A proposed wastewater extension project in the Town of the Blue Mountains (TBM) could cost Camperdown-area residents $50,000 each.
“This service extension will allow for the replacement of older septic systems adjacent to Georgian Bay,” said Shawn Carey, director of operations for TBM at a public meeting held on Monday evening.
Details for the project are outlined in TBM’s 2021 draft budget under the Camperdown Service Area – Wastewater Servicing project.
The project is expected to be rolled out in two phases – the first phase will see the installation of a wastewater system on Bayview Avenue, Fieldcrest Court and Lakeshore Road, with engineering to begin in 2021 and construction starting in 2023.
Phase two will see wastewater infrastructure installed along Hoover Lane, Tesky Drive and Gibson Way. Engineering will start in 2023 and construction is forecast to begin in 2025.
Phase one of the project has a projected budget of $3,310,000. And, as outlined in the draft budget, $3,060,000 of that expense is expected to be covered by the property owners on Bayview, Fieldcrest and Lakeshore Road.
Although in its initial stages, the project is asking each resident on these streets to fork over $53,800 in order to move from an existing septic system to the municipal sewer service .
“The funding request is the second-highest of all identified projects in the wastewater plan from 2019. And, I don't understand why,” said Larry Bentley, Bayview Avenue resident.
Area residents gathered virtually at a public meeting held on Monday evening to voice their concerns over the project's affordability, communications and level of service.
“The town affordability policy is 10 per cent of the household income, and so the maximum amount allowed was $42,130. This is a non-starter at $53,800,” Bentley continued.
TBM’s affordability policy was created in 2017 to ensure there was a limit on how much expense could be offloaded from the municipality to a resident through their tax bill.
The policy outlines that if the annual household cost of extending services is equal-to or greater-than 10 per cent of the median after-tax, single household income, the project would be deemed unaffordable for both the town and the benefitting property owners.
“If a project came in over what is outlined in the policy, council and the public would have to look at it and ask, is this affordable? Does the town have to put money towards it? Or perhaps, the project could be approved over the affordability policy, if the residents so chose and wanted it,” said Ruth Prince, director of finance and IT for TBM.
Prince noted that impacted residents can pay for the expense upfront, finance it through the town or look at options to defer.
Carey explained that the project has been pursued for several reasons, including environmental concerns.
“It can be an environmental concern, depending on the state of some of the septic systems throughout our shoreline. It would be difficult for tile beds and those septics to operate properly, depending on the age of the structure of the system, when we have a perched water table through high water levels,” he said.
However, according to Bill McKetrick, a Bayview Street resident, nearly half of the homes on his street are new or have upgraded their septic systems within the past seven years.
“Forty-two per cent of the homes on the street have brand new septic systems,” McKetrick said. “They have made sizeable financial commitments and investments in their property with a new septic system. I can't see why these homes should be forced to undertake another financial investment and make their system obsolete.”
According to Carey, TBM has a policy in regards to homeowners who have previously invested infrastructure. The policy outlines exceptions for those who have undertaken the upgrades within the past five years.
McKetrick said he doesn’t understand why the town and council are putting such an “unnecessary financial hardship on so many residents for something that they don't want and, in all appearances, don't need.”
John Packwood, who owns a lot on Bayview Drive but has yet to build his home, said he was also concerned about the affordability of the project, but more importantly, would like to see the town explore a plan to see cost-sharing with the lots in the area that have yet to be developed.
“If there's additional development that occurs in our area, and others are able to benefit from tapping into the sewer system for the first time, they need to pay their fair share. And then maybe there's a rebate that goes back somehow to the investors of this public infrastructure,” Packwood, suggested.
Bentley agreed, stating that under this proposed plan, “the vacant property is being serviced for development by the existing property owners.”
Plans for the expansion were initially brought to council in 2019, and direct notice of the project was sent to residents on Dec. 21, 2020.
“We are very preliminary at this point,” Carey said. “There is more to come as the project details unfold but we felt it was better to be upfront with residents and say here's our very preliminary cost estimate versus not stating that in the letter.”
TBM CEO, Shawn Everitt added that the town is making an effort to communicate plans around capital projects earlier than it has in the past in order to better engage the public through the entire process.
“This is preliminary. No engineering has been done. This is basically giving residents, all members of the public and council the information that staff are proposing this project to move forward,” Everitt said.
A staff report from the public meeting held on Jan. 11 is expected to be presented to the council by the end of January.
In the report, staff will explore a number of requests from the public, including the suggestions of exploring septic tank inspections in areas where the age of the structure or environmental issues are a concern.
TBM council will vote on how to proceed with the Camperdown service area wastewater project at a council meeting scheduled for Feb. 8.
Jennifer Golletz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CollingwoodToday.ca