March 26, 2014

Hillsburgh could be left out in sewer plan

As published in The Erin Advocate

The Town of Erin will be restricted to 6,000 residents on sewers, after a review of data on the West Credit River’s ability to safely absorb the discharge from a sewage treatment plant.

The long-awaited number, set by Credit Valley Conservation (CVC) on behalf of the Ministry of the Environment (MOE), was announced at a public Town Council workshop last week. It could permanently limit total growth in Erin village and Hillsburgh to as few as 500 new homes.

Councillors are now being asked to narrow down their choices about which options should get detailed financial study in the last phase of the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP) – including the possibility that Erin village will get servicing and Hillsburgh will not.

The option of servicing existing homes in both villages is also likely to be studied, but council is also being asked to decide very soon whether both villages will get a share of future housing growth. 

The option of giving most of the sewage allocation to developers, while leaving all existing homes on private septic systems, has been strongly discouraged by SSMP Consultant Matt Pearson of BM Ross.

The options for investigation could be chosen at the April 1 council meeting next week, as part of a schedule to complete the SSMP before this fall’s municipal election. Mayor Lou Maieron suggested there too many unknown factors to make any choices among options.

“Where do we get the basis of information to make an intelligent decision?” he asked.

Analysis of specific options by Watson & Associates will lay out the detailed costs for urban homeowners, which would become part of a combined water and sewer bill when they actually get service. In addition to a monthly fee, the bill will include the costs of construction, individual hook-up and debt interest, possibly spread over 30 years. Rural residents will not get service, and will not have to pay a share of the construction and interest charges. 

The 6,000 number is low compared to earlier estimates ranging from 6,500 to 13,500, and could dramatically restrict new housing development. CVC Deputy CAO John Kinkead warned council last May that the number would be near the low end. It was set after additional study of the river, with low flow measurements reduced an extra 10% to allow for the harmful effects of climate change and land use changes.

The number of existing urban residents has been set at 4,500 (1,400 in Hillsburgh and 3,100 in Erin village), leaving only 1,500 for new residents. At the accepted ratio of 2.83 residents per household, that would mean only 530 new homes, total for Hiillsburgh and Erin village – but only if all existing residents also get sewer service. The number could range from 500 to 600 based on housing styles.

The population cap is intended to be permanent, since the Assimilative Capacity (AC) of the river is not expected to rise, but it only applies to sewered homes. If it was decided that Hillsburgh would never get sewers, not only would the village get virtually no development, but the sewage allocation of the 1,400 Hillsburgh residents could then be given to developers to build about 500 additional homes in Erin village.

That would mean a total of 1,030 new homes, almost the number being requested now by Solmar Developments, though the number is meant to include infilling, the process of adding small numbers of new homes or apartments in existing neighbourhoods.

Dale Murray of Triton Engineering told council last week that they should be considering whether they want to reserve sewage capacity for future use, if there are no plans to use it in the early stages of the process. Pearson said, “You can’t sit on 4,500 capacity forever.”

BM Ross has also outlined other options such as piping the sewage to another municipality, which is considered very expensive. There is also the possibility of servicing Hillsburgh, but not Erin village, which is considered unlikely.

Gary Cousins, Director of Planning and Development at Wellington County, told councillors that no large-scale housing developments will be approved using septic systems.

Roy Val of Transition Erin recently organized a workshop on alternative sewer methods, including Small Bore Systems (SBS), which use septic tanks at individual homes. The effluent is sent to a smaller treatment plant through narrow pipes that do not require the road to be dug up. 

He believes both Erin village and Hillsburgh are entitled to service, and contends that SBS is not just a technology issue to be studied later, but a concept that should be cost-analyzed now, since it could change the feasibility of the entire venture.

Kinkead said new technologies would have little impact on the 6,000 limit, and that the MOE is unlikely to approve any technology that does not have a proven track record in Ontario.

If all existing residents (4,500) kept their septic systems, and all the sewage allocation was given to developers (6,000), that would add up to an urban population of 10,500. Combined with the rural population of about 7,000, that would put the entire Town of Erin at 17,500 in 20-30 years.

If not for the restrictions imposed by the river, existing lands in the two villages could support an extra 24,000 people.

Pearson also favours servicing both existing communities. He said leaving a community unserviced would cause it to decline, with businesses and community services drawn away from the core, restricted ability to redevelop vacant buildings, and no resolution to problems such as aging septic beds and holding tanks, and lack of housing for young couples and seniors.

“Servicing one community creates inequalities,” he said. “Investment in properties will decline.”

Councillor Barb Tocher said, “You’ll get two classes of people.”

Pearson has suggested the best route for a pipe to move sewage from Hillsburgh to Erin village is the Elora Cataract Trailway, estimating it could cost $2 million.

There has been discussion of a possible treatment plant at Tenth Line and Wellington Road 52 (Bush Street). CVC said last year that the ideal discharge point is further downstream near Winston Churchill Boulevard, where the river has greater capacity.

The review of costs is scheduled for a public Town Council workshop in May, followed by a choice of one of the options. Council would review a draft SSMP report that would be presented at a public meeting in July. After final revisions, council could vote on August 5 to approve the SSMP, clearing the way for environmental studies of which technologies could be used for a sewer system.

“It’s an expensive proposition no matter what gets built,” said Pearson, who believes Erin has a good chance of getting senior government grants to offset costs. He said if there is substantial housing growth, there could be extra costs for a water tower in Hillsburgh, and a second one in Erin.

He reminded council that if residents had to replace all their aging septic systems, it would cost millions of dollars without any government grants or the option to spread costs over 30 years. He said the cost of a high-end septic system required for small properties is now about $40,000.