Erin residents pack council chamber to voice concerns about SSMP process

It was a packed house in the council chamber here on Sept. 2 for a public meeting on the town’s Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP) –  but the same could not be said of the council table.

Residents were standing two to three deep behind the chairs in the audience, and roughly another two dozen stood in the hall outside the chamber, but there were two empty seats at the council table (councillor Barb Tocher and Mayor Lou Maieron were absent).

In the mayor’s absence, councillor John Brennan chaired the meeting.

One of the first questions raised was why council had not selected a larger venue for the event.

Resident Jay Mowatt suggested council should relocate to accommodate everybody. Brennan explained that council had not honestly expected the large turnout on Sept. 2.

Councillors were then asked if they were willing to host an additional meeting before council makes a decision on Sept. 9.

Brennan stressed the decision before council on Sept. 9 is not about proceeding with a sewage treatment facility, but rather whether or not to start an environmental assessment to provide the technical answers as to how to do it and what it will cost.

At the end of that process is when a decision will be made, Brennan said.

When it was questioned why a decision had to be made on Sept. 9, CAO Kathryn Ironmonger explained that is the last date before council assumes a “lame duck” status, during which it has limited decision-making powers.

Brennan suggested “limping through the meeting as best we can and attempt to schedule something else this week – if we can.”

The common theme of many of those presenting was that the town had gone too far down the road with the SSMP to stop now, but they believed councillors should also be looking at alternatives to traditional sewage treatment systems.

Resident Pierre Brianceau, who has filed to run for county council, noted that as early as 2005 it was reported that there could be alternatives to conventional treatment plants.

Brianceau said if the SSMP had unfolded as expected, the town would have had to determine what the community wanted and where a treatment plant would be located, as well as creating a community buy-in and gathering information about the assimilative capacity of the river.

Brianceau said that, typically, SSMPs take between two to four years for the entire process, but Erin is only halfway through the process after five years.

Though Brianceau and others contended that nearly $1 million has been spent thus far, reports from the town’s financial department indicate that amount is closer to $500,000.

He said residents are concerned with the potential costs of upwards of $60 million for sewage and water upgrades that would not benefit them directly. He said developers would be only too eager to use up the assimilative capacity of the West Credit River for themselves.

Brianceau said that, “reluctantly,” the only choice is to “admit defeat and accept for the good of the community council needs to proceed with the next phase of the SSMP.”

Shelly Foord, on behalf of Transition Erin’s Wastewater Solutions, offered a number of recommendations for council to consider.

“We do not believe council should defer this decision to the next council,” said Foord, noting council now has the information it needs to make a decision.

“We do not believe council can proceed with a do-nothing option,” she said, noting that if that happens, developers would proceed with their own EA and build 6,000 homes, “leaving the existing community without any future of servicing possibilities.”

Mayoral candidate Allan Alls said, “We must go forward. We cannot spend this amount of money … and sit still.” Alls agreed with the idea of investigating different technology that will put Erin in the future.

“I’d like to see us determine our own destiny, not developers. Let’s look after ourselves first,” said Alls.

Mowatt said Transition Erin had asked for other alternatives to standard traditional wastewater treatments be investigated. He wanted assurances that would happen.

Matt Pearson of BM Ross explained that exploring several options was always the intent of the next phase of the process.

As the questions and comments from the audience trickled down, Brennan considered the need to hold an additional meeting.

Then, as residents began filing out of the room, Brennan adjourned the meeting.

He said if residents had further comments, they should send them in writing and those comments would be reviewed.

Maieron corrected

by ministry official

As a side note to an earlier assertion by Maieron that Orangeville’s growth was affecting the potential of growth in Erin, a report from Mark Smithson of the Ministry of Environment notes the key difference in the situation between Orangeville and Erin is that Orangeville discharges to a different tributary of the Credit River.

That means its discharge has no influence on the West Credit River and therefore does not affect the assimilative capacity potential for Erin.