30 years through the Solmar proposal, not to mention other serious developers. I don't think such growth is bad in and of itself, but it makes a big difference how it is done.

This could be a chance to do it much better than we have in the past. Erin could still be a jewel, but with some additional carats. The proposed growth is still moderate by Southern Ontario standards.

There is no chance that we will ever look like Brampton, or even experience growth like that of Georgetown.

I went to a recent meeting of the SSMP Liaison Committee for an educational session called Wastewater Treatment 101. It seemed strange to be discussing the pros and cons of various sewage treatment methods, when we haven't even decided whether to go this route. We still have no idea how many millions of dollars a system would cost, and how much the relatively small portion of Town residents on the system would have to pay for hook-up and ongoing sewage bills.

"Wastewater has to be paid for by the people who use it," said Mayor Lou Maieron.

Regarding the effluent from a sewage plant that would have to flow into the West Credit River, the SSMP will include an Assimilative Capacity Study. This determines the level of treatment needed to meet the water quality standards set by the Ministry of the Environment (MoE). Advanced levels of treatment would be more expensive and allow more homes to be built, but there will be a maximum.

"The extent to which we have to treat the sewage ultimately is established by the MoE," B.M. Ross Engineer Dale Erb. "The West Credit has a quality that is better than the objectives established by the province. The current criteria that we're working with is fairly stringent. It's going to require a well thought out treatment process, but it is attainable. Of course, in the end, it just means dollars."

Project Manager Matt Pearson said that the SSMP will recommend a tried and true processing system, instead of a relatively unproven alternative method.

"It's nice to be cutting edge, but you have to be right," he said. "This is too big of an investment to make a mistake."

Councillor wants raise for staff reconsidered

As published in The Erin Advocate

Councillor Jose Wintersinger has given notice that she will ask council to reconsider the 3% raise recently approved for Town staff and councillors.

The issue will be discussed at the January 8 meeting, amid some confusion about the impact of the 2013 pay increase, which is being given in two stages.

After last Tuesday's council meeting, Wintersinger said that the total raise should be no more than the current annual increase in the Statistics Canada Consumer Price Index, which is about 1.2%.

She voted against the 3% raise when it was approved, without a recorded vote, at the December 4 council meeting. Council's procedure bylaw says that a motion of reconsideration cannot be introduced, unless it is moved and seconded by members who originally voted in favor of a motion.

The bylaw, however, does not restrict a member from giving notice of their intent to introduce a motion of reconsideration.

At last week's meeting, Mayor Lou Maieron said he did not fully understand the mathematics involved in the current raise plan, and had not been able to confidently answer taxpayers' questions about it.

As it stands, staff and council will get a 1.5% raise on January 1. They will get an additional 1.5% raise on July 1. Simply added together, that means employees would eventually receive 3% more pay. (If the second raise had been compounded with the first one, the total increase would be 3.02%.)

The original motion for a 3% raise was made by Councillor Barb Tocher, seconded by Councillor Deb Callaghan, and supported by Councillor John Brennan. Wintersinger and Maieron voted against it.

The raise was reported as having a 2.25% impact (totalling $66,460) on the 2013 budget. That is because the money for the second 1.5% raise would only be paid out during the second six months of the year, making it the equivalent of .75% for the whole year. So the first raise costing 1.5%, plus the second raise costing .75%, equals a cost for the full year of 2.25%.

So, while some money was saved by delaying part of the raise, employees will still be getting 3% more as of July 1.

Cedar Valley bridge top priority for grant

As published in The Erin Advocate

Town council has voted to put the bridge just east of Cedar Valley at the top of its priority list for a new provincial grant program, overturning a staff plan to seek funding for Hillsburgh's Station Street bridge and dam.

The Town had recently been turned down in an application to a federal infrastructure funding program, to cover $1 million of the Hillsburgh project, which has a total estimated cost of $2.6 million.

But a new provincial funding opportunity arose last month through the Municipal Infrastructure Investment Initiative (MIII), with 90% funding of projects, and a maximum of $2 million. About $90 million will be available across Ontario over the next two years. Council had to pick its top priority immediately, since initial applications are needed in early January.

The Cedar Valley bridge project, at a cost of $663,671, was initially the second priority for Town staff, with a potential grant of $597,303. The current bridge is seriously deteriorated and has a load restriction. It is on Station Street (Sideroad 24), the same road as the Hillsburgh project (known as the Station Street Dam).

Council decided that issues concerning the Hillsburgh dam, including preservation of the mill pond, will be discussed at a public meeting on January 29, 7:30 p.m., at the Hillsburgh Community Centre.

The staff report on the Hillsburgh project noted that the MIII program will give consideration to projects that address a "health and/or safety problem". The Ministry of Natural Resources wants the dam upgraded to be capable of withstanding a Regional Storm Event.

"The main objective is to address the most critical roads, bridges, water and wastewater projects," said Town Financial Analyst Larry Wheeler.

"The safety of property and residents downstream is of course in jeopardy and this project  remedies both the potential liability and safety concerns," the report said.

The Cedar Valley project also has a safety component, since it is 2 km west of the new fire hall and ambulance bay.

"In the event this bridge deteriorated to the point that it was deemed to be impassible, particularly by heavy emergency vehicles, then the health and safety of rural residents and residents of the hamlet of Cedar Valley would be in jeopardy."

Mayor Lou Maieron was reluctant to seek funding for a project that had recently been turned down for a grant.

"Maybe it would make more sense to go for the medium priced project, with a better shot of achieving it," he said. "Unfortunately, it's a bit like gambling."

He also speculated that the chances of getting the $2 million grant were low because the project is the subject of local controversy, and because the Liberal provincial government may want to spread the available funding among a large number of municipalities. He noted that Erin tends to support the Progressive Conservatives.

"Without sounding too political, we are in a chronically blue municipality, and it's not a blue government," he said.

Councillor Barb Tocher argued that the Hillsburgh project fits the grant criteria "perfectly", and she was supported by Councillor Deb Callaghan in opposing a motion to give the Cedar Valley bridge top priority. In a recorded vote, the motion was passed, with Councillors Jose Wintersinger and John Brennan and Mayor Maieron in favour.

The mayor also noted that while council approved temporary work to make the Hillsburgh dam safe for traffic, it has not decided what to do as a permanent solution. The Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR), in allowing the temporary work, ordered the town to upgrade the dam within two years.

"The opportunity for funding is putting the cart before the horse," he said.

Councillor Wintersinger was not optimistic about getting the $2 million grant, though she also believes the Town cannot afford to do the project itself.

"I know what the MNR said, but you can't get blood out of a stone," she said. "I would ride along and see what happens."

The smaller Cedar Valley project is still larger than the entire section of the town's 2012 capital budget that is funded by local taxes. If funded independently by the Town of Erin, it "would result in many critical capital projects being delayed for years," the report says.

The cost of the Hillsburgh project "would be almost five times as large as our entire 2012 tax funded capital budget, which of course is overwhelming."

While Cedar Valley requires a simple bridge replacement, the Hillsburgh project could include not only a new bridge, but reconstruction of the road eight metres wide, with curbs, gutters and storm sewers. The earthen dam would be upgraded to current engineering standards, and a sidewalk could be installed from Trafalgar Road to the Elora Cataract Trailway.

There could also be a water main and sanitary sewer pipe to serve future residential development.

December 19, 2012

Residents not impressed with Town budget process

As published in The Erin Advocate

Town officials were roasted by ratepayers last Wednesday at a meeting designed to get public input on Erin's 2013 budget. Those in attendance were unimpressed with a tentative tax hike of 17% in Budget Draft #2, even though it was down considerably from the 32% increase in Draft #1.

There were angry questions about cost overruns in the construction of the new fire hall, increases in administration costs, and the "embarrassing" condition of Erin's rural roads. Some were outraged that council agreed to give staff a 3% raise (phased in for a 2.25% impact in 2013).

"A 17.5 per cent increase for administration – that, to me, is just plain unacceptable," said resident Ford Ralph. "We can't afford these kinds of increases. We're all ratepayers. A bunch of us are retired, on fixed incomes, and we're not getting a 17.5 per cent increase in pensions to pay for the tax increases. If you're still working, most companies, if you're lucky, will give you two or three per cent."

He said it might be reasonable for Draft #3 to come in with a 3-4% overall increase, to allow some important initiatives to proceed.

The current plan is to maintain service levels, but the latest draft includes a hiring freeze and a 25% reduction of overtime, in all departments. New initiatives, and some capital costs, have been cut or deferred. Grants to community groups will be reduced 25% overall, though the amounts have not been decided, and the Erin Cinema program is to be cancelled, for a saving of $16,687.

CAO Frank Miele said was important to set aside money in the Administration budget for economic development initiatives ($35,000), since this could help boost the boost the commercial-industrial tax base and reduce the burden on residential taxpayers. Increased salary and benefit costs for the new CAO position also mean an additional $55,255 for Administration.

