March 27, 2013

"Safe" designation will include bragging rights

As published in The Erin Advocate

By June, Wellington County is expected to be declared a "Safe Community", enhancing its reputation as an excellent place to live and work.

The designation is awarded by a Parachute, a national charitable organization dedicated to preventing injuries and promoting a culture in which everyone takes responsibility for safety.

About 22 per cent of Canadians live in municipalities designated as "safe communities", but Wellington will be only the second county (after Bruce County) to achieve that status.

Wellington's quest for the designation was co-chaired by County Councillor Gary Williamson (Mount Forest) and OPP Staff Sergeant Jack Hunjan, and involved meetings with local Community Oriented Policing (COP) committees, a survey of existing services, a Leadership Table with representative of various sectors, a "priority exercise" and a strategic plan to promote awareness.

"Injury is predictable and preventable," said Hunjan, in a presentation to Erin Town Council. "Pain and suffering can be reduced."

A world convention on injury prevention in Stockholm back in 1989 helped start the effort, declaring that a safe life is a basic human right.

Parachute is an amalgamation of four groups – Safe Communities Canada, SmartRisk, Safe Kids Canada and Thinkfirst. Safe Communities Canada is dedicated to mobilizing efforts to reduce the rates and severity of injuries by coordinating efforts among various agencies ranging from police and fire departments, to schools, public health, drug and alcohol prevention, and workplace safety.

The priority exercise identified various categories of injuries, which were analyzed based on death rates, potential years of life lost, the number of emergency department visits and hospitalizations, and the length of hospital stays.

Final rankings show the sources of injuries, starting with the most common:

#1 Falls
#2 Motor vehicle accidents (on and off-road)
#3 Intentional self-harm
#4 Sports and recreation accidents
#5 Agriculture and machinery accidents
#6 Accidental poisonings
#7 Pedestrian and cycling accidents

Safety has financial benefits, including savings for the health care system, and improved morale and productivity in the workplace. The World Health Organization estimates that every dollar a community invests in safety will return at least 40 dollars in savings. Wellington County plans to provide sustained funding for this effort.

There are also tourism and economic development advantages for "safe communities", since they will be seen as a preferred place for visiting or investing.

"A sign in the county that says 'Designated Safe Community' is going to bring in a lot of tourism," said Hunjan. "It's an investment which can attract new residents and businesses."

The designation will be another feather in Wellington County's safety cap, since they were also selected in December by Macleans Magazine as Canada's Safest Community. The title was previously held by the Town of Caledon.

That ranking was based on analysis of Statistics Canada's Crime Severity Index, and of police data for six types of offences: homicide, sexual assault, aggravated assault, robbery, break-ins and auto theft.

March 20, 2013

Could septic inspections reduce need for sewers?

As published in The Erin Advocate

A lot of money has been spent on the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP), seeking a vision for Erin's future, and building a case in favour of a sewer system. Many people don't want sewers, but is anyone building a practical case against them?

Is anyone still hoping this problem will go away if we just do nothing? Are local politicians hoping the province will force them to bring in sewers, so it won't be their fault?

It is quite a tangle of issues, including affordable housing, taxes, business development (or survival) and the Town's precious charm, but at the core is a basic question: Can Erin take care of its own waste, while protecting the river?

Private septic systems have been good enough in the past, but environmental standards are higher now, and there are more of us. The amount of pollution caused by septic systems is difficult to measure, but it is still a huge concern for the Ministry of the Environment (MOE).

In a recent letter, the MOE said it had opposed a sewage treatment plant in the past, largely due to "the need to protect the high quality aquatic ecosystem in this branch of the Credit River". But they said, "In a number of instances, development on small lots has now resulted in septic system failure. Given the risk of contamination from these failing systems, MOE has agreed to consider municipal sewage treatment."

They don't sound very enthusiastic about sewage treatment. What if Erin could clean up its act, with properly functioning septic systems in every back yard? Could we make the case that moderate growth and environmental protection could be achieved, without digging sewer trenches and spending 65 million dollars?

SSMP Consultant Matt Pearson paints a bleak picture of the "do nothing" option, predicting declining house prices, no jobs, closing schools, inadequate business taxation and insufficient housing for seniors and young people. Maybe he is right.

