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.

Council-Staff meetings on hold

As published in The Erin Advocate

Monthly Council-Staff working meetings, intended to help coordinate and plan Town business, have been put on hold until January at the request of new Chief Administrative Officer Frank Miele.

At his first public meeting last week, Miele listened as council and senior staff discussed various ongoing issues. But as usual, they did not conduct regular business, since it was not an official council meeting.

"You don't need to have the whole staff here – it should be a visionary approach," said Miele, who will propose a new system to keep councillors updated about issues in each department.

"These meetings have devolved into something we didn't want," said Councillor John Brennan. "If it's just another council meeting, we don't need it. But we still need a department overview."

"They are council meetings without decisions," said Councillor Barb Tocher.

The meetings were a compromise plan after Mayor Lou Maieron previously failed to get agreement on establishment of a more elaborate committee system. He said last week the intent was to "deal with complex issues in advance." Clerk Kathryn Ironmonger suggested that quarterly updates might be sufficient.

Councillors will still have to attend several extra meetings in the next two months as they start deliberations on the 2013 budget.

October 24, 2012

Erin Radio under new management

As published in The Erin Advocate

As a result of a bleak financial outlook and technical problems, Erin Community Radio Inc. has turned over control of its station to the operators of similar ventures in Fergus and Hanover.

Main Street Radio (formerly Erin Radio) will continue to broadcast at FM 88.1 from the village of Erin, with a focus on local affairs, but will be re-branded to provide better service to the community.

"Our music format will be changing slightly to better suit a wider audience," said Larry Peters, the new chairman. He a show host and Vice President at The Grand FM92.9, and Manager of COGECO Community Television, both in Fergus. "We also intend to move the studio to a larger wheelchair accessible facility with new furnishings, board room and some updated equipment."

The new proposed location is at 8 Thompson Cresent (near the medical centre) with more than $25,000 likely to be invested in a new studio, software and furniture. A rally/meeting will be held at that location tonight (Wednesday) at 7 pm.

Peters promised the new board will build on Erin Radio's past achievements with "open communication and dialogue". The station went on the air in 2006, powered by volunteers, and has had strong support from the community, town council and the Ontario Trillium Foundation. The broadcast area now extends from Guelph to Orangeville.

"While the radio station has been able to weather the financial storm over the years through grants, advertising and fundraising, the past few years have been particularly difficult," said Ray Young, the former chairman, describing the previous situation as "bleak".

He said the board worked "strenuously and creatively over the past several months" and sought help from other parties with "the financial means, technical expertise and management capability to ensure the future."

He has resigned from the board, along with Station Manager Jay Mowat, Dave Currie, Rob Dodds and Mike Handley.

Staying on the board are Sales Coordinator David MacDonald and Volunteer Coordinator/Sales Rep Ronia Michael, while the new members are Peters, Vice Chairman Jerry Kooiman (Promotion Director in Fergus), Treasurer Scott Jensen (President in Fergus), Vic Folliott (Morning Personality/Sales Manager in Fergus) and Andy McBride (Station Manager in Hanover).

"We acknowledge the support of many Erin Radio team members, Town of Erin and Trillium for financial support," said Peters. "We truly appreciate everything you have done as a team. We intend to build the station as a viable business that can eventually afford to have paid staff members and invest all profits back to your community."

Community radio stations are non-profit corporations, with no shares that can be bought and sold. Andy McBride took over Hanover's failing community station in 2002 and has expanded it into a successful venture, which owns its own building. He is also known as Andy Mack, host of the internationally syndicated "The Sounds of Scotland Show".

Jensen will be Erin's new Program Director. He is currently the Manager of Media Technology for Research in Motion (RIM). He helped found the Fergus station in 2009, and previously worked with community radio station CKWR FM in Kitchener – taking it from revenues of $150,000 per year, to $650,000 per year during his term as President of the board.

