September 11, 2013

Town wants SSMP done, but faces more new costs

As published in The Erin Advocate

Councillors are getting impatient for completion of the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP) but they will face more costs, and it could take until next June to get it done, according to Project Manager Dale Murray of Triton Engineering.

Murray appeared as a delegation to council last week to explain the further work proposed by consultant BM Ross, which has been criticized for not completely fulfilling their original assignment.

“They recognize the concerns,” said Murray. “They are definitely committed to completing this SSMP process – within the Terms of Reference.”

Mayor Lou Maieron expressed concern about the length of the process. BM Ross got the contract in 2008, and expected to be finished in 2010, but delays have come from various sources.

“What I hear from a lot of residents is they are voting with their For Sale signs, and this is causing a great economic challenge in the community, as many people are unaware of how things are moving forward and are opting to sell,” he said. “I’ve never seen more real estate signs. The sooner the SSMP process is concluded one way or another, the better it will be for our community.”

The mayor is hoping to avoid the possibility that a developer “pulls the trigger” and appeals to the Ontario Municipal Board, claiming that the delays have been excessive.

“Everybody loses in that equation,” he said, and asked Murray for a guarantee that council will be in a position to make a decision during its current term.

“As your project manager, I will do the best I possibly can to direct your consultant to get this thing finished for you,” said Murray.

Councillor John Brennan agreed with the urgency of the project, saying, “Let’s get this done.” Councillor Jose Wintersinger said that with some new members joining the Liaison Committee, representation from Hillsburgh would be desirable. Murray said the advice from the expanded group will be important.

“They’ve got something to say, and I think we need to listen to it. Now is the time to do it,” he said.

BM Ross estimates that council could approve the SSMP report by next May, while Murray thinks it will take until June.

Maieron is concerned that if further delays push the project into September, council will be in a “lame duck” status, not legally allowed to make decisions until after the October municipal election. It could take a while for any new councillors to become familiar enough with the SSMP to  make a decision.

Progress on the project was delayed this year, since Credit Valley Conservation did not have enough data on the river flow to enable BM Ross to calculate a specific population limit for the Town’s combined urban areas. They could only give a range, from 6,500 to 13,500.

A preliminary report with data from five new river surveys will be ready in October. Murray said it is important to know the exact capacity of the Credit River to handle sewage effluent.

“The schedule reflects a need to involve and seek more direction from this council and your planner on what growth can occur, and where it will occur,” he said. “I don’t think the SSMP can provide any kind of meaning without that kind of direction from council.”

Maieron asked how council could approach this, since the developable land within the urban boundaries could handle far more population than the capacity of the river will allow.
“Who gets to build, and who doesn’t?” he said.

Murray conceded it is a difficult issue, but insisted it needs to be brought forward once the river capacity and population limits are approved by the CVC and Ministry of the Environment.

“That’s the cornerstone of how we’re going to build on this thing,” he said, suggesting a spring workshop with council and BM Ross. “Look at the numbers and have them explain them to you, so you can make educated decisions on where you want the growth.”

Murray was the engineering consultant for Erin village when it studied a sewage plan in 1995. In the years leading up to the start of the current environmental assessment, he was the Project Manager for the SSMP process. In November 2008, on his recommendation, council accepted the $350,000 bid from BM Ross to do the project.

BM Ross ranked second on technical merit in the selection process, behind Stantec. But when the cost was factored in, BM Ross ranked first. Stantec’s bid was $847,000.

In 2008, Murray specifically warned council that the final cost would likely be 15 to 20% higher than the $350,000 quote, because it did not include work to be done by hydrogeologist Ray Blackport on storm and ground water, and economic analysis by Watson Associates.

Murray included that work when he wrote the SSMP Terms of Reference. Although he was a member of the Steering Committee, which includes council members, Town staff and provincial representatives, he was not involved in supervising the project once BM Ross started their work.

“I could have used your help during the last three years,” said Maieron.

It turns out that the consultation with Blackport and Watson Associates was never arranged, but no one from council or staff ever pointed this out publicly. Then, when former CAO Frank Miele was saying last spring that the SSMP was 95% done, Water Superintendent Frank Smedley wrote a critique of the project, for a meeting with Triton, saying significant work remained to be done.

BM Ross will be doing more work at no extra charge within its $350,000 contract, but is requesting an additional $54,000 to deal with new river data from CVC, to host and attend a series of meetings to discuss the growth allowed by the Assimilative Capacity Study, and to re-write the final draft of the SSMP report.

Then there will still be other charges, with the amounts still unknown, from Blackport, Watson Associates and Triton Engineering.

The total cost to the Town of the SSMP since 2006 has been $419,067, including payments to other engineering and hydrogeological consultants, including Triton Engineering. In addition, Credit Valley Conservation (CVC) has spent about $380,000, bringing the overall public expenditure total as of last May to $799,000.