Ontario’s Mapleton returns to privatizing water system expansion in face of housing pressure

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Ontario’s Mapleton Township is returning to its plan to privatize its water and wastewater expansion, after terminating a similar deal at the height of the pandemic in 2020.

Mapleton Chief Administrative Officer Manny Baron told council that a new school and daycare won’t be a reality if the Wellington County Township, about an hour north of Toronto within the Greater Golden Horseshoe, doesn’t act now.

Mapleton’s 11,000 residents have already waited six years for local officials to decide how to approach the water infrastructure upgrades. With a traditional borrowing and staging approach, it could take more than 10 years and $23 million to complete a new wastewater treatment plant and an expansion of the current water treatment plant, according to a new CAO report.  

The report states that, “by forming a partnership, we can significantly reduce the timeline without causing an unmanageable increase in rates. This partnership is crucial to expedite the process and achieve our goals efficiently.”

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Baron, whose report recommended partnering with private enterprise and establishing a municipal service corporation, said there is strong pressure from all levels of government to expand available housing within the community and meet the 1.5 million new homes target over the next 10 years to address the supply shortage.

“Us being in the Golden Horseshoe, it’s important that we begin this journey once and for all,” Baron told council. “It’s time to move forward, get some pricing, and get this plant built.” 

The Township, which consists of Drayton, Moorefield and Rothsay, had applied for, but failed to secure, funding from the province for a new water tower in the past and has struggled to upgrade the capacity of its sewage treatment plants to meet the needs of the growing population. According to the Official Plan for the County of Wellington, population is projected to grow in the county from 95,805 persons to 140,000 persons by 2041.

Last week, council voted in favour of the move to return to privatization without debate or questions. 

In summer 2020, the Township pulled out of a planned public-private partnership (P3) to deliver its new water and wastewater facility. The plan had been supported with a $20 million commitment from the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB). At the time, local officials determined there was too much risk attached to the P3 venture. 

The 2020 P3 had been viewed by the CIB, an arm’s-length federal agency, as a key pilot model for municipalities who wanted to modernize their water and wastewater systems through alternative financing sources. P3s had yet to be used for smaller water infrastructure projects, and have generally been reserved for projects costing at least $100 million. In March, however, the CIB and English River First Nation in Saskatchewan announced a $27.3 million financing agreement for a new wastewater treatment facility in 2024.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees, or CUPE, and the Council of Canadians, both campaigned against Mapleton’s P3 venture. They warned the Township that it would lose control, transparency, and accountability over its own projects.

Mapleton’s officials had planned to build a new water tower, reduce leakage, upgrade its existing water pumping station, and expand the capacity of its wastewater treatment plant.

Mapleton’s water systems are maintained by the Ontario Clean Water Agency.

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