Small Ontario town split over mayor’s plea to create wastewater plant

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To keep pace with population growth and business demands in the Town of Erin, located 80 kilometres northwest of Toronto, local officials are vying to implement a new sewerage system and wastewater treatment plant. But many local residents are skeptical of the proposal and appear content with current private septic systems, holding tanks and tertiary systems that officials say are harming the environment and limiting the Town’s potential.

In a series of recent community engagement meetings, local residents have expressed concerns over the Town’s ability to pay for a $118-million wastewater system proposed by Ainley Group, a consultant leading the new wastewater servicing options. At a recent meeting, Ainley president and project manager Joe Mullan said the preferred option of a traditional gravity sewer system — with some small pressurized sections in low-lying areas — would provide the lowest operating cost in the long term for the Town.

A local working group called Transition Erin has been calling for the use of a “small-bore” system, meaning each property would get a new septic tank that discharges to a system of small sewer pipes between four to eight inches in diameter. In its analysis, Ainley Group found that, while a small pipe system would involve less excavation, less transport and lower capital costs, the pipes would be vulnerable to blockage, among other issues.

Contention over the Town’s wastewater ambition is likely to loom large over October’s municipal election, especially after public concerns arose at community meetings over the project’s potential impact to the water quality of the West Credit River.

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In February, Town of Erin Mayor Al Alls sent an open letter to residents warning that sewers are needed to stop “massive” pollution of the environment by septic systems. Sewers, he added, could allow for a greater variety of residential development, enable business growth, and ensure schools do not close over lack of enrolment.

Town of Erin Mayor Al Alls
In February, Town of Erin Mayor Al Alls sent an open letter to residents warning that sewers are needed to stop “massive” pollution of the environment by septic systems.

In the letter, Mayor Alls stated: “To be blunt — our community needs sewers to: a) stop polluting our environment and ruining the natural beauty of Erin; b) to allow for mixed-use residential development which will provide more options for seniors and young families to remain in Erin; c) to attract new businesses to Erin and encourage our existing ones to expand — bringing much needed new jobs; d) to address the imbalance in the tax apportionment between residential and industrial/commercial ratepayers. More commercial/industrial taxpayers means less pressure on our residents.”

The mayor has acknowledged that tens of millions of dollars will be needed from senior governments to make the project possible, but developers will cover half of the wastewater project’s $118-million price tag.

“Providing wastewater services within our community is no longer a matter of if, but when,” wrote Mayor Alls. “Stated simply — our town needs to grow, and it needs to diversify. The status quo has remained for far too long, and is no longer an option.”

In 2014, the Town of Erin completed a Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP) to address servicing, planning and environmental issues within the Town, which has a population of 11,830 spread out across 3,900 households. It includes two urban centres, Erin Village and Hillsburgh.

The Town of Erin is now undertaking a Municipal Class Environmental Assessment to determine the preferred design alternative for wastewater servicing of the existing urban areas. Following a review of wastewater servicing options, the plan found that a municipal sanitary sewerage system consisting of collection and treatment components was the best course of action. Hillsburgh and Erin Village would be serviced by a single new wastewater system and the remainder of the West Credit River’s assimilative capacity would be allocated to new growth.

The current environmental assessment is expected to be completed by spring 2018.

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