Treasurer Sharon Marshall explained that some new costs in the budget cannot be avoided, including $65,400 in reduced provincial funding, an extra $6,126 in conservation authority levies, plus an extra $136,971 in debt servicing and $190,000 in unexpected costs related to the fire hall. Combined with the lack of a surplus in 2012, these "non-discretionary" costs alone would bump up the tax rate by 14 per cent.

An average property assessed at $383,000 had a Town tax bill of $995 in 2012. The Town portion represents only 20% of the whole bill, with the County at 55% and Education at 25%. Draft #1 would have increased the Town portion by $323, while Draft #2 increases it by $170.

Some at the meeting promoted the concept of zero-based budgeting, justifying every expenditure instead of adding percentages to the previous budget.

Bruce Hood urged the Town to make better progress on improving the condition of gravel road, some of which are impassable in the spring.

"The status quo is not very good," he said. "I am embarrassed at the condition of our roads."

Matthew Sammut got a round of applause when he said, "It's as expensive as heck to live in this town, but  sometimes I ask, 'Can I stay in this town?' We live in very difficult times. We can't afford the bills we're getting, let alone the increases. You've got to slash, painful as it is.

"Clearly, numbers are getting out of control. It's a slippery slope – once you get on these paths, it can get worse year after year. As much as we have to fight hard to ensure that next year we have some fiscal responsibility, we have to ensure that the future for this town continues to show fiscal responsibility."

From Draft #1 to Draft #2, about $711,000 has been cut from operational costs. Some departments are below 2012 levels, but capital spending for the roads department was increased from $6 million to $7 million. That will be offset by $4 million in revenues, but the overall roads increase to be covered by taxes is still up by about $500,000.

 "You are the shareholders of the corporation," Mayor Lou Maieron told the crowd about 50 at Centre 2000. "We are trying our best to come in with a reasonable budget. I'm a believer in saving for what we want to do. We need money for roads and infrastructure."

Councillor Barb Tocher was in attendance, but Councillors Josie Wintersinger, John Brennan and Deb Callaghan were absent due to other commitments. The proceedings were recorded so they could hear the taxpayers' concerns.

There were complaints about the meeting format. Draft #2 was not available on the Town website prior to the meeting, so people prepared their comments based on Draft #1. Also, some of the figures on the screen were too small to read, and there was difficulty in hearing the staff presentations, since there were no microphones.

The full presentation from last week's meeting can be downloaded from the Town website, Members of the public can continue to provide input by contacting council members or CAO Frank Miele. Staff will be providing council with additional recommended changes. The next public deliberation of the budget will be the January 8 council meeting, at which time it could be approved.

County Councillor Ken Chapman used the occasion to launch an all-out assault on the town's Planning Department, saying it should be abolished. He echoed public comments made by Mayor Maieron in the past year, arguing that Erin could have all of its planning needs provided by the Wellington County Planning & Land Division Department, to which the Town already contributes about $200,000 a year.

"All told we are paying $345,000 annually for planning, of which $145,000 is not necessary," he said.
Planner Sally Stull was not at the meeting, but had included a warning in her section of the draft budget that Erin will need to allocate more planning staff and resources "to proactively manage and address upcoming development pressures".

Chapman asked if this was "the beginning of the empire being built". He asked whether a proposed $50,000 roads deficiency capacity study (not approved) was a "make work project for the planning department". He also was of the opinion that the department had caused "unnecessary delays" in the construction of the Medical Centre and Tim Horton's buildings.

Erin's Bookends store now serves the world

As published in The Erin Advocate

The Book Ends store in Erin has thrown its doors open to readers throughout the world with the launch of its Online Bookstore.

People can still drop in and browse through the regular collections at 45 Main Street, but now there is a special section, with 1,200 books set aside for internet sales.

"It's been a wonderful experience – the world has opened up to Book Ends," said Coordinator Eleanor Kennedy at the launch event last week, praising the volunteers who have worked on the project for East Wellington Community Services (EWCS) over the last two and a half years.

The Erin store is now part of a network of independent booksellers through the website, which can be accessed directly or through a link at Based in Victoria, BC, provides access to thousands of booksellers and 140 million books.

The Erin section of the site has been active since March, but they did not hold their grand opening until they worked out some technical challenges and built up a collection of unique, out-of-print and collectable publications. There's now an inventory valued at $20,000, and the most expensive item ($300) is an early leather bound edition of Charles Darwin's The Descent of Man.

Most of the online books are in the $10 - $30 range. Shipping can add $9 or more to that, but local residents can save by going in to pick up their purchases. People can also browse in person by reading through the catalogue binder and make purchases at the store from either the regular shelves, or the glassed cabinets of online books.

"The world's a book, and it's open to you," said Kennedy. The volunteers received congratulations from Town Councillor John Brennan and Board President Allan Alls at Friday's reception.

The project was originally started by Enid Acton, with the help of Zina Darling. Gerry Wright later took up the major task of researching potential books for the online collection, and pricing them based on their condition and the existing market value at other on-line stores.

About 300 books have been sold so far, generating $2,500 in profit for the EWCS Food Bank, Seniors Programs and Children's Programs. They have made sales throughout North America and Europe, and even to Australia and Taiwan.

The site enables shoppers to browse the EWCS Book Ends collection by Author, Title, Keyword or ISBN Number. Each book has a detailed description, and they may eventually all have a photo of the cover.

The categories include Fiction, Travel, Cooking, Children's, Gardening, Coffee Table Books, Sports, Crafts, Poetry, Music, Humour, History, Health and Photography.

You can place an order at any time, but volunteers will only be at the store to process and ship them on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, 1-4 p.m.

1912 Advocate delivered lively slice of modern life

As published in The Erin Advocate

In 1912, Erin readers could rely on The Advocate not only for local news, but for national and international affairs, on-going excerpts from novels, and a relentless stream of advice from the unscrupulous makers of patent medicines.

There were just 511 residents in the village, a total that would not be surpassed until the 1940s, but it was a busy hub for the district, and proud to take its place in the modern century.

As Christmas approached, there was news that the Canadian government had allocated the astronomical sum of $35 million to the Royal Navy, to build three Dreadnought battleships, part of Britain's naval arms race with Germany. There were also weekly reports about the first of two Balkan wars, with Serbia, Greece, Montenegro and Bulgaria overpowering the Ottoman Turks, helping set the stage for World War I.

To liven up the Christmas season, the Young Ladies of Erin held a Ball at the Town Hall, which The Advocate reported was "nicely decorated for the occasion, making a very pretty appearance by Electric Light".

Some things never change, such as the newspaper promoting local business. Publisher Wellington Hull wrote, "Shop Early. Only 2 weeks to Xmas. Our merchants are making attractive Xmas displays."

Hull also reminded taxpayers to pay up any amounts owing, or face extra costs. In addition to also being the local printer, auctioneer, money lender and issuer of marriage licenses, he was on salary with the village as Tax Assessor and Collector.

Erin village had a bylaw that allowed businesses to open in the evening only on Mondays Wednesdays and Saturdays. The Township was being urged to pass a bylaw limiting Hillsburgh evening shopping to Tuesdays and Thursdays.

You could buy fur coats or groceries at the Ritchie & Ramesbottom store. Steel & Foster had Motor Hoods for ladies and Natty Mufflers for men. Whole wheat Triscuits were advertised as the "Toast of the Town". The serial romance novel at that time was entitled The Invitation; Or The Bird That Pecked at the Window.

There was a report of Fergus working on a water works system, with half of the debentures taken up by local residents. Erin wouldn't have such a system for another 50 years.

On Christmas Day, 1912, there was an essay on Page 1 from "Luckenuf, Belfountain". It was penned by Charles W. Mack, the eccentric philanthropist who had invented the cushion backed rubber stamp, and owned the land that is now Belfountain Conservation Area. In the gate post of the stone wall in front of his summer retreat there, he cemented the word Luckenuf.

He questioned whether Christmas customs were losing their hold on the popular mind, "since the marvels of science began to usurp the seat of authority".

"Are the parents doing their duty to-day? The answer is, no, a thousand times, no. Far too many are leaving their children to shape their own destiny, to grow up as they may. How many parents make themselves companions to their children to find out their thoughts and acts and treat them with gentleness and consideration, giving them thoughts of rich character building, instead of being afraid of this and that subject?

"The complicated apparatus for alleviating the woes of the community has sprung into being, piece by piece, out of an overpowering sense of social necessity. Efforts to deepen the sympathies of young people and to lighten the lot of the sick and afflicted, or to brighten days that are apt to be dull, amid the general jollity, has not grown stale or out of date.

"There is no better time to attempt kindly acts than while the atmosphere is charged with good feeling and the sense of brotherhood now in the hearts of the true and real."

