May 16, 2012

SSMP finally finishes background study

As published in The Erin Advocate

Three years after the first public meeting for the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP), the Town's consultants have produced a Background Report and a Problem/Opportunity Statement, which were presented at a second public meeting last week.

About 150 residents came to the Shamrock Room at Centre 2000 on Tuesday, many with questions about sewers and new subdivisions. Project Manager Matt Pearson of B.M. Ross described the research done so far, at a cost of more than $300,000, but could not give definite answers to many of the concerns about infrastructure improvements.

"You're not going to hear what it costs – we're not there," he said. "That's what's important to a lot of people, is dollars, but we're not going to talk about that because we don't have anything, so that might be a bummer."

The SSMP is an Environmental Assessment being done by the Town of Erin, at the insistence of Credit Valley Conservation and the Ministry of the Environment. One of the goals is to eliminate dependence on aging septic systems in the urban areas of Erin village and Hillsburgh. New subdivisions and downtown redevelopment are on hold until the study is done.

Issues such as how to phase in a sewer system, where to located a sewage treatment plant and whether the West Credit River can handle the discharge from a plant, have not been studied yet. Costs are dependent on technology choices that have not yet been studied, and on the level of financial support that senior levels of government might provide.

Phase 1 was only intended to gather information about the community and the local environment. The study now enters Phase 2, in which B.M. Ross will continue to consult with the public, the Liaison Committee and agencies such as CVC, studying strategies for the next 25 years.

There will be engineering work to develop a series of possible solutions for sanitary sewers, water supply and storm water – along with criteria for evaluating the alternatives.

There will be another public meeting, and council will have to choose one of the solutions in order to complete the study. Pearson said this could all be accomplished in the next 10 months. In 2009, the total study cost was estimated at $420,000.

A sewage plant would require its own Environmental Assessment, after the SSMP is done. And while Solmar Developments will soon start the planning process for a subdivision and commercial / employment lands north of Centre 2000, actual construction cannot take place until the SSMP is done and a sewage strategy is adopted. 

"They are going to pay their share," said Pearson. "They're not going to pay your share. But the bigger things are, the more efficient you can do them. They're developers. They're in the business to build lots, sell them and make money. But they have rules to follow, so they're not going to be building a sewage plant tomorrow or for a couple of years.

"The Town wants to work with them, to say 'Can we do something together? Can we get some of this kick-started? How do we share in the costs? How do we share in the benefits?"

More information and opportunity for input is available on-line at, or by contacting Pearson at, 1-888-524-2641. Previous Advocate coverage can be read at (search SSMP or click on Sewers label).

Pearson reminded people that a majority of the urban lots, many in the older core areas, are too small under current regulations for replacement of a basic septic system. If a system fails, even on a medium-sized lot with municipal water, a more expensive tertiary (or proprietary) system may have to be installed.

"When you start talking 25,000 bucks for a proprietary system, you want to have alternatives," he said.

In 1995, the cost of a proposed sewage plant, for Erin village only, was estimated at $25 million. An environmental assessment was undertaken, but the plan was abandoned due to the cost and community opposition.

People are speculating that it now could cost well over $50 million for a plant to serve Erin village, plus sewage pumped down from Hillsburgh. When someone suggested $100 million, Pearson said he didn't think it would be that high.

It would also be built to treat local septage – the waste pumped from septic tanks and holding tanks, which is currently spread on farm fields or trucked long distances to other plants.

"You want to build big enough, so you're not back there looking at expanding them too early," he said. "You want to build them expandable if you can, but you don't want to overbuild them. It's a trick, it's a crystal ball thing using best available information...There's a pent-up demand for housing here."

He said there is plenty of local land in the urban areas to meet the county's population targets, but "probably not" enough to meet the economic demand of people wanting to live in Erin.

"I don't think you're going to develop a lot of facilities without some government help – it's just not affordable from scratch," he said. "With a plan like this, you shop it around for grants. That's the mayor's role, council's role. Grants come out all the time. You have to be in place with a plan and an argument to get your share."