"The Grand 92.9 and Bluewater Radio 91.3 have had tremendous success in Centre Wellington and Hanover," said Peters, who was Production Manager for CIDC FM in Orangeville, and also worked for CJOY and CKLA FM (now Magic 106) in Guelph. "We believe that Erin Community Radio Inc. can benefit from our learned successes in programming, sales, technology expertise, promotion and coordinated volunteer base."

He said the Erin station will continue to be a focal point for local talent, news, sports, traffic and community events.

"There will be some specialty programs shared amongst stations, but we will be using Erin local volunteers and mentoring them," said Kooiman. "We are hoping to earn the support of all members, volunteers, show hosts, sponsors, town council and advertisers."

Station founder Jay Mowat is "very positive" about the new arrangement.

"I think we've got a strategic and creative alliance now," he said. "They are prepared to put in new money, new energy, new equipment. The gear that the station has been using, which is really antiquated, is going to be improved a thousand-fold, and you'll hear the difference on-air. What will change is the technical sophistication of the organization, the energy that people are putting into it.

"When I started this little venture six years ago, it was with the intention of using my broadcasting background (CBC) to do actual radio programs. But I got really tied up in the administration of the organization." He's now thinking of pitching his own political interview show.

He would not disclose how much the station owes, but said it is not a huge debt, with current bills paid and nothing owing to the bank. There's about $7,000 owing to the Town of Erin, related to their new 250-watt transmitter (which was also funded by a $29,000 Trillium grant), and money to be repaid to some directors.

Good recovery prospects for those with depression

As published in The Erin Advocate

Speakers at a panel discussion hosted by the East Wellington Family Health Team (EWFHT) this month painted a hopeful picture of recovery for the many people who suffer from depression.

With presentations that included scientific, therapeutic and personal points of view, the overarching message was that this condition can be defeated or made manageable.

"Depression has many faces, changing the way it appears from one person to the next," said Kim Bell, Program Lead/Mental Health Worker at EWFHT.  "Compounding this problem is the fact that most people are unaware that depression is an illness. It's a treatable illness. People do recover every day. So there is hope."

Depression affects 10 per cent of Canadians. Early intervention can reduce its severity, but sufferers and health professionals are working against the embarrassment, fear and stigma attached to all mental illnesses. Caring support from family and others can be crucial to recovery.

Dr. Pete Anderson, a family physician who recently joined EWFHT, and has a PhD in molecular biology and genetics, described the physical changes that take place in the bodies and brains of people with depression. Some 15 per cent of people will suffer from depression at some point in their life, with a higher incidence for women, especially in the time following the birth of a child.

"There are measurable changes in how your neurons work in the different parts of your brain, and things that short-circuit it can cause depression," he said, recounting his own struggles with the illness.

"The pressures I put on myself while going through medical school put me into a spiral. Had my wife been a hair less strong than she was, we might not be together today. So I am very, very lucky to have had the support of my family and friends to get through that.

"Insidious is a fantastic word to describe it. I was just miserable. Everything I did was just coloured by this morose, blue, outlook on things. All the pleasure of small things seemed to get drained out of the activities in my life."

Losing the ability to function distinguishes major depression. Anderson suffered many of the classic symptoms, at first not knowing the cause. A diagnosis requires a combination of symptoms persisting over a period of time.

These include overwhelming sadness, loss of interest in activities, low self-esteem, weight loss or gain, insomnia or excessive sleep, lack of energy, slow movement, changes in appetite, feelings of guilt, impaired concentration and decision-making, and thoughts of suicide as a way to escape.

"Maybe it would just be easier if I wasn't here – I remember saying that to my wife," he said.  "That was a big turning point, when I actually admitted I was having these thoughts."

Research is showing that stress triggers hormones that can wither the neurons in the brain and reduce connectivity, which can lead to a self-reinforcing pattern of negative thoughts and emotions. The human brain evolved to handle the short-term stress of emergencies, not the constant stress that society now generates.

