February 08, 2018

Skeptical crowd reviews wastewater plan

Many Erin residents are not convinced that a wastewater system costing $118 million is the best course of action for the town, and they vented their doubts loudly at a public meeting on Feb. 2.
There was a presentation by Ainley Group, the consultants hired to complete the final phases of an Environmental Assessment (EA). The current plan estimates a cost of $50-$60 million to service the existing 4,500 residents in Hillsburgh and Erin village. The balance would be paid by developers as the urban population increases by about 10,000 over 20-30 years.
Limits on the town’s debt capacity mean the project would only be feasible with substantial senior government funding. One resident noted that if the town uses up most of its debt capacity for wastewater, it would not be available to support other important infrastructure projects.
Another received applause after suggesting there be a referendum on whether to proceed with sewers. Several also expressed doubt about the chances of the project being completed on budget.
Some residents are satisfied with the current set-up of private septic systems, saying that problems with aging systems do not constitute an emergency.
“Why should we be excited about spending all this money when we’ve got what we need in our back yard?” said one speaker. “Just leave us alone.”
Another said many people moved to Erin for the low housing density, and that a sewer system would allow developers such as Solmar to “get rich” building denser neighbourhoods.
“We’re going to spend 50 to 60 million so Solmar can build houses and destroy our community?” he said.
One resident reminded the crowd that the reason residential tax bills are so high is the lack of a substantial commercial and industrial tax base. Wastewater service could help correct that imbalance.
Some were concerned about impact on the West Credit River, but were told that the effluent would be treated to such a high level that the discharge would be well within Ministry of the Environment limits. No storm water will be allowed in the sanitary sewers, eliminating the possibility of waste bypassing the treatment plant during a storm.
Ainley President Joe Mullan said the preferred option of a traditional gravity sewer system would provide the “lowest operating cost in the long term”.
He said if the projected cost per household of $20,000-$25,000 (based on full build-out) is offset by two-thirds grant funding, homeowners would pay $6,700-$8,300. This could be spread over many years as a low-interest loan.
In addition, they would have to pay for the connection from their houses to the road, now estimated at an average of $6,000. Hook-up would be mandatory in serviced areas, though it could be delayed.
There would also be ongoing wastewater bills, similar to water bills, averaging $400-$500 annually. Mullan noted that provision of sewers normally causes property values to rise.
Full details of the Ainley presentation can be downloaded from the wastewater section of the town website, erin.ca.
Mayor Al Alls had previously voiced his personal opinion that all taxpayers, including rural residents who would never hook up to sewage treatment, should pay a share of system construction. They are already helping pay for the EA process. In a recent interview, however, Alls conceded that urban residents would pay construction costs (offset by government grants and developers’ contributions).
He reminded residents that all members of the current town council were elected in 2014 after promising to support moderate growth, with wastewater as a key element. The next municipal election is Oct. 22 this year.
“We need sewage capacity,” he said. “The status quo can only lead to further decline.”
He read an appeal from public school trustee Kathryn Cooper, who urged residents to support wastewater service as a means of increasing the number of families with school-age children. A meeting about declining enrolment and potential school closures will be held Feb. 28 at 7 p.m. at the Erin Public School gym.
The EA remains in a public consultation stage, and comments are invited before the end of February. After that, Ainley will work with the town and the Public Liaison Committee to prepare an Environmental Study Report, which will be subject to an official 30-day public review period.
If accepted by council, the EA could be complete by late spring, though the results could be appealed to the Minister of the Environment with “Part II Order” requests. The completed EA is needed to apply for federal and provincial funding.
Comments can be sent to Project Coordinator Christine Furlong of Triton Engineering, cfurlong@triton.on.ca; or to Ainley President Joe Mullan, erin.urban.classea@ainleygroup.com.