Ads for dubious remedies revealed not only the limitations of medicine in 1912, but a condescension toward women that was common in the media. Dr. R.V. Pierce of Buffalo, America's most famous patent medicine man, promoted his Pleasant Pellets for "the weaknesses and disorders peculiar to women", at the top of Page 1:

"Woman's most glorious endowment is the power to awaken and hold the pure and honest love of a worthy man. The woman who suffers from weakness and derangement of her system soon loses her personal magnetism, good looks, amiability and womanly charm. Dr. Pierce has devised a successful remedy to regulate and purify the stomach, liver and bowels. It makes weak women strong, sick women well."

Meanwhile, from England, there was news of militant suffragettes seeking volunteers to bomb the House of Commons. Full voting rights for women (not just for those owning property) were not granted in Canada until 1918, and in England, not until 1928.

December 12, 2012

Community Services launches Christmas appeal

As published in The Erin Advocate

East Wellington Community Services (EWCS) has launched its Annual Appeal, hoping to raise $25,000 to support more than 50 local programs and services.

"Thank you for coming out and supporting us – we really appreciate it," said Executive Director Kari Simpson, to the group that gathered to hear Town Crier Andrew Welch proclaim the start of the campaign.

"The secret to getting the most from this season is sharing with others," he said. "Please be generous in spirit and charity, add your light to peace and diminish disparity."

While donations of money and food are necessary, Simpson stressed that contributions of time multiply the value that the organization delivers.

"We have a huge volunteer program," she said. "All our stores in Erin and Rockwood are volunteer-run, as well as our front desk. Our food bank is primarily run by volunteers, and key staff.
We have our transportation program – we drive seniors to medical appointments, to the adult day program, and we also do some outings with our active seniors and shopping trips."

Information on the appeal has been sent out to people on a mailing list, but information is also available by calling 519-833-9696, visiting (where you can download a donation form) or simply showing up at the EWCS office, 45 Main Street, at the corner of Millwood Road.

Regular monthly giving is promoted, but one-time gifts are also appreciated. Receipts will be issued on request for donations of $10 or more.

Soil problems will add costs to Solmar project

As published in The Erin Advocate

Soil problems will make it more expensive for Solmar to build its proposed subdivision, and require strict inspection by the Town, according to Water Superintendent Frank Smedley.

In a report to council, he highlighted initial concerns about reports submitted by the developer, as part of a plan to build a new commercial-industrial area and 1,240 homes, over 30 years, on 300 acres in the north end of Erin village. These include soil analysis reports paid for by Solmar, available on the Town website ( Smedley's full report is also on the site, in the Nov. 20 council agenda.

Since the current Erin Water System has no capacity to supply these homes, a new pump house will be needed. It would be fed by two closely-spaced wells, plus two more wells, outside the capture zone of the first ones.

The Bel-Erin well, just south of County Road 124 on the Ninth Line, is not currently in use, but may need to be put back into service, said Smedley. A new filter system would be needed.

He also questioned the proposed water supply projections, and said that the developer should be required to pay for financial plans for both the water and sewage systems. He said the Town should update its Servicing Standards to deal with this development.

As of Monday, Solmar's Functional Servicing report was still not available on the Town website. Smedley noted that Solmar has a good location for its proposed sewage treatment plant (Tenth Line at County Road 52), but that it is outside the village urban area.

"It is in the Green Belt," he said. "Getting approval to put it in that area may be a problem."

He also suggested that since the Town has no Waste Water Department, council could consider using "a company like the Ontario Clean Water Agency to operate the sewage system under a contract that requires them to train Town staff to take the facility over after five years."

Soil tests show that the area between Dundas Street and County Road 124 does not drain well because of silty clay, glacial deposits of till and boulders, and layers of sand. Smedley said this is a "big problem" and that sandy areas could have ground water issues.

The engineering reports says, "The topsoil contains appreciable amounts of organic matter; it is unsuitable for supporting structures and must be stripped." The water level is already very high in some areas, and removing the topsoil means it will be even closer to the surface.

Some of the topsoil could be used for landscaping, but the high content of roots and humus "will generate an offensive odour and may produce volatile gases under anaerobic conditions."

The tests were done with 35 boreholes, about six metres deep, in 2011 and 2012. Test pits and more laboratory analysis may be needed.

Smedley said rigourous inspection is essential, because "if foundations, driveways, parking lots, roads, sewers and water mains are not installed properly" a series of difficulties could ensue.

Excavation must be deep enough, and compacting of trenches done according to detailed procedures, to avoid future ground settlement, which could lead to leaks in water lines, and infiltration of ground water into sewer lines. Sewer connections may need to be wrapped or waterproofed. There are many large boulders, which must be removed.

"Future sewer and water main repairs will be more expensive due to soil instability issues that may require dewatering," said Smedley. Improper construction could lead to "uneven road, driveway and parking lot surfaces", "basement settling and cracking with some leaking issues" and "higher infrastructure life cycle costs due to shorter life cycles".

Road sub-drains are recommended by the soil engineers. Sub grades must be "proof-rolled" to test for soft or watery areas – these must be sub-excavated and filled with solid material. Smedley suggests that the final coat of asphalt not be applied until the base asphalt has been in place for three years.

The construction of house foundations may require extra precautions, including digging extra-deep trenches and immediately filling them with concrete up to the normal level of the footings, and reinforcing the foundations with steel rods. After construction, perimeter sub-drains, damp-proofing and polyethylene slip membranes may be needed to reduce the risk of water or frost damage.

"The last thing the Town needs is a large number of foundation failures on buildings that the Town of Erin Building Department approved," said Smedley. "The Town needs to act proactively to ensure these foundations are completed properly and documented as such. Settling, cracking foundations are not easy to repair."

Solmar's inspection of the site revealed no visible signs of excavated pits, but Smedley said gravel was being removed from the south-west corner of the property up until the late 1980s. That is the area where Solmar plans to collect some of the subdivision storm water.

Because of the high groundwater and low permeability of the soils in the area, Smedley recommends against the use of Low Impact Development (LID) storm water devices. Such a strategy attempts to detain runoff close to its source, allowing it to evaporate or filter into the ground instead of going to large ponds and into the river.

"Standard storm water ponds should be used," said Smedley. "Structures like storm ceptors should not be used unless there are no other options."

Stormceptor is the brand name for a product that slows stormwater in a large container, allowing oil to rise and be held back, and sediment to settle. It requires regular inspection and maintenance, including removal of the oil and sediment by a waste management company.

Smedley said the current plan to allow some storm water to flow east into Core Greenlands, without a stormwater pond, may not be allowed by Credit Valley Conservation.

Subdivision would boost potential shoppers

As published in The Erin Advocate

Solmar Development Corp. says its subdivision should be good news for Erin businesses, eventually providing thousands of new potential customers.

Maurizio Rogato, Director of Planning and Development at Solmar, spoke to business owners at a meeting of the East Wellington Chamber of Commerce last week.

"A healthy business community makes for a better community overall," he said. "There is a real need to create some jobs."

Solmar has proposed 1,240 new homes north of Dundas Street over 30 years, a commercial zone on County Rd. 124 and an industrial zone. There are 60 acres of space for recreation, trails and parks.

There are 770,000 square feet of employment area and estimates of 900 permanent jobs and 3,646 construction jobs.

"We really are serious about trying to reach into the local talent. We believe there are great local suppliers, and we'd like to come up with some sort of procurement process where we can work locally."

More information is available in the Public Notices section of the Town website,, and in previous columns, at

"Growth is a scary thing – the first thing people don't want is somebody to come in and change everything. That is not our intent. This is a phased-in long term community plan. At the same time, we have to ensure that the rate of growth offsets the investment that Solmar is bringing to town."

He admitted Solmar will not solve the problem of so many people commuting long distances to work, but said their plan "lays the necessary foundation" to attract quality employers and give people a choice.

"We do building and land development, so we don't just come in and put in the sewers, streets and sidewalks, then leave. We stick around and build the actual product.

"Solmar is a strong supporter of the Chamber network. We do a lot of work throughout the GTA, and beyond, and in every community we work in, we try to support the local organizations.

"One of the biggest challenges is, how do we get 300 acres developed, yet maintain the distinct characteristics of the village, and not upset the apple cart. We believe that the plan we've come up with definitely strives towards that, or it's at least a great start.

"There is a need for different housing types, to accommodate different age groups. The predominant housing forms are single detached. There are semi-detached units, and there is also a beautiful central square, which aligns the main drag into the development, surrounded by medium density housing or seniors housing.

"If you look along the edges of the development, it's pretty much traditional housing forms, because it needs to blend in and work well with the existing community fabric." He said the amount of green space (in the wooded wetland area in the east part of the property) has been increased from 40 acres to 60 acres as a result of community comments.

The Chamber of Commerce, covering not only Erin-Hillsburgh, but the Rockwood-Eramosa area, was formed in 2010. It is now attempting to become more active in current affairs.