"We think depression is a maladaptive response of the body to chronic stress that you can't get resolution to," he said. "There's usually a difference between expectation and reality that you can't reconcile. The part of the brain that decides what to do is locked out.

"The good news is that there are effective therapies for depression. You have to start doing things that used to make you happy. You have to socialize – there's something protective about social interaction, having people tell us that they care about us. That helps make new connections in the brain.

"Exercise releases hormones within the body that actually help neurons grow. Our bodies are designed to move, and our brains are designed to catalogue that movement," he said, but cautioned against expecting quick results. "You are not going to snap out of it. It takes time for brain re-growth."

Counselling can help people challenge their negative thoughts, while medications can sensitize the brain to helpful hormones. Finding the best medication and dosage is often a trial and error process, with the risk of serious side effects, but it is extremely valuable for many patients.

So the strategy is to combine different therapies to fight the illness. I will touch on some variations when I outline the presentations of the other panelists in a future column.

October 17, 2012

Health Team expands video access to specialists

As published in The Erin Advocate

The East Wellington Family Health Team (EWFHT) is expanding its telemedicine services, making it easier for Erin patients to consult medical specialists.

Two new nurses, Paula McClintock and Shannon Leighton, started work at the Erin clinic recently. They are dedicated to helping more patients be "seen" by doctors at various locations, with videoconferencing technology provided by the Ontario Telemedicine Network (OTN).

"There is enough work to keep them in their primary role," said Michelle Karker, EWFHT Executive Director. The OTN equipment has been in place for about two years, but they didn't have the staff to operate it regularly. "We're trying to figure out how we're going to squeeze it all in, dealing with that pent-up demand that we've had."

Shannon Leighton and Paula McClintock with Michelle Karker

New provincial support has enabled the Waterloo-Wellington Local Health Integration Network (WWLHIN) to allocate dedicated annual base funding of $934,000, plus $250,000 in one-time funding, to expand telemedicine services in the region. Coordinated by St. Joseph's Health Centre in Guelph, funding has been distributed to care providers such as the East Wellington team.

The Erin clinic now has a full compliment of six doctors and is actively seeking new patients. Karker said the doctors and other team members are "fully on-board", and excited that patients will have quicker access to specialists.

"It has been in place for some time, but mainly in the Thunder Bay - Sudbury, very remote and rural areas," said McClintock. "They've perfected it, and they're finding other uses for it in these more southern rural areas, as another method of gaining access to health care."

One of the early barriers was web connectivity, but the Erin clinic now has access to a highly secure network. To protect the confidentiality of patient information, there is a dedicated Internet Service Provider (ISP) that does not handle other users.

Erin has offered geriatric psychiatry through OTN, but now there is potential to offer a wide range of specialties, including psychiatry for children, teens and adults, a field where medical resources are limited in rural communities.

EWFHT has a directory of physicians offering OTN service and may urge others to do so, especially since the setup is becoming easier and less costly – a desktop unit, instead of a large camera and monitor.

"It opens up the possibility of tapping into more resources," said Karker. EWFHT is currently making arrangements with a respirologist, and hoping to find a specialist to help patients with chronic pain.

"We're definitely looking into a physician who can diagnose fibromyalgia – there's a need for that," said Leighton. "And we've found that there are support groups on line as well."

Patients in a large city might attend a patient group for a particular illness, but in a small town, there may be no one else with the same condition. OTN enables them to attend the local clinic and participate in a support group through a video link. The system also allows staff to take courses or participate in meetings without having to travel.

EWFHT will also offer a service called Telederm, where a high quality digital photo of a skin condition is sent to a dermatologist, enabling a diagnosis or advice back within two weeks, instead of a patient staying on a waiting list for six months to see the doctor in person.