"I don't see it working, but you may be able to lobby the government to have big lots on septic systems," he said at a recent public meeting, exploring the possibility that a sewage system is decided to be too expensive. "You might get some growth out of that, but is that good growth?"

The option that is called "do nothing" would in fact take a lot of work, and some extraordinary exemptions from normal standards. What would it take to go this route? I'm not convinced it is possible, but I would like to explore the options. Maybe we could build on smaller lots using more elaborate backyard technology or communal septic beds. Send in your practical ideas as letters to the editor.

Historically, the Town has enforced the Ontario Building Code for the construction of septic systems. But how people maintained those systems has been none of the Town's business. Each homeowner has been solely responsible for their own miniature sewage plant.

That structure has to change. A septic system is not like a roof. Leaks affect the whole community, threatening public health and the environment. There should be Town staff dealing with wastewater issues, whether there is a sewer system or not.

The Ontario Building Code was amended a couple of years ago to provide for mandatory municipal inspection of private septic systems, in "vulnerable areas".

Andrew Harbolt, Erin's Chief Building Official, said the Town is awaiting final approval of those exact areas, through Ontario's Source Water Protection initiative. It is focused on preventing contamination of wells for municipal water systems. The Town will have to decide whether to have inspections done by their own staff, hire a contract inspector, or accept inspection certificates from third parties.

After an inspection, you may get an order to pay for further testing. If your septic system violates the Building Code, you will get an Order to Comply, requiring repair or replacement at your expense. This mandatory program only affects only a small number of properties close to municipal wells. But Council has the authority to extend the inspection system to other areas, or the entire Town.

Should all wells, streams and ponds be protected against faulty septic systems? By promising to force people to fix their septic systems, could the Town convince the MOE that a sewer system is not needed?

There are a number of complications, one being the fact that many properties are too small for a standard septic system under today's standards, and would need a tertiary system costing several thousand dollars extra. I have an idea to offset that cost, which I will explain in a future column. It's an idea that will cost money, but it will be a lot less than $65 million.

March 13, 2013

Arrival of syrup season brings renewal of hope

As published in The Erin Advocate

I recently started a new full-time job, after a year of part-time work, and it actually feels good to be back in the rat race. As usual, the rats are in the lead.

As a graphic designer at a small retail print shop in Brampton, I am keeping customers happy, one small project at a time.

For many people, there is a powerful link between employment and a feeling of well-being. I know that my worth is not determined by the work I do, but I feel more worthwhile when I'm doing it.

My buoyancy of mood has been helped by the imminent arrival of spring. There are the annual rituals, like putting away winter coats, and getting our hopes up about the Blue Jays. Spring is a good time for hope, no matter what the circumstances.

I am glad to give up one hour of sleep every year to get back my extra hour of evening sunshine. It's little wonder that some cultures have revered the sun as a god, considering the uplifting energy it provides.

And of course, there are the maple syrup festivals. Even if you don't go to them, it's encouraging to know that the sap is running. They are being held at Mountsberg Conservation Area (Campbellville), the Kortright Centre (Woodbridge) and in Elmira where it has been going for 49 years and now draws 70,000 people out on a single day (April 6 this year). For details, go to

On a smaller scale, the “Sweet Taste of Spring” will be held at Terra Cotta Conservation Area, March 23-24, 9 am - 3 pm.  There will be pancakes, local maple syrup and educational stations on the tapping of maple trees.

It's also an opportunity to learn about bird migration and spring baby animals, make your own pine cone bird feeder, get expert gardening advice for spring or enjoy a wagon ride and live entertainment. Admission is $8 for adults and $5 for children (4-12) and seniors. Call 1-800-367-0890 or visit

For part of last year I was employed as a part-time inventory analyst at a large grocery store. It is a super place to work, if you have a taste for organized chaos.

On one occasion, I had to heave a case of 10 bottles of maple syrup into the trash compactor. One of the bottles had broken and leaked, and it was not considered worthwhile to wipe off the other bottles so they could be sold.

The amount of waste in the food industry is obscene, but I don't blame the front-line workers or managers. It's a corporate business model that attempts to move huge volumes, while keeping costs low.

