February 27, 2013

Many consider sewer system too costly

As published in The Erin Advocate

A public meeting on the prospect of a sewer system last week revealed a strong block of opposition, as residents of Erin village and Hillsburgh learned about the costs and disruptions they may have to face.

Concerns ranged from the impact of a sewage treatment plant to the projections of significant population growth, but there were also people who were optimistic about the benefits that sewers might bring to the community.

Matt Pearson, the consultant managing Erin's Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP) revealed details of his rough cost estimates, based on a sewage system for a combined urban population of 6,500 (the current total is now about 4,200).

The underground pipe system, with pumping stations, could cost $27 million for Erin village and $9.8 million for Hillsburgh. The sewage treatment plant could cost $28.6 million, bringing the total for the system to $65.4 million.

The cost share for each urban homeowner could total $32,000 (including $19,500 for collection, and $12,500 for the plant). The cost of the collection system would only be about $5,700 per lot for future subdivisions, with the same $12,500 for treatment, bringing that total to $18,200.

These costs, plus interest, would be spread over 10 to 20 years, as a separate charge either on the tax bill, or more likely on the water bill. The system would be built in phases, and property owners would not be charged until they actually have sewer service.

Pearson said there is a good chance of federal and provincial grants to reduce the cost to home and business owners by as much as two-thirds. He said the Town could only borrow up to $14 million towards the project. Additional revenue would come from development.

"There are two things going for us," he said. "We have this old aging infrastructure of septics. And we've got growth, and governments like growth because growth is jobs. You've got a case, and the SSMP is your case to carry forward and try to get a grant. I don't think you're going to build this on your own."

Some of the 150 in attendance at the Centre 2000 meeting were skeptical about the plan, or openly hostile.

"A lot of people live here for the size of it, for the quaintness of it," said Matthew Sammut. "Growth is a reality of the GTA area and we have to accept it, but at a manageable level. Is it reasonable to double our town in a relatively short period of time?"

"We already have debt in this town. My tax bills are pretty darn high. I've compared it to other communities in our region, and we are 20-40% higher than most areas. Our costs are not going to go down with this, and over time will drive residents out of Erin – simple," he said, to a round of applause.

"I think that's irresponsible. I'm not counting on grants. Our governments are broke, and they may come through – they may make themselves broker," he said, arguing that even if the bill for homeowners was reduced to $20,000 or $10,000, it would still be "not acceptable".

Pearson noted that virtually none of the aging septic systems in the urban zones are being replaced, as people await the outcome of this process. Replacement can cost $20,000, and possibly much more for small lots.

Sammut also said it would be "inexcusable" to build a sewage treatment plant in a location that could hurt existing residents through "lifestyle or financial impact."

County Councillor Ken Chapman said growth is essential for the quality of life in Erin. "If we do not grow, we will lose the high school," he said.

"Everybody bitches about how high their taxes are, and ours are the same, but if we can get some business into town, that will drop the tax rate down," said Shelley Foord, Chair of the Business Improvement Area, and a member of the SSMP Liaison Committee and Transition Erin. "We need to look at some option, because they're just going to keep going up."

"Is business actually going to come?" said Andrew Gorsky. He lives close to the possible treatment site near Tenth Line and County Road 52, and believes a plant would "massacre house pricing".

"We don't have close proximity to 400 series highways. Looking at knowledge base (software) we don't have the infrastructure. Who's going to want to come here to build an infrastructure? Are we actually going to get any business out of this, other than just homes?"

Pearson said the annual sewage bill for homeowners could be $450-500, as a rough estimate, but it could be higher depending on how much revenue needs to be generated for future replacement of part of the system.

There would be additional costs, including a fee to hook up, the cost of laying pipe from the house to the road, and the cost of ripping out or decommissioning the old septic system.