Some patients will still need to travel to see a specialist for certain procedures, but OTN can reduce the number of trips by allowing the preparatory consultation and follow-up to be done remotely – including arrangement of ongoing help through the Community Care Access Centre (CCAC).

Doctors will be able to review things like x-rays and blood test results before a session starts. Patients will arrive at the clinic early enough to have the nurse do any required assessments and equipment testing before going on-line.

An OTN session can involve much more than sitting in front of a camera and having a discussion. The nurse may operate a hand-held camera that can show the doctor a close-up view of a body part – for example, to show the severity of a hand tremour. It can also be used to follow a patient as they walk, so the doctor can see their gait.

Nurses will gather data and give assessments to the doctors. Information such as blood pressure, respiratory function and test results can be instantaneously transmitted. Nurses can use a digital stethoscope, while doctors can click on a picture to show where it should be placed on the patient, and hear the same audio as the nurses.

"They are their eyes and ears and hands on the other end of the camera," said Karker.

Matt Smith, previously the Manager of Rehabilitation and Ambulatory Services at St. Joe's, has been hired to provide coordination for the 67 OTN sites within the WWLHIN, enabling training and the sharing of ideas among the health professionals.

"This project will enable us to try some new ways to improve equity across the Waterloo Wellington LHIN and increase access to specialist care, especially in rural areas,” said Smith.

"By investing in this technology and the people who use it, we are providing residents with better health, better care, and better value for taxpayer dollars,” said Joan Fisk, WWLHIN Board Chair.

In 2011/12, the use of telemedicine in Ontario has resulted in an estimated $44 million in avoided travel costs. More than 3,000 health care professionals use OTN across more than 1400 sites in Ontario, including 67 in Waterloo-Wellington. This year, the system will deliver more than 200,000 patient visits.

"It's about the ability to get the care in a way that is easier and instant, so less wait time, and able to get to diagnostic equipment that you might not be able to get to," said Fisk, in an interview. "It's all about communication, more information to the patient. Also to get in front of a specialist, which you would have to drive to. There you are in a virtual situation, it's really quite impressive."

"For patients, it means greater peace of mind knowing that medical knowledge and expertise are easier to access with the help of this technology,” said Dr. Ed Brown, CEO for OTN, which is an independent, not-for-profit organization funded by the Ontario government.

Fisk said the LHIN is dedicated to "working hard with the hospitals, with the health service provision, to get more access to care – every minute that's what we're focused on. Ultimately it's about getting better care."

The WWLHIN administers almost $1 billion in health care funding for regional hospitals and community care, not including the costs of doctors or regular operations of family health teams.
Fisk said change often comes slowly in health care, due to habits engrained over many decades.

As an example, she said not all doctors are eager to put all of their files onto a different, shared system called Clinical Connect. It is a secure web portal delivering integrated electronic health records to thousands of health professionals from Niagara, Hamilton, Haldimand, Brant, Waterloo and Wellington areas.

That system will also consolidate patient information from hospitals and Community Care Access Centres (CCACs), and will connect with telemedicine initiatives, said Fisk.

"The idea is, you present yourself at an emergency department, they click on your OHIP number, and they'll know what diagnostic tests you've had, they'll know what your physician has had to say about you, what surgeries you've had. Especially for frail seniors, this is so important," she said.

"Trying to get there has been an unbelievably difficult process...Younger doctors are used to it. Ultimately, I think we have so much more opportunity in front of us – this is just the beginning."

Solmar buys 10th Line farm for sewage treatment

As published in The Erin Advocate

Solmar Development Corp has purchased land in Erin for a sewage treatment plant to service its new subdivision, even before submitting a development proposal to the Town.

The land is on the west side of the 10th Line, north of the intersection with Wellington Road 52 (Bush Street). The West Credit River runs through the land, crossing the 10th Line at a point 1.6 km south of the proposed subdivision.

"This site has long been cited as the best and most central location for a WWTP (Waste Water Treatment Plant)," said Solmar Planner Maurizio Rogato. "Several town and CVC (Credit Valley Conservation) reports have confirmed its preferred location."