"There is power in numbers," David Netherton, the new chair. Membership information is available at

He said the group has adopted no official positions yet about the Solmar proposal, but that  they want to "develop an atmosphere of cooperation, and not a polarized community, over these issues."
Erin businesses, of course, would be in much better condition if the people who already live here would do more of their shopping here.

Obviously, Erin cannot compete directly with the big box stores in Orangeville and elsewhere. But they do compete well on service and quality in certain sectors. We have no obligation to buy locally, but we should give them the opportunity to win our business. Browsing small shops for Christmas gifts can be a rewarding experience.

A whole new subdivision of people will not likely shop locally at first. But the numbers could make it feasible for entrepreneurs to open a wider range of retail outlets here, the lack of which has been part of our problem.

Everything will change in the local business landscape, especially with the Solmar zone having its own commercial lands, so competition will increase. More consumers will increase the size of the pie, but businesses will have work hard to get their slice.

December 05, 2012

Community Services promotes a gift of time

As published in The Erin Advocate

Now that we have entered the Christmas gift-giving state of mind, it is a good time to consider wrapping up something more precious than the stuff you buy in stores.

East Wellington Community Services is appealing not only for money and food bank supplies, but for people's time – a gift of volunteering.

"One of the best things you can give to anybody is time," said Erika Westcott, Manager of Community Services and Volunteers. "Three hours a week is huge – but you're not signing up for a full-time job."

EWCS can provide various volunteer experiences, with different amounts of time needed, and can help high school students get their required community service hours.

They have more than 50 programs and services, such as the food bank, children's services, the seniors adult day programs, active seniors activities and a new telassurance and friendly visiting program, through partnership with the Victorian Order of Nurses (VON).

"Without volunteers, there are things that we just wouldn't be able to do. You are really helping people in the community."

It is also an opportunity to build new friendships, share your expertise, learn new skills or share in the responsibility of tending to some aspect of the operation.

"Volunteers bring in fresh ideas and talent," she said.

If you volunteer at the New To You thift clothing stores, or at the Bookends store, you are not only delivering a valuable service to the community, you are helping generate additional revenue for the agency. (The Hillsburgh store was closed recently, when it became too expensive to operate.)

There is also a need for drivers to take clients to medical appointments and transport materials. Volunteers also answer the phone, greet people at the front desk, handle supplies at the food bank and help transport seniors to the day program at Centre 2000.

Of course, a social service agency has to pay staff and many other expenses, and although they receive government funding for some things, they rely on local fundraising events and donations to support their budget.

"It helps to build a resource of stable funding," said Westcott. "Even five or ten dollars a month – it doesn't seem like a lot, but it makes a difference."

This week EWCS launched its Annual Appeal Campaign, with presentations by Board President, Allan Alls and their new Executive Director, Kari Simpson. A mailing has gone out, urging people to consider starting a monthly donation, or making a one-time donation to the agency during upcoming holiday season.

Simpson is a resident of Erin, and has more than 20 years of experience in the health and social services field. She was previously the Director of Health Services at Caledon Community Services. She knows EWCS very well, since she previously served as Board President.

Food donations are greatly appreciated at all times of the year, but a special effort is made to help food bank clients at Christmas. Food and toys are needed for Christmas hampers. If you would like to sponsor a family, or find out more about how you or your organization can help, call 519-833-9696 or visit

December 02, 2012

Just strong enough

Here are the words of my reflection, offered at the Blue Christmas Service, in the basement of All Saints' Anglican Church, Erin, on Sunday, December 2, 2012.

Jesus tells us that we must stand firm to the end.

The evangelist Mark, writing in apocalyptic style, quotes Jesus as saying, "The sun will be darkened, the moon will lose its brightness, the stars will come falling down from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. ... When you see these things happening, know that he is near, at the very gates."

He was speaking of the end of our world. But as individuals, we can also have an event that shakes our personal world so severely, that it seems like an apocalypse. In times of distress, we need to stay alert, because it is an opportunity to feel the nearness of God. When our world is turned upside down, we need to listen, to find out what we should do next.

When the angel Gabriel visited Mary, she was "greatly distressed" – that could well be an understatement. Her life was thrown into turmoil. But when God's plan was revealed to her, she said, "I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled."

And Joseph was surely in distress, upon learning that Mary was pregnant. But when God's plan was revealed to him, he did what the angel of the Lord commanded him.

When our son Thomas died six months ago, we were unsure about God's plan, and we felt the need to pray. God reached out to comfort us. He sent his angels – friends, family, Father Joe and the musicians at the funeral, and total strangers here in Erin.

The rituals surrounding death did their job, helping us to be outward with our grief and to acknowledge our pain. Through my work with the newspaper, I was able to be open about the difficulties of dealing with mental illness and suicide, and brought  some comfort to other people struggling with similar challenges.

We are fortunate to be optimistic, action-oriented people by nature, with no feeling that we are entitled to an easy life. Billions of people have grieved the loss of a child, so we're not all that special.

We all know we must suffer, but it always comes as a shock. We have to remember that God is not the source of evil and misfortune, but He does ensure that we need not face them alone.

We are not commanded to understand. We are commanded to love. We carry on for the glory of God, which makes it a joyful duty.

To carry on, we need healing. That requires comfort, a restoration of confidence, and a firm kick to put us back into action. That is a natural process, but for me it is helped along by hearing God's word.

I need constant reminders that I am the same person I was when I was born; the same one who was a little kid in school, the same one who fell in love, raised children, worked and played, and who is enjoying the privilege of growing old.

I need constant reminders that the evils of this world are temporary. That my body and my mind, and all these emotions, are temporary.

I need constant reminders that death has been defeated, that we are loved without condition, and that our souls will continue to praise God, even after time itself has come to an end.

Heavenly Father, teach us how to use our times of sorrow to become more humble. To focus on the really important things. To forgive, and to accept forgiveness. To grow closer to our families. To care for our neighbours. And to love you with our whole being.

Let us heal, and grow just strong enough to do your will. Amen.

November 28, 2012

Contaminated soil bumps fire hall cost

As published in The Erin Advocate

Dealing with cadmium-contaminated soil has increased the cost of construction for the new fire hall in Hillsburgh, a project already plagued by soil problems.

Construction crews encountered the contamination in the front driveway area, and investigation showed that it came from a truck fire in the early 1990s.

A truck with a load of batteries caught fire while traveling on Trafalgar Road, and the driver pulled into the fire station for help. The fire was extinguished, but the chemicals that leaked from the batteries were not cleaned up.

"They weren't used to remediation – it wasn't tested, and we're now dealing with it," said Fire Chief Dan Callaghan, who came to Town Council last week requesting an additional $40,000 for contingency expenses. It was unanimously approved.

Callaghan said it may be possible to recover some money from the insurance company of the original polluter, but records of the incident have been difficult to trace. Anyone with specific information about the fire, especially the date, should contact the town.

Architect Joe Somfay said in a letter that the cost of moving the contaminated soil to a facility in Chatham "would have been exorbitant".

Callaghan said some of the soil has been used as backfill, while the most contaminated has been sealed in place with nine-foot deep cement barriers. He assured Mayor Lou Maieron that the soil engineers have ruled out problems with water run-off or leaching.

"We have contained the contamination to its present location – it is not a hazard to leave it on site," he said. "In place, it's fine. It's actually under the parking lot."

The problem was discovered because of other unstable soil, with buried organic matter, which had to be excavated to ensure proper construction of the new building. Some money had already been budgeted to deal with soil issues, but in April, an extra $150,000 was added to the project.

With the latest addition, the project is now $190,000 over budget. Extra costs related to soils total $254,000 (including previously budgeted amounts), while extra costs for the building will total $66,000. The Town has borrowed $2.1 million over 20 years to cover most of the overall cost of the project.

Council receives Solmar plan despite warnings

As published in The Erin Advocate

Faced with the certainty of an appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) if they refused, Town council voted last week to deem the subdivision applications from Solmar Development Corp. as "complete".

The resolution was passed unanimously without any public debate or questions from councillors, after they returned from a 70-minute closed-door session with their lawyer, during Tuesday's council meeting.

The decision overrides the objections of Town Planner Sally Stull, who told council the applications were incomplete and premature, since it is not possible to have definite information about sewers while the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP) is still in progress.

Stull said she has not had time to fully evaluate the material and that further study is needed on a traffic bypass route. She reminded council that other developments have been on hold for several years, and that the Solmar plan exceeds Official Plan population targets by more than 700 homes.

"It would essentially eliminate anyone else from participating, unless they were within the current Erin village, which is of course stymied by the problem that it doesn't have servicing," she said.

In a separate report to council, Water Superintendent Frank Smedley outlines a broad series of concerns, including the need for new wells, lack of staff expertise with sewers, and the potential for settlement of basements and roads due to poor soil drainage conditions.

"The SSMP should be completed as soon as possible," he said. "This will allow Council to give clear direction to the developer and staff.