The SSMP has concluded that a gravity-based system could be built, with no pumping stations in Hillsburgh and a big pipe to Erin village along the Elora-Cataract Trail. Two pumping stations would be needed in Erin, and about 10% of properties would need individual sewage pumps to move their waste from low elevations up to the main sewer line.

To finish off the SSMP, the Ministry of the Environment MOE and Credit Valley Conservation will review the Assimilative Capacity Study, which measures the ability of the West Credit River to tolerate effluent from a treatment plant using current technology.

They will set a long-term population limit for the combined Hillsburgh-Erin village urban areas, possibly in the 9,000 to 13,000 range – though at the high end, nitrate and phosphorus contamination are above MOE limits.

"The river is telling us, through this chemistry, what it can accept," said Pearson.

The final draft report will be reviewed with the liaison committee, and the core management team (which includes representatives of the Town, MOE, CVC, Wellington County, Peel Region, Ministry of Natural Resources and Triton Engineering), and council will make comments on it. The report will be finalized, the public will have a period of time to make comments, then council will vote on revising or approving the plan. This could take two months, said Pearson.

The SSMP study has covered the first two phases of the full environment assessment that would be required for a sewer system. Town council will have to decide whether to proceed with the next phases.

February 20, 2013

Hillsburgh sax player recalls his adventures

As published in The Erin Advocate

James Kelso is going on 97 this year and is still going strong, thanks in part to the lively music that has been woven through his life.

He lives at the Hillsburgh Rest Home on Trafalgar Road, worships just across the road at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church and is supported by many friends and good memories.

He was raised by his grandparents, on a farm outside Guelph at the time, near today's Bullfrog Plaza. He remembers doing lots of chores, taking care of his pet horse Dan, and going to school in the basement of the British Methodist Episcopalian Church on Essex Street.

His grandfather James was both a thundering preacher and a bootlegger – the latter resulting in the family moving away from Guelph. They ended up on a farm outside Montreal.

While Kelso was in school, grandpa always insisted on A's, and grandma got him started playing the piano. He played the clarinet in school, but the saxophone became his main instrument. Learning French threw him for a bit of a loop, but he adapted well to the environment.

"In high school, it was like a big honour to be the only black person," he said. "I was treated with respect."

Kelso worked his way through McGill University in the 1930s, becoming the first black to graduate from the music program there. That's an achievement worth noting during Black History Month, which has been celebrated each February in Ontario for the past 20 years.

He went on to earn a Masters degree, and a place in the lively music scene that flourished in Montreal during the 1940s. It was the city that launched Oscar Peterson to stardom, and a favourite spot for musicians like Louis Armstrong and Frank Sinatra.

Kelso played in different bands at famous hotspots such as Rockhead's Paradise (the first black-owned club in Canada), the Esquire Showbar and Chez Paree.

"I had a whole lot of fun," he said. "People came just to see me."

Montreal had become a North American entertainment capital, with big names like Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker jamming with the locals. Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and Jimmy Dorsey brought their dance bands to Montreal clubs. Various forms of jazz, blues, swing and bebop flourished, along with burlesque nightclubs and vaudeville shows.

Kelso was not just a jazz musician, but adapted to whatever style was popular with audiences. He often encountered people, however, who assumed that his talent was linked to his race.

"They'd say, 'All you people can do music' – they were brainwashed to think that," he said. In his career he did encounter discrimination, discovering that he couldn't make the same money as a white musician.

"They wanted you to play, but they didn't want to pay," he said, though he did do a bit better touring in New York State. He taught others to play, was involved in recording projects, and also toured in England. He returned to Ontario, and worked as a cook at a hotel and the University of Guelph.

"I had many jobs," said Kelso. "You had to go with the flow. But I was involved with music all my life."

February 13, 2013

Sewers would bring new growth, new costs

As published in The Erin Advocate

A sewer system for Erin village and Hillsburgh could cost about $60 million, creating a long-term surcharge on the tax bills of urban homeowners, according to the consultant running the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP) study.

