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.