"This is our opportunity to work with a developer to reduce the cost of servicing the urban areas with municipal sewage, if this is the path Council chooses."

Last week's resolution has three additional points: Despite the "complete" status, approval of the applications would be premature until the SSMP is complete and council has time to assess its implications and consider a course of action; council is not satisfied with the level of detail in the documentation; and the legally-required public meeting is considered premature until the SSMP recommendations are available.

Wellington County is eager to have Erin accept its share of regional population growth. Gary Cousins, Wellington's Director of Planning and Development, has notified the Town that the County considers Solmar's applications "complete". He also said approval must wait for the SSMP, and his exact words on this issue were used in Erin's resolution.

Council's vote does not approve the 1,240-home proposal, but simply starts the formal application process, with input from the public, Town staff and outside agencies.

Stull said the project would make Erinville Drive a major collector road, and that the proposal includes 570 single detached dwellings, 472 semi-detached, 48 townhouse units and 150 apartment-type units.

"These applications provide tremendous benefits to the community, strong job creation, strong housing options," said Solmar Planner Maurizio Rogato, who appeared as a delegation to voice disagreement with Stull's report to council.

"We're not looking for a decision on the actual applications themselves, we're simply looking to state that the applications have been completed, and they can be circulated, which allows dialogue to take place."

When the applications came to council in October, Mayor Lou Maieron suggested a Social Impact Study, since Solmar could eventually more than double the number of homes in the village. Transition Erin, a citizen group that is responding to the Solmar plan, also wants such a study, and possibly a "Health Impact Assessment".

They are "looking forward to the remaining components of the Solmar application being released to the public so that we can study them." Information on the group is available at

James Kennedy of KLM Planning, working for Solmar, said all of the required information has been submitted, and that council can still meet its objective of not approving any new subdivision until the SSMP is completed and approved. That could be in February or March.

Solmar says the studies they have already done (some already available on the Town web site), supporting their applications for a draft plan of subdivision, and zoning and Official Plan amendments, will "inform" the SSMP process. Stull says the Solmar proposal "distracts" from the SSMP.

"There is no question about how these lands will be serviced," said Kennedy, noting that the province requires sewers for this scale of development. Solmar may be able to proceed with its own sewers, even if the Town decides against them for the existing village.

"You are a long way from the stage where major development is permitted. I can see no reason not to get started in this process," he said. "The SSMP will define the big picture, and the details relative to these applications will follow.

"Should council deem these applications incomplete, Solmar will appeal this decision to the Ontario Municipal Board. We would prefer not to be forced to take this approach. We don't really need to start off this process on that basis.

"If and when this development does proceed, it will generate millions of dollars in revenue for the Town, as well as a new fully-serviced business park attracting jobs to Erin."

Deeming the applications complete starts the clock on a legal 180-day period during which the Town theoretically would have to decide whether to approve the project. Rogato said that in practice, it often takes much longer.

"If things are moving, things are working cooperatively and we're reviewing reports, we want to be there as a willing partner," he said.

 But, after 180 days, if the developer feels that sufficient progress is not being made, Rogato said they have the right to force the issue by appealing to the OMB – an expensive process for both sides. Of course, if the applications are ultimately denied, that could also be appealed to the OMB.

After Solmar's presentation, Maeiron commented on a possible sewer plan for the existing village.

"We can approve it in principle, but where's the money coming from?" he said. "Because for 160 years, or for forever, this municipality has done nothing with respect to bringing the servicing up to today's standards."

He said it would not be realistic to have two sewage treatment plants, and noted that if Solmar builds its own expandable plant, the town could feed into it in the future.

"I'm not trying to side with the proponent, but working concurrently to bring in our needs, if we decide that we need servicing to today's municipal standards, with an incoming plant, sort of tends to make some sense to me," he said.

Chamber of Commerce seeks a fresh start

As published in The Erin Advocate

As part of an effort to spark new interest in the East Wellington Chamber of Commerce (EWCC), business people in Erin are invited to an early morning meeting to learn about the proposed Solmar subdivision.

Maurizio Rogato, Director of Planning and Development at Solmar Development Corp. will speak about the impact of the project on local business. The free event is at 7:30 am on Tuesday, December 4, at David's Restaurant, 20 Shamrock Road.

"We want people to get excited about this chamber – it represents the voice of business in the community," said restaurant owner David Netherton, the new chairperson.

"We need a strong, credible group that will influence decision makers. If you want to have any kind of a say, you have to step up to the plate."

Joining Netherton on the new board are Vice-Chair Dave Doan from Septech Waste Water Systems, Secretary Mary Shields, a former town councillor who initiated the Chamber in 2010, Chris Bailey of Brighten Up, Janet Hern of FitYou, Rob Smith of Erin Auto Recyclers, Steve Storey of Erin Wine Makers and Brian Travis of Forks Bicycle Shop.

EWCC is a non-profit group of business owners and professionals representing both Erin and the Rockwood-Eramosa area. They emphasize economic development, promote local business, lobby governments and hold informative events.

They have the support of MP Michael Chong, who says they will be "a much needed voice of business, creating a network for business and community which advocates a healthy community economy."

Membership can help build a series of business contacts and education resources, and provides access to group medical and dental insurance and other member discounts. The cost to join is currently $130, which is $100 off the regular fee.

Enter your business card at the door on Dec. 4, to enter a draw for a free membership. If you are planning to attend, or have questions, contact Mary Shields at 519-217-1630. More information is available at

Blue Christmas fosters hope in time of sorrow

As published in The Erin Advocate

It's not about crying the blues, feeling sorry for yourself or taking a bah-humbug approach to the holiday season, but finding a way to deal with the reality that the festive frenzy of Christmas can be very stressful for people recovering from a loss in their lives.

The Blue Christmas Service will be held this Sunday, December 2, in the lower hall at All Saints Church on Main Street in Erin, starting at 7 pm.

It is a reflective Christian service, with music, readings and candle lighting, honouring our sorrows and finding cause for hope. It may be of interest to people who do not rely on organized religion for their spiritual needs. For more information, call Irene at 519-855-5985.

Losses, of course, encompass much more than the death of a family member or friend. There can be loss of a job, loss of a relationship, loss of worldly goods, loss of reputation or loss of self respect.

People and things in our environment give us a sense of who we are, so even when we know in our minds that change is natural and inevitable, it is still an emotional shock – a threat to our identity. I will be speaking briefly at the service, about how a time of crisis can sometimes help people deepen their faith and relationships with others.

Today, I'm finishing a series about a panel discussion on depression, held last month by the Family Health Team. Rev. Amy Cousineau, who will also be speaking at the Blue Christmas Service, was on that panel to tell of her own struggle with depression, and her husband Fred provided insight on supporting a partner in crisis.

That crisis started in 2006 with news of her mother's terminal illness, and the need to take time off from her job as Rector at All Saints' Anglican Church in Erin. Shuttling to Florida to care for her Mom was very stressful. When her Mom died after six months and Amy returned to work, she was constantly tired. The situation was compounded within a few months by the death of her best friend.

"I felt like I had been knocked down with a blow to the stomach, and I couldn't get up," she said. "If any little thing went wrong, I would get very angry, or start crying, but still I kept on working."

She had anxiety episodes where she would start to shake, and her weight was dropping. She cut back to part time, then went onto long-term disability, and later resigned her job.

"My expectations of myself were outrageous," she said. "I was not paying attention to my body – it was telling me something was wrong."

Support came from her family, her congregation and her faith in God, although that faith seemed more theoretical than practical at the worst times.

"I couldn't imagine any way to survive, but people were holding me up," she said. "It was horrible, such an awful dark place to be."

Fred said that his faith was certainly "stretched" as he experienced all these events and stages with Amy.

"The grief counselling that we went to really helped me – it helped Amy too, but she was in a completely different state, which we didn't realize at the time," he said. "Amy had always been this self-motivated work-a-holic, very confident, a super woman. She always pushed me. That all changed, to a person who was saying they couldn't do this anymore. There was also fear there. Every day was different. I listened a lot."

He offered frequent reassurance of his support, as Amy tried various strategies. He had to give up some things, but made sure to take some time for himself, to do things he wanted to do. Last year, they celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary.

Additional help came from her family doctor, a personal counsellor, anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication, exercise, yoga, massage, naturopathy, and traditional Chinese medicine herbs and acupuncture. She learned how to live with depression.

"I know what my limits are and I honour them. I had to make adjustments to my life and understand myself in a very different way."

Now, she works as a freelance priest and spiritual director, doing weddings and funerals for people who do not have a church connection, hosting retreats and workshops, and doing guest preaching.

In a sermon published on her website ( she sums up her recovery: "I slowly came out of the dark, into the light. I emerged from that dark cave I was in and began to live again. It was a kind of resurrection."

November 21, 2012

Environment a key factor in public health

As published in The Erin Advocate

With our health care system stretched to the limit, we will soon need to rely more on the environment – both natural and "built" – to keep ourselves healthy, according to the keynote speaker at last month's Stewardship Forum, hosted by Credit Valley Conservation (CVC).