Matt Pearson of B.M. Ross hosted a special workshop last week, to discuss servicing issues with Erin councillors and staff in advance of a public meeting planned for February 21.

He has no mandate to provide detailed estimates, and insufficient information to do so, since the exact nature of a system would be studied in a future environmental assessment. He was willing to give rough estimates in response to councillors' questions.

He said the maximum combined population of Hillsburgh and Erin village could be set in the 9,000 to 12,000 range, based on the capacity of the Credit River to handle sewage treatment effluent.

The users of a sewer system would have to share the capital and borrowing costs (spread over 10-20 years on the tax bill), plus pay a hook-up fee and an ongoing usage charge.

Pearson said each urban property owner could be faced with a cost of $35,000 to $40,000, once a sewer line is available on their street. This could be reduced by a federal/provincial grant. If a grant covered 50% of the cost of the system, for example, the individual debts would be cut in half.

"We have to have an active strategy in place to go after a grant," said Councillor Barb Tocher.

New housing and business development would also help fund such a system. Pearson said without a grant, the system will be beyond the Town's borrowing capacity.

"You need a grant, and I think you'll get one, because you have a septic problem and economic development opportunities," he said.

The urban population within the Town of Erin, according to the 2011 census, was 3,739, including 2,674 in Erin village and 1,065 in Hillsburgh. (There is uncertainty about the accuracy of the census count, and B.M. Ross is using an estimate of 4,280 as the current urban total.) The population of Erin's rural area (including hamlets) is about 7,000.

If the Solmar subdivision is built as currently proposed, it alone could boost the urban total to about 7,200 over more than 20 years.

The land within the existing urban boundaries could theoretically house a total of up to 23,000 people, based on provincial density targets, but that is not considered realistic.

The maximum possible population will be determined by the maximum waste that the Credit River can safely absorb (assuming the sewage is not pumped to another municipality).

The final SSMP report (expected this spring) will include an Assimilative Capacity Study that will estimate how many people the river could handle, based on Ministry of the Environment standards for various pollutants, and regular sewage treatment technology.

More expensive treatment could increase the quality of the effluent, creating capacity for more population.

The final figures are not public yet, but last week's workshop included projections, showing how urban population totals of 6,480, 10,000 or 13,500 would affect the health of the river.

For criteria such as Biochemical Oxygen Demand, Dissolved Oxygen and Total Suspended Solids, even the highest population would be well within provincial limits. For e. coli bacteria, the levels today are already spiking slightly above the limits, and new development would not change the situation.

For nitrates and phosphorous, the low-end projection is within the limits, and the high end is at or above them, depending on treatment options.

More detailed information will eventually be released, after Credit Valley Conservation and the MOE review the draft report, but Pearson predicted the population limit could end up in the 9,000 to 12,000 range.

"The [development] capacity will have to be meted out, in some way that you will have to figure out," Pearson told councillors.

He will present his draft report to council on February 19, but does not plan to provide copies for the public, either of the draft, or of the Assimilative Capacity Study, which is intended to be released as background to the final report.

Councillor John Brennan said council would have to consider whether to release the draft material now, depending on whether it contains sensitive information that could, for example, affect property values.

There will be a public meeting on February 21, 7 pm, at Centre 2000, where Pearson will make a presentation on the draft report.

The meeting is intended to "present alternative community planning and servicing strategies and preferred solutions" according to the SSMP flow chart, and to get "public input on evaluation and implementation".

Pearson said the report will outline the consequences of not proceeding with sewers for existing homes, which he said include a "devaluation of properties" in existing urban areas.

He said it would not be good to have a "two-tier system", in which new homes have sewers and old ones do not, with the old areas being shut out of any housing or business redevelopment.

He noted that some homeowners are delaying replacement of septic systems, in case a sewer system is built.

