July 03, 2013

Committee needs mandate for sewer advice

As published in The Erin Advocate

The mandate of Erin’s SSMP Liaison Committee should be changed, enabling it to provide useful advice for Town Council on how to handle wastewater in our urban areas.

The Servicing and Settlement Master Plan process is in delay mode again, after Credit Valley Conservation decided more data is needed on river conditions near the Tenth Line.

An additional seven months worth of data should allow the Assimilative Capacity Study to be completed, putting a cap on urban population growth in Erin village and Hillsburgh, based on the ability of the Credit River to safely handle sewage effluent.

Residents have expressed serious concerns about the cost of a sewer system, and the Town now says that the SSMP Draft Final Report presented by consultants is “not sufficiently complete” for council to consider its recommendations.

“Comparison with the Terms of Reference for the SSMP has identified significant gaps that remain to be completed by the SSMP consultant team, including a comprehensive financial analysis and the completion of the assimilative capacity study,” the Town said in a press release.

SSMP Consultant BM Ross has been directed to prepare a work plan and timeline “to address the deficiencies”. Council recently appointed Dale Murray of Triton Engineering, a long-time advisor to the Town and previously the Village of Erin, to oversee the process.

The Ministry of the Environment has said it expects Erin to continue making “ongoing commitment and progress” towards a sewer system for existing homes and businesses – and they could make the process mandatory.

Most residents admit that sooner or later, Erin will likely have a sewer system, but they would prefer it much later – ideally, not during their lifetime. At the current rate of progress, that could well be the case.

As for practical discussions about possible solutions, there was general support at a recent public meeting for a Steering Committee to advise Town Council on these issues. Instead, the Town now says the existing Liaison Committee will be expanded. This is a good idea, since another committee could complicate the situation.

The Liaison Committee was set up in 2009 with representatives of council, the BIA, developers, social services, members of the Town’s Environment and Heritage Committees, Town staff, Dale Murray, and members of the public. Transition Erin and Erin Concerned Citizens will now be invited to appoint members.

East Wellington Community Services needs to renew its involvement, since the availability of affordable housing is a major issue. The sewer question affects different neighbourhoods in different ways, and all voices need to be heard.

All of that will not be enough, however, if the mandate of the committee does not change. Until now, its main tasks were to evaluate community needs, develop a mission statement and be educated by the consulting firm BM Ross about wastewater issues.

That was valuable, but what is needed is a group where expression of opinions is encouraged, various strategies are discussed, some consensus is sought and a report is made to Town Council.

Unanimity will not be possible, but the group could report on areas where they agree, and outline different positions where they disagree. This will assist Council when they have to make decisions.

“I think what will happen is the Liaison Committee will become the Steering Committee,” said Councillor John Brennan. “It would change in nature – it would be a much more directive committee.”

The Terms of Reference should be changed to make that change official. The new committee should also send its report to the influential Core Management Group, which includes Brennan, Murray and the mayor, Town and County planners, and staff from Conservation Authorities and the Ministries of the Environment and Natural Resources.

After all that talking is done, and the data is summarized, the public will once again be invited to express their opinions directly.

Council will eventually have to decide whether to proceed with a sewer system. If that happens before the 2014 municipal election, I will be shocked.