Dr. David Mowat, Medical Officer of Health in Peel Region, said the design of urban areas can help improve people's health by providing access to natural features, facilitating physical fitness and promoting local self-sufficiency. He said diabetes is increasing at such a rate that by 2025, one in six people in Peel will suffer from the disease, and in 50 years it will be one in three.

"The last time we had in our society something that affected one in three people was in the 14th century, and it was the Black Death – so this is quite serious," he said, noting that children are increasing in weight and declining in muscle strength. One third to one half of Grade 9 students in Peel do not meet minimum standards for physical fitness.

"We often, by default, think that we're ill and the system makes us well. But do we ever stop to think that we should be well. What makes us ill in the first place?" he said. Health care spending now accounts for 44 per cent of provincial expenditures.

"Clearly, very soon, the ability of our health care system to take ill people and make them well again, will be exhausted. Too often, the only way we can think to address it is to point to personal responsibility for changing behaviours. That will not do it. We need to recognize the influence of our physical, social, economic and natural environment on determining those behaviours."

Peel Public Health has a mandate from regional council to comment on new housing developments. They have emerged as one of the leaders in Canada, exploring the connections between community design and the health of residents, said Mike Puddister, CVC's Director of Restoration and Stewardship.

"Many solutions can be found in the way we plan communities," he said. "They require collaborative approaches."

The Town of Erin is now dealing with a subdivision proposal from Solmar Development Corp. that would more than double the size of Erin village in the coming decades. It is a huge opportunity to create a well-planned group of neighbourhoods.

Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health (WDGPH) has expertise in various aspects of the built environment, including promotion of physical fitness, maintaining the quality of air, soil and water, the value of urban forests and good design of parks and playgrounds. There is no formal requirement to involve the public health unit, but it would make sense to invite their advice in the Solmar planning process.

"We would like to be at the table," said Shawn Zentner, Manager of Health Protection at WDGPH. "We are well-positioned to make some evidence-based comments."

Exposure to natural elements includes parks, gardens, trees, conservation areas, trails, rivers and wetlands. While it is difficult to measure exactly, it is clear that these features improve our physical and mental health. Walking, of course, can have social as well as physical benefits. The interactions at the Fall Fair or last Friday's downtown Window Wonderland are good examples.

Dr. Mowat said it is important to "build the kind of human scale, aesthetically attractive environment that will get people out there walking – let's make our streets more livable."

Modern zoning is based partly on public health needs, with the effort to separate housing from toxic industries. But we've ended up with people stuck in their vehicles, living far from their employment, even though most do not work in heavy industry. Traffic congestion drains $6 billion annually from the GTA economy.

"Can we have people live, and work and play in the same community, so new development would be complete communities? There would be agriculture and industry and residential and transportation, all in the same moderate size community. We need to look at how we're building suburbs, and the extent to which they are still livable once you lose your driver's license, or once you can't move so fast.

"Only about 15 per cent of Canadians will regularly take part in any recreational physical activity. The vast majority of us get our physical activity by going from A to B – utilitarian. So opportunities for recreation are important, but on their own, not enough."

"We're talking about active transportation – having engineered physical activity out of our lives, to try and put it back in again."

November 20, 2012

Ecology park provides environmental education

As published in Country Routes

Whether you're looking for a fun, educational outing for the kids or a leisurely, scenic hike, the Willow Park Ecology Centre in Norval has plenty of attractions to offer.

This year-round nature preserve is great for bird watching, picnics and photography, featuring a butterfly garden, a wildflower meadow, a wetland pond and a snake hibernaculum. There are community events, and opportunities for volunteers to help improve the site.

The five-acre park is located just off Highway 7 – turn on Mary Street and park at the ball diamond. A former residential trailer park, it is at the point where Silver Creek, flowing down from Erin and Georgetown, joins the Credit River on its meandering journey to Lake Ontario.

Before crossing the bridge to the Ecology Centre, check out the tribute to Anne of Green Gables author Lucy Maude Montgomery, who lived in Norval from 1926 to 1935. She described the charm of the area in a hand-written journal, now archived at the University of Guelph:

"Norval is so beautiful now that it takes my breath. Those pine hills full of shadows – those river reaches – those bluffs of maple and smooth-trunked beech – with drifts of wild white blossom everywhere. I love Norval as I have never loved any place save Cavendish. It is as if I had know it all my life – as if I had dreamed young dreams under those pines and walked with my first love down that long perfumed hill."

At a recent volunteer work day, teens and adults were out helping Credit Valley Conservation (CVC) staff clean up the trails and gardens, and dig out invasive species such as buckthorn and garlic mustard.

"We can only do a little bit at a time, but definitely progress is being made," said Lindsey Jennings, Assistant Program Coordinator, Community Outreach at CVC.

Park activities carry on throughout the year. This Sunday, November 25, Willow Park has events to mark Universal Children's Day, with a drum circle starting at 1 pm, then nature activities and children's games from around the world, 2:00 - 3:30 pm. (It is also the weekend of Buy Nothing Day, an opportunity to teach kids about having fun without buying more stuff.) Entrance to the park is always free.

Register for events and learn more about the park at Celebrate the Longest Night of the Year on December 21, 7:00 - 8:30. Dress  warmly for a Winter Solstice night hike, games, and hot chocolate with marshmallows around a bonfire.

Willow Park Ecology Centre is operated by a volunteer board of directors, in partnership with CVC, the Town of Halton Hills, the Ontario Trillium Foundation, the Sobey's Community Endowment Fund and Wastewise. They also get support from Halton Region, Halton Hills Hydro, the Ministry of Natural Resources and corporate sponsors.

Schools can take advantage of their environmental field trips and in-class presentations, designed for various grade levels. Willow Park will customize programs for pre-schoolers or groups such as Scouts-Cubs and Girl Guides-Brownies. They also run sessions for adults at their Renewable Energy Education Station.

The Carolinian Forest Zone in Southern Ontario has many vulnerable, threatened or endangered species, including the American Chestnut tree (threatened) which is represented at Willow Park. They have a tree monitoring program to help determine current and future needs of the forest, a Tree Trail to help people learn about different species, and beaver guards to make sure that no trees are chopped down.

One of the major education exhibits is focused on compost, and with the help of Wastewise, there's a demonstration area showing how found or discarded objects can have a second life in a garden.

Willow Park has one of the few public butterfly gardens in Ontario to use exclusively native wild plant species. It provides a living environment for the four stages of a butterfly's life cycle, plus hibernation boxes, and education about how to promote habitat for birds and butterflies on your property.

On the river banks, wooden cribs are used to provide sheltered resting and feeding places for fish. They are called LUNKERS (Little Underwater Neighbourhood Keeper Encompassing Rheotactic Salmonids).

A viewing platform, suitable for wheelchairs and strollers, has been built at the wetland area, which is home to a variety of frogs, snapping turtles, garter snakes, salamanders, mallard ducks, red-winged blackbirds, damselflies, and even pond scum – the green algae that provides an environment for tadpoles, insect and microscopic life.

Chimney swifts, a species of bird that stays in flight except when nesting and roosting, is threatened by the lack of suitable chimneys, so Willow Park has a special tower to replicate this environment for them.

Snakes need a frost-free shelter to survive the winter, so the hibernaculum features buried rocks, logs and stumps on a south-facing slope to maximize sun exposure.

November 14, 2012

Erin sewage system could rely on gravity

As published in The Erin Advocate

It should be possible to build a gravity-based sewer system for Erin village and Hillsburgh, despite the many hills in town, according to consultants running the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP) study.

There is still no estimate of the cost, or when it would be built, but details of how it could work were outlined at a meeting of the SSMP Liaison Committee on October 17, hosted by Project Manager Matt Pearson of B.M. Ross and Associates.

Launched in May 2009 and originally expected to take two years, the SSMP is finally entering its home stretch. Engineering work is being done to explore various alternatives and assess the capacity of the river to handle treated effluent. Pearson hopes to have a draft plan by the end of January, which would be the focus of a public meeting.

To complete the study, which is currently holding back all subdivision development, town council will have to choose one of the possible strategies. Actual construction of a sewage system would be a separate decision at a later date.

For the plan to work, said Pearson, it will need the support not only of the current Town Council, but of future councils, since the process will take many years. Solmar Development Corp has a subdivision plan in the north of Erin village that could add 1,240 homes over 30 years. It is prepared to build its own modular sewage plant on the 10th Line, which could be expanded to service other parts of Erin.

"You don't need to rush in and do it all at once, if it makes sense to phase it," said Pearson. "A master plan lets you get out of the reactive mode...not just lying around waiting for the government to come along and give you money."

While sewers will definitely require money from senior governments, the SSMP allows Erin to plan a direction – unlike the sewage plan of 1995 that was not supported by village council. Pearson said the SSMP can help ensure the solution is "technically, financially and environmentally sustainable".