He said grants normally cover two-thirds of the cost, with the balance divided among the homes that are served. The debt would be repaid over several years.

Homeowners will be obliged to pay their share of sewage system construction. But Pearson will recommend that if they have a good septic system, they may not have to pay the cost of hooking up to the sewer for a certain number of years. There could also be situations where a failed septic system is replaced with a holding tank until the sewers are ready.

He warned against a piecemeal system, or allowing both public and private waste handling over the long term. That could be more expensive overall, and create problems with property values and perceptions of fairness.

He said they could identify the cost of replacing all the regular septic systems with tertiary ones. They are meeting with the Ministry of the Environment to determine the standards for the quality of the effluent that can be discharged into the river. He said the discharge standards are "really, really high" and if Erin can't meet them, then tertiary systems could be a fall-back strategy.

Key statements

The SSMP Vision Statement was developed two years ago, while the Problem/Opportunity Statement was recently approved by council, and presented to the public for the first time last week. Together, they are intended to guide the study process. Here is the text of each.

Vision Statement

The Town of Erin will remain a vibrant, safe and sustainable community, located at the Headwaters of the Credit and Grand Rivers. The Town will continue to capitalize on its proximity to large urban centres, while maintaining its excellent community spirit.

With a strong employment base, and a range and mix of housing, a higher percentage of the residents will work and continue to live within the Town of Erin. Visitors will enjoy the small-town atmosphere, unique shops and surrounding rural charm. Through responsible development and servicing, the Town's rich natural environment will be protected and preserved.

Problem/Opportunity Statement

Presently, the Town of Erin lacks a long term, comprehensive strategy for the provision of water and wastewater servicing in the villages of Erin and Hillsburgh. The following limitations are associated with the current status of servicing within the Town's urban areas:


• Wastewater is treated exclusively by private, on-site wastewater treatment systems. Within the Built Boundary of the settlement areas (Hillsburgh and Erin Village), private property investment and redevelopment is restrained by increasingly stringent setbacks required for septic systems, small lot sizes and the presence of private wells. Additionally, there are limited facilities in the area accepting septage from private systems for treatment.

• The settlement areas (Hillsburgh and Erin Village) have been identified as areas of modest growth under the Places to Grow Act and by Wellington County population projections. At present, the servicing infrastructure is inadequate to meet future demand to 2035. Lots sized to include septic systems will not allow for projected future development to occur in a manner consistent with the need for smaller, less-expensive homes in the community as identified in the Vision Statement.


• Partial water servicing in Erin Village and Hillsburgh limits the operational and cost efficiency of the systems and inhibits redevelopment and future development.

• The capacity of the existing system will need to be augmented to address current limitations and the needs of future development.

Stormwater Management/Transportation

• The West Credit River currently shows impacts from urban stormwater drainage, resulting from limited stormwater management infrastructure. Given existing impacts and potential future impacts related to development, there is a need to assess existing and future stormwater management and transportation infrastructure planning strategies.

The Town of Erin Official Plan outlines a community-based process for completing a Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP) to address servicing, planning and environmental issues within the Town. The SSMP study area includes Erin Village and Hillsburgh, as well as the lands between and surrounding the villages.

Under the Master Plan approach, infrastructure requirements are assessed in conjunction with existing and future land uses using environmental planning principles over extended time-periods and geographic areas. Servicing scenarios are evaluated using environmental, technical and financial sustainability lenses to define a preferred strategy.

From community input and feedback, a Vision Statement outlining the community's ideas for the future of the Town, has been developed. The Vision Statement will serve as a guide throughout the SSMP process, assuring the development of the SSMP is consistent with the community's goals for the future.

The first phase of the Master Plan process is the definition of a Problem/Opportunity statement. This statement serves to provide guidance and direction during the development of alternative community planning and servicing strategies during the second phase of the SSMP process.