October 01, 2014

Ask questions sooner to prevent trouble later

As published in the Erin Advocate

Erin’s new Town Council should not just sit back and wait while the Environmental Assessment (EA) on wastewater runs its course, postponing real action as long as possible. That’s what generally happened with the SSMP and the results were disappointing.

The politicians need to supervise the EA actively and make decisions to move the whole process forward. As Triton engineer Christine Furlong told council on September 23, it’s important to make the effort to set up the Terms of Reference (TOR) right the first time.

Triton’s fee of $35,500 and a timeframe of up to 6 months might seem high, but considering the complexity of the assignment, it’s probably not out of line. At the risk of making it more complex, however, I would suggest that the TOR be set up so that bids from consultants would be made public before the contract is awarded.

This may not be the norm for a bidding process – for example, the public does not get to review tenders for bridge construction – but in this case there are so many policy issues for the future design of the community that the public should be involved.

Obviously, town consultants don’t take directions from newspaper columns or even the public comments of politicians. If councillors want something specific to happen, they need to pass a resolution to make their expectations perfectly clear and binding.

Council should make sure that there are, at the very least, no obstructions to the possibility of a performance-based process, which is more than just a Public-Private Partnership. This would allow companies to bid for the opportunity to do not only the EA, but take over responsibility for all the other steps leading to a sewer system (including some that would normally be done by Triton). Council needs to find out exactly when and how this strategy could be explored.

A letter from Triton says the future EA consultant would “examine all wastewater collection and treatment options outlined in the SSMP”. One of the things that frustrated many community members is that SSMP consultant B.M. Ross refused to outline various collection and treatment options, saying that was for the upcoming Phase 3. Council should ensure that there are no restrictions on the options to be investigated.

Once the EA is in progress, Triton proposes to supervise it. Problems with B.M. Ross not completely fulfilling the SSMP Terms of Reference were not caught until late in the process. Council needs to fully understand the new EA Terms of Reference and get regular reports to ensure that this does not happen again.

Outside of the actual EA, council needs to get busy on several fronts. They need an action plan to start lobbying for senior government funding.

One of the approved recommendations of the SSMP is that Council amend the Official Plan to implement key aspects of the SSMP and “allocate growth within its urban boundaries”.

Here’s what the Official Plan currently says: “The Servicing and Settlement Master Plan must be completed and approved before any major development is permitted. … The master plan will be implemented by an amendment to the Official Plan for the Town of Erin.”

SSMP consultant Matt Pearson repeatedly told council that they should decide where they want new homes to be built. A new consultant, hired to study exactly how a sewer system could be designed, is going to need a few details about what the Town actually wants.

The current council’s position is that sewer capacity must be reserved for all 4,500 existing urban residents, leaving very little for developers, especially if the growth is split between Erin village and Hillsburgh. Some of the council candidates disagree with this.

Once the new council gets its bearings, it must set some policies on future growth – ones that it is willing to defend at the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) if necessary. Negotiations will be needed with developers in the near future to determine what is possible and preferable with Erin’s limited sewage capacity.

It would be a shame if we ended up at the OMB because we couldn’t make up our minds about what we want.