"People are holding off, but they can't wait forever," he said, pointing out that a homeowner's share of the cost of a sewer system is roughly comparable to the cost of replacing a septic system. Many urban lots in Hillsburgh and Erin village are too small under current regulations for a standard septic system, and would require a more expensive level of treatment.

Homeowners with relatively new septic systems could be allowed to delay hooking up to the sewers for a set number of years, he said. Once the sewer went down their street, they would still have to pay a share of the construction costs through a surcharge on their tax bill. But they could defer the hook-up charge and the on-going regular sewage bill (similar to a water bill).

Solmar has said it is prepared to build an expandable sewage treatment plant to service its own subdivision, and later turn it over to the Town.

"You don't want that," said Pearson, saying that the Town should be in control of the project to ensure everything is designed for its needs.

He noted that a treatment plant would be an advantage to rural residents, since it would provide a convenient location for dumping of septage, the material from septic tanks. This would not create a huge impact on the plant, since only two truckloads of the highly concentrated material would be fed into the system each day.

February 06, 2013

Public must demand benefits from growth

As published in The Erin Advocate

With the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP) wrapping up in the next two months, Erin residents should finally get an estimate of the cost of a sewer system.

That will be a major issue, but the question to consider first is: Do people really accept the need for sewers in the existing urban areas? If the answer is yes, then we need to know: How much development and sewage effluent can our branch of the Credit River handle?

Once we have those answers, we could turn our attention to: How might we build it and pay for it?

The process has been very long, but for those who are trying to keep track, there is a workshop meeting tonight (Wednesday), at 7 pm at the Town office, where SSMP consultant Matt Pearson will discuss aspects of his coming report with councillors and staff.

The public is welcome to attend, but not to participate at this stage. The draft report will be formally presented to council at their Feb. 19 meeting. Residents will get a presentation and a chance to speak, at a public meeting on February 21, 7 pm, at Centre 2000.

It is still just a "draft" report. It will then be reviewed by the Liaison Committee, the Core Management Committee and Council, then submitted as a "final" report. Council will have to decide whether or not to approve the report's recommendations.

Running at the same time as this is the Solmar plan for a large subdivision in the north end of Erin village, which is likely to move ahead regardless of what council decides on the SSMP.

One of the key links is the SSMP background report on the assimilative capacity of the river. Based on provincial guidelines, it will indicate the limit on how much discharge from a sewage treatment plant could go into the river without harming it. The limit will vary based on the intensity of the treatment.

I have no idea what that capacity will be, but what if it is fairly low? Could we end up in a situation where the Solmar subdivision uses up most of the available capacity, leaving not enough to allow sewers in existing neighbourhoods, or for other proposed developments that have been on hold for many years?

The restrictions may not be that severe, but the capacity of the river will effectively limit future growth, perhaps at a level that is less than the population targets for Erin now being considered by Wellington County.

Many other aspects of the Solmar plan must be scrutinized. Solmar submitted a series of reports with its development application, but not all of them have been available on the Town website, partly due to the large size of the files. The Transition Erin group has obtained lower-resolution versions of some key ones, such as the subdivision sewer and storm water plans, and have posted them at www.aanimad.com/transition.

The Town should also be thinking creatively about how this development might proceed with the greatest benefit for the public.

For example, Solmar has ambitious plans to bring in 900 jobs, with new commercial and industrial development on their "employment lands". They have shown (in Bolton, for example) that they can do this sort of thing.

But what if approval for construction of residential units was tied to new business development. The residential component could be split into smaller phases. The developer could have incentive targets: bring in a certain dollar value of new commercial/industrial assessment, to get approval to proceed with a certain number of new homes. Bring in more assessment, build more homes.

The province is demanding denser housing in urban areas, and Erin may have to take its share. But the province also wants "complete" communities, with more local jobs.

Many things are open to negotiation between a developer and a municipality, so Erin may be able to exercise some leverage in this area without triggering an expensive fight at the Ontario Municipal Board.