July 18, 2012

Sewage plant not likely to be on Solmar land

As published in The Erin Advocate

Solmar Development Corp is prepared to build an expandable sewage treatment plant to service its new subdivision in the north end of Erin village, even if the Town is not ready to extend sewage service to the rest of the village.

The plant is not likely to be located on Solmar's 300 acres, according to company planner Maurizio Rogato.

"We are investigating downstream – I don't think it's going to be on our land," he said. Provincial policy requires sewers for the new subdivision, but if a broader sewage system is in Erin's future, it would be practical to have one plant on Town-owned land.

A plant would need further environmental assessment, but a location towards the south-east of the village would make it easier for treated discharge to enter the river where it has maximum water flow. (Two tributaries join the river just east of the downtown area.)

Town Council has made no decisions on these issues, as it awaits recommendations from the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP). Solmar's development process will run concurrently with the SSMP, since the firm wants to proceed as soon as possible. More than 600 new homes are expected.

"We are eager to see the SSMP conclude," said Rogato. "Is there a way of dealing with the looming question of the town-wide servicing? I see that as a bit of a partnership."

Solmar has proposed a modular plant that can be expanded "if and when" the Town opts for sewers. "I see that as an amicable way of moving forward," said Rogato.

There has been discussion about whether the Credit River can handle the discharge from a sewage plant, but Rogato does not see this issue holding up development. He said the treatment technology can be increased as needed, until the discharge meets the standard set by Credit Valley Conservation.

"We are well aware of the importance of protecting the river," he said.

A system will have to evolve over time, he said and it is an "ill-conceived notion" to think that everyone would have to hook up to sewers at the same time. "The proper way of thinking of things is, do we have any troubled areas in town right now, what are the true needs?"

Solmar has offered to build its plant to also handle septage (septic tank pumpings). This would benefit rural residents. A septage facility should be built large enough for more than just Erin's needs, earning revenue by accepting septage from other towns.

Solmar has also offered to allocate 200 units of sewage capacity for downtown businesses. There is a need there, but in general, the people who benefit from a service should be the ones paying for it. Should new residents in a subdivision pay the capital cost to treat downtown sewage, in the purchase price of their new homes?

Solmar will have to pay development charges, but that revenue cannot be spent to upgrade other parts of the Town. Former Mayor Rod Finnie has suggested that Solmar and other developers pay an extra $25,000 per lot to partially fund a sewage system. This would seem to force new residents to pay for service to existing residents.

"It would be a tax on a tax," said Rogato, suggesting that an extra charge could stifle new business growth. He noted that the Development Charges Act already requires that 90 per cent of new growth costs be covered by the developer and 10 per cent by the Town. "Can you realistically expect a private investor to come in and fund a plant for an entire town?"

Finnie said that while the Town must conform to legislation, "it is not uncommon for developers and municipalities to negotiate for services that have to be provided in order for development to go forward. Some municipalities even offer incentives in terms of the approval process in return for the developers contributing to municipal priorities."

If the SSMP is completed (maybe this winter) and council agrees on a general direction (also uncertain), they will still have to decide about partnering with Solmar and whether to actually start creating a larger sewer system. That could take a long time, especially if no one is actually demanding development or sewers.

"Not deciding is a decision in itself," said Rogato, but he stressed that once the SSMP is done, council should take some time to digest it and not be rushed into deciding on all the possibilities. "We will need to come up with a municipal service, and I would love for it to work in a fashion that allows council that flexibility.

"I don't like the idea of council having theoretically a gun held to its head. I don't want to speculate on what council may or may not do when it (the SSMP) concludes. But Solmar has now made a decision that it is time to move forward. We will be filing development approval applications, Official Plan amendments, a zoning bylaw amendment and a first phase of draft plan."