Solmar is pressing ahead with plans for commercial, industrial and residential growth on 300 acres in the north part of Erin village, between Dundas Street and County Road 124. The company was planning to officially submit its development proposal on Tuesday this week (after The Advocate went to press). It was widely expected to request approval for construction of more than 800 homes.

Town Planner Sally Stull considers the application "premature", since no new subdivisions can be built until the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP) is done. Solmar wants to have the extensive approval process run concurrently with the SSMP.

Provincial policy requires that new subdivisions have sanitary sewers. Solmar is prepared to build a small modular plant to service its project, and has also offered to allocate some sewage capacity for downtown businesses and enable it to handle septage (septic tank pumpings). The Town would take over the plant and could add capacity to eventually service most of Erin village and Hillsburgh.

"Solmar had the option of installing a modular facility on its development lands (north of Dundas Street), but this was a short sighted approach and did not account for a long term vision and/or public interest of the Town," said Rogato. "Therefore, with proper consultation at the CVC, the best candidate site was chosen."

The river crossing near the proposed plant is less than 500 metres from homes on the 10th Line near Pine Ridge Road and on Bush Street, and about 700 metres from homes on Aspen Court.

There is also a home nearby on the purchased property, which includes both farmland and wooded areas, but the actual location of the plant on the land has not been determined. Belfountain is about 4 km downstream. The sewage plant would have its own Environmental Assessment, with extensive input from the public and CVC.

"The process for obtaining approval of the WWTP will need to study alternatives," said Rogato. "We are very respectful of the process and for this reason, we have not communicated this site loudly, but we will instead engage in the proper process."

The 10th Line area had been identified in the 1990s as a possible plant site, when Erin village and CVC studied the sewage issue. Solmar has said it will treat the wastewater to whatever level of purity is required, but CVC has still not determined the river's capacity to handle the flow from a plant.

Treated discharge would enter the river where it has maximum water flow, since two tributaries join the river just east of the downtown area. Unlike Orangeville, however, Erin has no reservoir on the river to help maintain water flow during low periods.

"They are being smart in securing this spot," said Mayor Lou Maieron, though he remains frustrated that the SSMP is taking much longer than expected.

"It is the ideal location," said former mayor Rod Finnie, who has researched various treatment options. "Solmar is trying to push the Town. We need to make sure the technologies are proven."

The recently purchased land is outside the village's urban boundary and is protected from housing development by the province's Green Belt legislation, said Finnie, and so was not likely of interest to other developers.

"The purchase is actually a good thing, in my opinion, if the SSMP and Council determine that a sewage treatment plant is the way to go forward," said Stull.

"Having a preferred location already purchased for that purpose, by the developer, moves things ahead quickly," she said.

"With the physical location issues out of the way the financial issues for the Town would be how all the 'offsite/in road' infrastructure gets connected and paid for, to service the existing urban areas in the most affordable manner for existing residents."

Town Council has made no decisions on the subdivision, treatment plant or general sewage system. Recommendations from the SSMP are expected this winter.

Maieron said the challenge for town council is how to make sure that the Solmar development fits well with the existing community. He doubts that there would be the political will to force existing residents to hook up to an expanded sewage system.

October 10, 2012

Council wants 60 kph limit on rural Town roads

As published in The Erin Advocate

In an effort to make drivers slow down on Erin's rural roads, Town council is planning to raise the speed limit to 60 kilometres per hour (kph).

Contrary to popular belief and driving habits, the current limit in rural areas is 50 kph, unless posted otherwise. This is the default speed limit set by the province for all "towns". If Erin were a "township", the default would be 80 kph.

Erin council has had the authority to override the default speed limit and set it at any level from 40 to 80 kph. They debated the issue in 2009 and initially voted for a 80 kph limit, but then put the issue on hold for further study. No new bylaw has been adopted and many areas remain unsigned.