It's a mainly part-time / low-wage workforce, an odd combination of young people hoping for something better and older folks who cannot yet afford to retire. It's a very competitive business, and the focus is quite rightly on satisfying the needs of customers.

The waste in the system, however, is directly related to the customer demand for an incredible variety of foods, always fresh and attractively displayed. And of course, there must always be the perception of low price and good value.

Vast selection and huge waste are luxuries for which we all must pay. They are signs of an affluent society that has grown out of touch with the values that made it prosperous. It is an unsustainable pattern of behaviour, one which will inevitably be corrected.

March 06, 2013

All the tree news that newsprint can handle

As published in The Erin Advocate

As Erin's self appointed tree reporter, I am glad to bring you all the breaking news about our strong, silent companions. The recent heavy snow has certainly tested their flexibility and shown off the dramatic beauty of their limbs.

Trees will certainly carry on without us when we're gone. But considering how hard we've tried to reduce their population, it only seems right that we give them a hand up. Bountiful greenery is one of the best ways to offset climate change, and there's no harm in boosting the oxygen supply.

For rural landowners, planting trees can reclaim land from agriculture, help protect streams and wetlands, and increase wildlife habitat. Working with the Credit Valley Conservation (CVC) Tree Seedling Program, you can plant your own forest for about $150.

Anyone with an interest can drop in to a free information session tomorrow (Thursday, March 7) at the CVC Forestry Services’ new office, 15526 Heart Lake Rd, Caledon, any time between 7 and 9 p.m.

“Many landowners interested in planting trees might not know where to start,” said Mike Puddister, CVC's Director of Restoration and Stewardship. “This is an opportunity to get in-depth, one-on-one advice from our forestry department to help plan your next tree planting project.”

Those with existing hardwood and evergreen woodlots will learn about forest management challenges and best practices.

CVC has three programs to promote private land reforestation and stewardship, offering inexpensive tree planting services and plant materials to eligible landowners.

Their mechanized reforestation service plants more than 100,000 bare root seedlings every year, in late April to mid-May. The main tree species used in the program are White and Red Pine, White Spruce, Tamarack, Cedar, Sugar Maple, Red Oak, Silver Maple and Black Cherry.

The Naturalization Planting Program provides a more customized service, using potted trees and shrubs, for properties over two acres that need natural improvements. CVC also sells its potted stock directly to qualified landowners (over one acre) who want to do the planting themselves, as long as they order at least 20 units.

For more information, including a link to details on Ontario's Managed Forest Tax Incentive Program (MFTIP), go to Check out the Your Land and Water section, which includes a series of pages on Countryside Living.

To discuss tree planting options on your property, contact Brian Boyd, Forestry Planting Project Coordinator, at 905-838-1940 or

Another option for those with properties of one acre or more is an upcoming "Caring for Your Land and Water Workshop", offered free by CVC on Tuesday, March 19 at the Inglewood Community Centre.

CVC staff will guide participants through the completion of worksheets from the Your Guide to Caring for the Credit Handbook on special interest topics such as forests, wetlands, septic systems, water wells and landscaping. Participants receive customized property maps, a copy of the handbook and a homeowner stewardship kit.

Register this week, with your lot and concession number, by contacting Andrea Morrone, 1-800-668-5557, ext 436 or

Meanwhile, tree huggers and planters should mark May 4 on their calendars. Erin's Trails Committee is teaming up with CVC, members of the Rotary Club and other community volunteers for a tree-planting blitz.

The target is the slope of the Deer Pit next to the Elora Cataract Trail, just north of the high school. Last year's successful planting was done along the Rotary Trail, between the water tower and the Delarmbro subdivision.

That first weekend in May is shaping up to be a busy one in Erin, since the Environmental Advisory Committee is holding its annual Clean-Up Day, and the new Transition Erin group is holding its big "Unleashing" event.

So check The Advocate for more details in the coming weeks, and be sure to recycle it when you're done. And in case you're wondering, the production and use of paper is not causing forests to disappear. Trees for paper are grown and replenished like a crop.

Like any product, paper should not be wasted. But newsprint makers say that not using paper in order to save trees is like not eating salad in order to “save” vegetables. Do you buy it?