September 10, 2014

Sewer study for the benefit of existing residents

As published in The Erin Advocate

Residents who spoke out at the final public meeting of the SSMP last week were not enthusiastic about the prospect of building a sewer system in Erin, but they generally agreed that the Town should proceed with further stages of environmental assessment (EA) to ensure maximum benefits for existing residents.

Town Council was meeting on Tuesday this week to consider the options laid out in the Final Report of the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan and whether to proceed with the next phase of study.

This would provide information to enable a Town decision on sewage collection and treatment technology, the location of a treatment plant and the locations for new housing – which is now capped at 500 new homes for Erin village and Hillsburgh, including intensification in existing neighbourhoods.

There was an overflow crowd at last week’s meeting in the council chambers, with about 25 people in the lobby. Everyone observed a moment of silence for Town Water Superintendent Frank Smedley, who passed away August 28.

Some people were angry that a larger room had not been arranged for the meeting. Chair John Brennan apologized and offered to try to schedule a second meeting if needed. In the end, however, despite an attempt to rotate people in from the lobby, there were only 10 speakers and the meeting was done in just over an hour.

Allan Alls, who is running for mayor, said the Town must move forward with the EA after investing so much time and money.

“If you sit still, you die, and this town is dying in many ways,” he said, noting the high cost of fixing septic systems in order to sell a home. “We’re not asking you to come up with money now – we don’t even know how much money it’s going to cost. Let’s look at different technologies that will push us forward – we’ve got to do it folks.”

He has no doubt that financial help will be available from the provincial and federal governments, but it is not possible until the Town knows how much it needs.

“I have nothing against development, but it’s best that people who live in this community determine our future. Best use the capacity that’s there to look after our waste. Then if there’s something left over, or there’s new technology that will increase the growth that developers want to do, as long as it’s controlled, fine. But let’s look after ourselves first.”

Pierre Brianceau, who is running for County Council, said there has been discussion since 2005 about alternatives to traditional sewage treatment. He expressed frustration with the length of the SSMP, which was mandated in 2004, started in 2009, and is now finished. Future study would be Phase 3 of an EA.

He criticized the way the Town has handled development planning, and said there are fears that if existing urban residents don’t use the sewage capacity, developers will use it to build additional homes. He believes servicing could also push up costs for rural residents. He said it is crucial to get definite answers on what the Town’s choices will be.

“We have to admit defeat and accept that for the good of the community, council needs to proceed with the next phase,” he said, advocating clear terms of reference to minimize delays and avoid unnecessary costs.

Shelley Foord of Transition Erin said council should not “Do Nothing” – one of the options outlined in the SSMP, and that the decision should not be deferred to the next Town Council.

If the Town does nothing, she said developers could proceed with their own EA and build more homes, “leaving the existing community without any future servicing possibilities.”

She said the option of a $58 million traditional gravity sewer system “is too costly and too disruptive to both residential and business communities”, and that alternate technologies have not been fully examined.

She said the Town should outsource the financing and operation of the waste servicing, and use a “performance-based EA solution”, with companies submitting quotes for the contract.

“It should be the existing community and not the developers who decide how the limited 6,000 serviceable population is allocated,” she said. “How it’s allocated will define the Town’s future character.”

Mat Sammut of Concerned Erin Citizens noted that the West Credit River is in good environmental condition now, and said that with cash-strapped senior governments, it may be difficult to get grants for sewage treatment.

“We’re not going to have a lot of room for growth. I’m not saying we needed significant growth, but we have hurt ourselves fiscally now by saying we can’t get that growth,” he said.

“We’re seeing a town on a downslope. And you’re here for a reason, because you love our town. But if a town goes down, so do our property values, yet costs won’t. We’ll continue to pay more as we see a big asset in our lives continue to dwindle.”

He supports the idea of a “performance-based” sewer process and says the Town must avoid cutting up Main Street again since it would kill businesses.

“What do we want for growth and how are we going to define that growth, and then we have to go after it and partner with developers to get the growth we want.”

Jay Mowat asked council for assurance that alternatives to traditional sewers would be studied “fairly, honestly and completely”. He said the consultant had been recommending a traditional system.

Matt Pearson of BM Ross responded that it was not in their mandate to research alternate technologies and that the SSMP report does not actually recommend any method. They had only used a traditional system as the basis of an approximate cost estimate, he said.

One speaker, who identified himself only as Steve, said he moved to Erin for the nice small town atmosphere, and that it was not right to make changes to that for the benefit of a developer. He also said it was 20 years too late to try expanding the Town.

“You want these good people to pay for your mistake – it’s wrong, and you shouldn’t be doing it,” he said.

Mark Corscadden said there’s nothing wrong with moving forward, “but this town isn’t doing it”. He said the trend is away from manufacturing and into different technologies that take less out of the environment, and he asked if a sewer system is really needed for where we’re going.

“We’ve done very well over the years. I’ve been here 22, and it’s been a great run,” he said. “But we keep going backwards. Every time I come home there’s another place closed up. There’s folks that can’t afford to even breath, let alone run a business. That was your job, to encourage the entrepreneurs and keep prices down, but the prices just keep going up. If this thing goes through, I’ll be another resident who has to leave town.”