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."