January 01, 2014

Liaison Committee views needed in SSMP Report

As published in The Erin Advocate

In the strange parallel world of the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP), the action seems to go around in loops rather than a straight timeline. That’s all fine and dandy, as long as one does not expect anything to actually happen.

There was a huge interest in the sewer issue last spring, with lots of people at public meetings wanting to have input.

With talk of an expensive decision being made soon, there was support for an election referendum on whether to proceed with further environmental study. This, however, was considered too complicated to put into a single question.

Plan B was to set up a committee with broad community representation to give Town Council advice on how to proceed. But then they asked, why set up a community committee when we already have one?

Plan C was to add representatives of two citizen groups to the SSMP Liaison Committee, and it would become more directive in its functioning. Twice I urged councillors to specifically change the terms of reference, so the committee could report directly to them, but that did not happen.

Sure enough, when the committee met in December, BM Ross Consultant Matt Pearson said he had no mandate to change the committee’s function. So we looped back to the old routine, rehashing events from years gone by and feeding bits of information to the members that they would somehow transmit to the broader community.

Never did he ask the members what they thought about how things were going or what recommendations the study should make to council. It was never his job to do that.

Committee members who were expecting to have serious input could well feel cheated. I think the technical term is “bamboozled”.

To their credit, new members Matt Sammut of Concerned Erin Citizens (CEC) and Roy Val of Transition Erin, along with Mayor Lou Maieron, did pepper the consultant with questions.

Sammut said the SSMP has to fit into a proper Strategic Plan, which the Town has not finished developing. As usual, the idea of looking into alternative technologies was deferred to a future post-SSMP stage of environmental assessment.

“We can’t stick it to the people,” said Sammut. “First we have to make sure it’s fiscally responsible.”

BM Ross has reported that a traditional gravity based sewer system (very expensive and disruptive) could be Erin’s best solution. Val said it is important that “all viable wastewater solutions” be considered.

He also pointed out that the possibility of a “Big Pipe” now being investigated by BM Ross, to dispose of sewage via Peel Region treatment facilities, with discharge to Lake Ontario, is specifically prohibited by the Wellington Official Plan.

Member Bob Wilson noted that having a treatment plant would actually limit development, because if Erin got permission for a Big Pipe, there would be no limit.

“This process has been developed ass-backwards,” said Mayor Maieron. “If we wanted a sewage treatment plant, we should have focused on that.”

Pearson reported that an unnamed person at the regulatory level had said to him, “The people of Erin do not get to decide how big they’re going to be.” Pearson said if Erin wants to deviate from the provincial policy that favours sanitary sewers, it will have to have a convincing business plan.

By this spring, the SSMP is expected to report the maximum urban population that the West Credit River can support, along with new financial and hydrology analysis. Pearson is trying to negotiate the highest possible sewage and population limits for Erin’s urban areas, based on new river data from Credit Valley Conservation.

There won’t be another big public meeting until after council decides whether to move forward with some sort of wastewater system. That meeting will be to explain the decision, not to ask anyone’s opinion on the matter. Opinions will still be flying, of course, but the people who will have to pay the costs could end up feeling like spectators rather than players.

There is no consensus on how the Town should proceed, so anyone who wants to influence the process needs to figure out what they realistically want, and communicate with their elected councillors.

I think the members of the Liaison Committee, who have endured four years of meetings, should have the privilege of stating their views in a brief letter. That batch of letters should be included in the SSMP Final Report, just for the record.