The province will no longer allow new subdivisions on septic systems, and the aging systems for older homes may not be replaceable due to small lot sizes.

"These systems are going to start failing, sooner than later," he said. "You've been lucky so far, but eventually there's a point when you'll get a critical mass. People will not want to put the investment into that back yard, knowing that the sewers should be here, may be here. That's a pretty expensive adjustment, so they'll be looking to the municipality."

A traditional gravity-based sewer system would be the most costly to construct, but the least costly to maintain and operate, since it would have few mechanical and electrical parts.

Road disruption would be substantial with a gravity system, since some of the pipe trenches would have to be quite deep. While a road can go over a rise of land, a gravity sewer pipe has to maintain a continual downslope. To get through a hill, backhoes would have to dig deeper than the nearby low land, so the challenge is to route the system between the hills.

"You're not the first place to get sewers – probably the last place," said Pearson. "This has all been done before."

When necessary, the sewage flows to a pumping station at a low point in the landscape. It is stored temporarily in a large underground tank, then pumped through a pressurized pipe, either to the treatment plant or to a high point of land where it resumes gravity flow.

Pumping stations can cost from $650,000 to well over $1 million, but Erin might need only one, said Pearson.

"Topography plays a big role in where sewers are routed, because the goal is to minimize how deep they go," said B.M. Ross Engineer Dale Erb. "Are gravity sewers realistic for Erin? We think they are."

A pipeline could be built along the Elora-Cataract Trailway to move sewage from Hillsburgh to Erin, along the gentle slope established by railroad engineers in 1879.

One advantage of a traditional deep system is that it would enable direct service to plumbing fixtures in residential basements. If the hook-up is closer to the surface, waste water from basements would have to be pumped up to the sewer pipe.

A modified gravity system, not deep enough to serve basements, could save millions of dollars by enabling shallower road trenches and reducing the number of pumping stations.

An alternative system would require every home to get a new septic tank in their front yard, which would provide the initial waste processing. But instead of the outflow going into a weeping bed, it would go by gravity or pump into a public sewer system.

Pipes for this alternative are smaller, and could be installed beside roadways without large trenches. The pipes are not as deep, and do not require a continuous grade, as long as the overall flow is downhill. The sewage would be lower in volume and easier to treat.

But the septic tanks would have to be maintained and pumped out, and the smaller pipes would be more susceptible to blockages.

A fully pressurized system not likely in Erin, but there could be a hybrid design, with certain low-lying areas having pressurized pipes, delivering the waste water into the main gravity system.

A Low Pressure System would require homes to have an outdoor "grinder pump" buried in the front yard instead of a septic tank. This would chop up the waste before pumping it into the public system.

Road excavation would be reduced, since the pressure would allow the pipes to be installed fairly shallow and on different grades, and there would be less need for pumping stations. Costs would include electricity and maintenance, and there would be more risk of odours.

Maintenance of the sewer system would be done by the Town, but the costs would be recovered through a sewer bill. With all systems, the cost of connection would be paid by the homeowner, normally over time.

Additional study is to be done on issues such as compatibility with existing water lines and other underground services, with ditches, and with high-level groundwater.

There also has to be planning so that future development areas will be able to feed efficiently into the system, ensuring that the pipes are large enough to handle the additional flow and that the river can assimilate that input.

The Ministry of the Environment sets river water quality standards that will effectively limit the number of residents that can be hooked up to an Erin sewer system, based on a standard sewage treatment plant.

The maximum number has not been announced, but it should be in the next SSMP report. It could be increased by upgrading the level of treatment in the plant.

Combined treatments help depression sufferers

As published in The Erin Advocate

For the treatment of a complex illness such as depression, patients should not expect a simple pharmaceutical cure. Success will usually involve a combination of therapies, with a lot of effort put into the choices, to see what works best for the individual.

This is the second column based on a panel discussion held last month by the East Wellington Family Health Team (EWFHT).

There are not simply enough psychiatrists to treat every person with depression or other mental illness, so family doctors and therapists often start a patient on the road to recovery.

Michele Ross Miller is a Mental Health Therapist who provides one-on-one, marital and family counselling to patients of the EWFHT, as well as public education programs.

"By the time you come to counselling, you have experienced a lot of judgement about your depression," she said. "There are traditional beliefs about depression – it’s laziness, you just have to pull up your socks, you have to try harder. Counselling is about different kinds of therapies that challenge not only how you’re thinking, but also how you’re behaving."

People should seek help when they are no longer able to function at what they consider a normal level. They may still be going to work or school, but unable to concentrate and make decisions.

"The purpose of counselling is to set personal goals for improving your life, gaining greater insight into who you are," she said. "It’s not a process where the counsellor tells the client what he or she should do. You come to the session and the counsellor helps you come to decisions. Also, to get some education about what contributes to depression."

One of the popular strategies is called Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, based on the concept that thoughts create feelings. Just as a brain can become accustomed to negative thoughts and feelings, it can be trained in the opposite direction through positive thinking. This short-term program works well for some people, but should not be considered a substitute when acute psychiatric care is needed.

Another panelist was Dr. Wendy Davis, a naturopathic doctor at the Harmony Naturopathic Clinic in Orangeville. She tries to discover root causes of patients' health concerns, treating them with various dietary, lifestyle and naturopathic remedies.

"We’re based on treating the whole person, which isn’t that different from conventional medicine – it is very much preventative," she said. "I believe in a combination of conventional and naturopathic medicine."

She looks at digestion, stress, sleep, energy, immune function, hormone balance, and environmental toxins. She stresses the value of B vitamins, Omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin C and vitamin D, with the priority on diet rather than supplements.

"They actually help to decrease that anxiety, that stress effect that gets you to that depressive state," she said. "We need to support the body so it has what it needs to get back up and to work with the stress."

Blood sugar control is important, since the ups and downs caused by skipping meals and eating high-carb snacks are very stressful on the body. She said black licorice can help with stress (if you don’t have high blood pressure), and she prescribes combinations of supplements, such as the common anti-depressant St. John’s Wort, with passion flower and skullcap.

"Just because you get a vitamin or supplement from a health food store, or Walmart or Shoppers, and it’s ‘natural’, it doesn’t necessarily always mean it’s safe. You should see a medical doctor or a naturopathic, someone who has an idea of how different things interact. Health Canada is really cracking down on different supplements – they’re making sure that what it says on the bottle is actually going to be in the product."

She also uses techniques of meditation, and elements of Traditional Chinese Medicine. "Acupuncture increases endorphins, just like exercise increases those feel-good hormones. It’s really good for relaxation and pain relief. It overall helps to balance the nervous system. The whole concept is the body in balance, it’s ying and yang. Too much of anything – too much broccoli – is not good for you. So it’s moderation in everything."

There will be one more column in this series on depression, including comments from the other panelists: Amy Cousineau, an Anglican priest (formerly at All Saints in Erin), who told her personal story of recovery; and Fred Cousineau, her husband of 40 years, who shared the frustrations and satisfactions of being a support person for someone in crisis.

November 07, 2012

Transition Erin promotes healthy urban design

As published in The Erin Advocate

The organized response of Erin residents to the Solmar subdivision proposal is part of a world-wide movement to design the urban environment with features that enhance human health.

The Transition Erin group started meeting earlier this year, but kicked into high gear after learning that Solmar Development Corp. was about to submit its application to transform 300 acres in the north end of the village.

The plan for commercial, industrial and recreational development, along with 1,240 homes over 30 years, needs intense scrutiny, and Solmar is eager to engage not only with Town staff and councillors, but the general public.

Community groups, whether for or against development, are not constrained by planning procedures, and can hold public meetings and have extensive input well in advance of the formal process with town council.

Transition Erin is clearly in favour of new development, including a sewer system, to help expand the industrial and commercial tax base, and improve the housing mix. In last week's Advocate, the group was critical of the development proposal for its initial lack of detail, and insufficiency of desirable features. Solmar's plan is being judged against a set of 11 principles (outlined below) that would allow Erin residents to "achieve their highest level of health".

In September, Transition Erin held a meeting with a presentation by Paul Young, of Public Space Workshop, to learn how citizens can engage in planning discussions and shape their community by influencing developers and politicians.

"You need to build a constituency of support and a coordinated response," said Young, stressing that healthy, inclusive, sustainable communities have sufficient density to provide local jobs, recreation and shopping.

They provide a range of housing types, and have a good trails network for pedestrians, cyclists and wheelchair users. They are more economical to build and service, and help preserve farmland. Older neighbourhoods tend to be more walkable and livable than many new subdivisions.

"Our built communities are having an impact on all sorts of health-related issues," he said, noting that lack of physical activity is leading to more obesity and diabetes. "We're stuck in the car, we're getting heavier and less physically active, and chronic disease is going up."