At last week's meeting, council changed its intention, unanimously backing a recommendation from Road Superintendent Larry Van Wyck to develop a bylaw that would set 60 kph as the normal maximum in rural areas (including most hamlets) and 40 kph in the urban areas of Hillsburgh and Erin village.

A public information meeting will be held at the Town office on October 30, at 7:30 p.m., so people can see maps and a presentation about the new limits, and have their questions answered.

The bylaw would not apply to the grid of County roads, including Trafalgar Road and County Road 124. There would also be exceptions, including boundary roads shared with neighbouring municipalities, and specific zones already covered by other speed limit bylaws. These include 50 kph areas on 17 Sideroad and in the hamlet of Cedar Valley.

Van Wyck said there will be a significant cost, since about 230 new signs will be needed, especially at intersections where drivers may turn off an 80 kph County road onto a 60 kph Town road. The new bylaw could be passed next month, but the speed limits will not come into effect until the signs are actually put up next year.

Mayor Lou Maieron warned that there will have to be an awareness campaign to ensure that drivers are aware of the law.

"We're going to have a public outcry," he said, pointing out that the Ontario Provincial Police have said that speeding is not a major factor in accidents in Erin.

In a 2007 letter to Van Wyck regarding a possible 50 kph limit, Staff Sergeant Scott Smith said, "it would appear that there is not a significant problem" though noting it is difficult to draw an accurate conclusion without knowing specific traffic volumes.

"A reduction in speed limits would in my opinion have little impact on the rate of motor vehicle collisions, as speed is not the overwhelming factor," he said. "This change will result in an increase in the number of traffic complaints and the subsequent increase in officer hours attached to this type of investigation."

Van Wyck said the Town has a legal opinion that the rural speed limit has definitely been 50 kph since enactment of the new Municipal Act in 2002, since Erin was no longer a township at that time.

"This is a bit problematic with enforcement, because I don't believe our OPP are all familiar with the dates and this provision of the Highway Traffic Act," he said. "The OPP come out and say, 'Well, they're doing 80', but really the speed limit isn't 80."

With the current 50 kph limit, anyone doing over 100 kph could be charged with racing and have their vehicle impounded.

In 2009, John Brennan was the only councillor voting against the 80 kph plan. Councillors Barb Tocher, Josie Wintersinger, Ken Chapman and Mayor Rod Finnie voted in favour.

Brennan then successfully pushed for a review of the 80 kph plan, noting that a consultant's topographical review of road conditions showed a recommended speed of 80 kph for only 8.7% of roads, and 70 kph for 2.9%. Speeds of up to 60 kph were suggested for 20.3% of roads, 50 kph for 26.1% and 40 kph for 42%.

"My concern was that by posting the default to 80, we were placing ourselves in a situation of liability," he said last week. "I think 60 is a good compromise. People are going to go what they're going to go, but at 60, our conscience is satisfied that we are doing what we should be doing."
Councillors Tocher and Wintersinger have now voted in favour of the 60 kph plan.

"Sometimes you just can't fight provincial legislation forever," said Tocher. "If we were still called a township, and the Highway Traffic Act allowed us to have a default speed limit of 80 kph, I would not even consider a bylaw of setting the speed limit at 60 kph.

"This issue has been around for the last 14 years for the Town. It's time to resolve it. I suppose we could have considered an overall bylaw to set the rural roads at 80 kms an hour, but I believe this would have put the corporation in a very poor position, with regard to liability.

"This by-law will also bring clarity for the OPP. It must be difficult for the OPP. Under the present situation, the Highway Traffic Act says one thing, the practice has been another and the Town has not clarified the situation.

"If you take into account the study that was done, most of the rural roads would actually have been less than 60 kms an hour. I believe that, although this bylaw may not be perfect, it is a best efforts compromise."

Van Wyck said engineering standards demand better roads for higher speeds. Guidelines published by the Transportation Association of Canada justify lower speed limits for most of Erin's roads, because of hills, curves, gravel surfaces, narrow roadways, visual obstructions, frequency of driveways and exposure to pedestrians and cyclists (without bike lanes or adequate shoulders).

"I drove up and down these roads looking for some compelling reason to raise the speed limit back up to 80," he said. "In a 66 foot right of way, in a rolling topography, we can't meet an 80 kilometre design speed."

Photoshopping magic united cast and crew

As published in The Erin Advocate

It used to be said that the camera doesn't lie, but that was never completely true, and it is less so these days. You can never be certain that the image you see is what was originally captured by a camera (unless, of course, it is a news photo in The Advocate).

Seeing can still be believing, if you trust both the photographer and the photo editor. It is a bit like the theatre, where reality is served up in an artificial way.

When the Murder By The Book was staged last May at Century Church Theatre in Hillsburgh, a group photo was taken as usual.

Brigida Scholten, however, played a character who appears in two different guises in the play. Which one should appear in the official picture? I got an unusual request from my friend Jo Phenix, a master of stage crafts, looking for some special treatment for this actor.

"We have taken a cast and crew picture with an empty space on the right end of the box she is sitting on. We also have several pictures of her in the blond wig. Would it be possible to drop the blond into the picture to sit beside herself?"

The idea is not as outrageous as it would have been before the invention of Photoshop software. The use of a computer to alter or combine images is now called "photoshopping", in which I had some practice through my (former) graphic design job.

Then there was a second request, along with an image of Jo herself. As the photographer, she normally gets left out of production photos, and she wanted to be included for a change.

Here's how it is done. One photo is the "base", while others are layers pasted over it. Each layer is edited and moved separately.

When an image is added, it covers up what is behind it, so the trick is to carefully delete the background of the new layer, so only the person floats in the scene.

In this case, parts of the new images need to be "behind" parts of the base image. To accomplish this illusion, parts of the base (a head, a knee, a foot) are clipped out.

They are pasted on another layer, closest to the viewer's eyes, so they partially block off the new arrivals. With a bit of luck, the new folks look like they were always there.

October 03, 2012

Winston Churchill upgrade delayed until 2016

As published in The Erin Advocate

Peel Region has delayed by three more years the reconstruction of Winston Churchill Boulevard, between Olde Baseline Road and Terra Cotta.

The project had been discussed for decades, and in 2009 a final plan was presented at a public information session in Terra Cotta. Design and property acquisition were to have been done by this year, with construction in 2013.

But now, capital forecasts indicate the property acquisition will not start until 2014, with construction in 2016, according to Peel Transportation Engineer Gary Kocialek. Since Winston Churchill is a boundary road, the Region will pay half of the projected $4.1 million cost, with Wellington County and Halton Region splitting the balance.

Peel has safety concerns about the gravel stretch, the Region's only unpaved road, especially because of the steep grade and poor sightlines just south of the intersection with Ballinafad Road (also known as the Erin-Halton Hills Townline, Wellington County Rd. 42 or Sideroad 32).

It needs full reconstruction to meet modern engineering standards, but some Terra Cotta residents have opposed upgrades for fear of additional commuter traffic, mainly from Erin. As of 2006, the road was handling 245 vehicles per hour each morning, and 300 per hour each afternoon.

The region says it does not expect any traffic impact on Terra Cotta, from drivers wanting to access the future extension of Highway 410 towards Georgetown. Now that Erin's 5 Sideroad has been reconstructed, Erin drivers are able more easily able to avoid Terra Cotta, getting to Mississauga Road via Olde Baseline Road.

There had also been concerns about the environmental impact of the road improvement, so the path of the road was altered to avoid some sensitive areas. Urban-style curbs are planned for some sections, taking rainwater along the road to outlet points, reducing the need for wide ditches.