Based on a concept of sustainability called permaculture, the Transition Town movement encourages communities to build up their resilience, in response to expected shortages and price increases for oil, extreme conditions due to climate change and the uncertainties of an unstable economy.

Rob Hopkins, a permaculture pioneer and a driving force in the Transition Town movement in England, wrote in 2009: "By shifting our mindset, we can actually recognize the coming post-cheap oil era as an opportunity rather than a threat, and design the future low-carbon age to be thriving, resilient and abundant – somewhere much better to live than our current alienated consumer culture, based on greed, war and the myth of perpetual growth."

Awareness of sustainable living principles is expected to lead to more walking and cycling, less use of fossil fuel energy and more reliance on local farms and gardens instead of long-distance food chains. "Green" community design has become fashionable.

As of 2010, there were more than 400 official Transition Town projects in the UK, Ireland, Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand, Italy and Chile. You can get more information about the new Erin group at Contact them by email at Check out the Guelph group at

Transition Erin's first principle in evaluating the Solmar subdivision is that Erin must retain its rural charm and scenic environment. Existing natural features and mature trees should be preserved, and the architecture should reflect the local heritage.

A strong sense of community would be promoted through connected gathering places such as parks. They want it to be attractive, with street views of house fronts, gardens and open spaces, not high fences and garages.

It would be designed for minimum impact on the environment, through good water management, energy efficiency, resilience to extreme weather, and accommodation for use of local renewable energy sources.

There would be housing suitable for young families and seniors, and local jobs to reduce the need for long commutes. There would be convenience stores and other small retailers within walking distance of most homes. Public facilities would be easily accessible, and cycling would be promoted with bike shelters and racks. There should even be provision for possible future bus stops and shelters.

Safety would be promoted with adequate night lighting and clear sight lines around parks, public buildings and along various pathways. Connection with older parts of Erin village would be promoted with trails and walkways that link to existing routes.

With so many significant wetlands and valuable environmental features in and near the village, "the new development should do its utmost to preserve and protect the natural systems."

October 31, 2012

Five year capital budget makes sense for Town

As published in The Erin Advocate

It is surprising that Erin Town Council has not yet adopted a process of looking five years ahead in allocating money for roads, bridges, buildings, water infrastructure, recreation facilities and major equipment.

They should heed the advice of their new Chief Administrative Officer Frank Miele (and Treasurer Sharon Marshall) and set a five year capital budget, moving the Town into a modern model of financial management.

"Five year plans are a mainstream in municipal government today," said Miele, at last week's council-staff working meeting – probably the last such gathering, since he has a new meeting process in mind as well.

"To some degree they are requested by the provincial government, whenever there are infrastructure projects. So I strongly recommend to council that we work towards approving not necessarily the actual amounts, but approving the concept of a five year capital budget process.

"I think it's a good opportunity for council to understand where we want to be heading. It provides a guide as to where most of our financial resources will be allocated."

Treasurer Sharon Marshall presented a five year plan to council last year, but only the 2012 section was approved.

"We've asked for some commitments in the future, to make a sustainable path," she said.

Of course, there has been forecasting for capital needs, with money being set aside in reserves for major expenditures. But for department heads, any project not approved in one year would have to be pitched again in the next year, and sometimes for many years.

There's a big difference between a project sitting on a wish list and a project that has been evaluated, debated and scheduled to be done in a certain year. Politicians will still have the option of moving things around in case of emergencies, but there will be less chance that essential work will be allowed to fall by the wayside.

Presentation of the first draft of the 2013-2018 Capital Budget last week effectively launched the 2013 budget process. Here are some highlights of what departments may purchase in the next few years.

General Government: $20,000 every year for hardware and software and $25,000 for a new roof on the municipal offices in 2015.

Fire and Emergency Services: In 2013, finishing the Hillsburgh firehall for $150,000, a firehall generator at $50,000 and replacement of a 1986 pumper truck at $235,000. In every year there would be vehicle replacement costs from $200,000 to $320,000.

In 2013, $136,000, the first of five equal installments for a bridge on Winston Churchill, $375,000 to replace a Cedar Valley culvert, $175,000 to reconstruct part of 17 Sideroad (more to be done each year), $59,000 to resurface part of 1st Line and $318,000 as the first installment in a three year plan to pulverize and resurface 2nd Line.

Bridge replacements include Station Road for $2.6 million in 2014, on 4th Line for $664,000 in 2015, on 8th Line (at 17 Sideroad) for $860,000 in 2016, and on 2nd Line for $532,000 in 2017. In 2013, two graders to be replaced at $300,000 each. In 2017, a new salt shed at $316,000.

In 2013, the Hillsburgh pumping station is expected to cost $760,000, while repairs, upgrades and re-coating of the water tower (interior and exterior) will cost $280,000. Well house replacement and improvements in 2014 are set at $450,000.

Environment and Planning: a possible $100,000 per year for the next three years related to the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP), and in 2014, a $50,000 Traffic Pattern Study.

Hillsburgh Community Centre:
Replacing the second half of the hockey boards for $75,000 in 2013, a new score clock for $12,000 in 2014, refrigeration upgrades for $115,000 in 2015, a new ice resurfacer for $90,000 in 2016, and structural upgrades for $89,500 in 2017.

Erin Community Centre:
Heating, ventilation and air conditioning upgrades are planned at $30,000 for each of 2014 and 2015, plus $90,000 for new arena lobby flooring in 2015. The tennis courts may need resurfacing at $40,000 and repaving the Centre 2000 parking lot could cost $75,000, both in 2014.  A publicly accessible playground could cost $100,000 in 2017.

Hillsburgh Parks:
Night lighting on an additional soccer field – $80,000 in 2013, paving the driveway and parking lot – $75,000 in 2016, and ball diamond night lighting – $80,000 in 2017.

Low attendance could shut down Erincinema

As published in The Erin Advocate

Erincinema could be coming to the end of its reel, due to low attendance and the projected cost of upgrading its equipment.

"Our movie program has had very low or limited success since its inception," said Facilities Manager Graham Smith, in a report to councillors last week. At some recent screenings, there have been only five people in the theatre. And there were no complaints when the program was closed for the summer.

"If there's no participation, you're going to lose the cinema," said Mayor Lou Maeiron. "Use it or lose it."

Treasurer Sharon Marshall said the Town-backed venture has never broken even since it showed its first movie on March 8, 2002. The Town loaned it $38,400 to buy projection equipment in 2002, from the proceeds of selling the old Erin Hydro utility, and the money was repaid over seven years with cinema revenues and a Hydro One grant of $5,000.

Deficits have risen, however, and Erincinema is projected to lose $18,000 this year.

"Our prices are competitive, however we are always three to six weeks behind the bigger theatres on our titles," said Graham. "Going digital may give us better opportunities to get more up to date films earlier."

Like all theatres, Erincinema is competing with online movie services. By the end of next year, movies will no longer be produced on 33mm film, so the Town is facing an estimated cost of $45,450 for a digital projector. Council may not support that purchase for the 2013 budget.

There have always been problems with the acoustic quality, but that is related to the design of the theatre, not the sound equipment, said Graham. The Town is looking into the possibility of installing panels that would improve the sound quality for all theatre events.

Wooden sound barrier studied for skatepark

As published in The Erin Advocate

The initial quote for a wooden barrier that could reduce the noise impact of Erin's new skatepark by about five decibels (dBA) has come in at $11,256.

Town councillors got a report last week on the sound study they had ordered, after noise complaints from area residents. Additional quotes will be obtained for the wall, which would be installed early next year, if approved by council at a future meeting.

Ramps at the park have already been enclosed and undercoated with padding to reduce noise, and the wall would provide additional protection.

"Is it worth the additional cost?" asked Mayor Lou Maieron, wondering whether skatepark users should be asked to do more fundraising. The park was originally projected to cost $100,000, and substantial fundraising was done, followed by reception of a $60,000 Trillium grant. So far, $146,000 has been spent.

The quote for a 10-foot high pressure-treated lumber wall, from Upper Grand Custom and Log Homes of Orton, includes 6"x6" posts, 2"x4" rails, and panels made from two overlapped layers of 1"x6" with staggered joints.

"A reasonable reduction is predicted throughout the residential area," said Engineer Nick McCabe, from the firm Howe Gastmeier Chapnik Limited. With a wall on the north and west sides, the predicted sound levels due to the skatepark ranged from 52 dBA at the closest home, to 45 and 47 dBA at other nearby homes to the north and south.

For maximum effectiveness, the wall should be close to the source of the noise, so it might have to replace some of the recently erected chain link fence, he said.

"The height of the wall should be sufficient to entirely screen the ramps from a direct line of sight from the upper storey windows of the surrounding houses," said McCabe.

 There had been discussion of trees as a sound barrier, but McCabe said 30 metres of dense bush would be required to make a difference.

Noise being reflected off the arena building is not a primary problem, but it could become more dominant in some areas once the direct noise is reduced.