The Great Sewer Controversy


 

The Lambton Shores council continues to create controversy and concern for ratepayers with its renewed push to consider implementing a new sewer system for targeted areas of the municipality. This is not a new concept. In fact, it has been germinating since about 2003 when infrastructure grant money from the provincial government for such projects became available.  Indeed, many a local politician believed that any grant money coming the municipality’s way should be welcomed with open arms. Some call it ‘manna from heaven’. It is argued by these same politicians that the grant money is really our tax dollars just coming back to work for us locally. If the proposed sewer project is warranted, based on objective, verifiable information, we would agree that any financial assistance from upper tier governments would be helpful. But in this case it is not warranted. The Ontario provincial government informed this council and the municipality as recently as 2013 that new sewers are not needed in this area. In fact, in a report from Ontario’s Minister of the Environment, it is stated that there is NOT even a trend toward a need for a new sewer system in any part of the municipality.

So, why does the topic of sewers continue to rise to the forefront of the Lambton Shores council agenda? This is the question.

We continue to believe that the 2010 Lambton Shores council dealt with the issue and resolved the debate in the creation of the sixth draft of the Lambton Shores Official Plan which did not include new sewers. When this document was made public, there was no pushback from ratepayers, in any part of the municipality. But even given this history, the present council persists in its unfounded belief desiring new sewers.  In light of this, Doug Millar, a resident of Lambton Shores, addressed council at their November 3, 2015 meeting on this very topic. Below are excerpts from his presentation. We believe that he has accurately captured our position on this matter. You can read his entire presentation on the municipal website in the November 3, 2015 agenda.

“On May 11th (2015), when this council stated it was your “intention to service the lakefront areas in Lambton Shores currently on private septic systems with municipal sanitary sewers” you opened the door not only to much confusion and worry but you also created a state of affairs that penalizes every constituent currently on a septic system who wants to sell their house and you undercut a primary engine for growth in Lambton Shores.

Recently, in your amended position, you stated that: “The municipality will consider the future servicing of areas in Lambton Shores currently on private septic systems with municipal sanitary sewers. Where there is sufficient demand or proof that the sewer extension is warranted, “but I suggest this change still leaves much to interpretation, creates ‘unintended consequences’ that can be removed only by deleting Section 13.3.2. (reference to 7th draft of Official Plan)

Allow me to borrow an apt phrase from the medical profession; those elected must make every effort to DO NO HARM to their electors. I suggest if you do not alter this wording, you will be doing harm.

Real estate agents must adhere to the ‘Real Estate and Business Brokers Act’ (section 21, Code of Ethics) requiring them to inform prospective buyers about any relevant aspect of a municipality’s Official Plan. In Lambton Shores, this means they will tell prospective buyers about council ‘considering’ the installation of sanitary sewers on properties currently on septic systems.

Similarly lawyers charged with searching the property title will advise their client that the municipal council is ‘considering’ extending the sewer system to replace septic systems. Of course, they will not be able to answer what form this consideration will take. Or how you plan to measure “demand” … will it be one, five, twenty households? Or what “proof” will be needed? That will be left up to the potential buyer’s imagination.

I trust you are all prepared to explain to one of your neighbours when they ask why has a possible future sewer project become part of the negotiations for the sale of my house.

As you know, this issue has been investigated and discussed for several years and the answer is always the same: there is no need to install sanitary sewers in the developed neighbourhoods along the lakeshore.

This has been confirmed by several environmental studies including the 2013 report from the Ministry of the Environment which found “no current environmental impairment … by septic systems nor is there an imminent need for widespread septic system replacement”. Recent environmental studies further confirm the Ministry’s findings.

It therefore stands to reason that nothing kills this potential for growth, drives potential residents away, more than an increase in the cost of living brought on by raising taxes or water and sewerage charges. Even the suggestion of a potential large, costly, disruptive public works project will undercut any strategy to attract new residents. And that’s exactly what the offending paragraph in the Official Plan does.

 

Allow me to sum up:

  • There is no environmental reason for you to ‘consider’ placing the possibility of a sewer extension in the Official Plan;

 

  • There is no economic development reason to do so, in fact, stating that council is even ‘considering’ extending the sewer system will hamper economic growth;

 

  • There has been no cost/benefit analysis nor household impact statement completed;

 

  • The Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) does NOT require a municipality to state their intentions regarding sewage, it says only that “all municipalities in the County are expected to grow, based on availability of municipal sewer and water services and community services”;

 

  • The imprecise wording in Section 13.3.2 (of the 7th draft of the Official Plan) will penalize everyone on a septic system in Lambton Shores trying to sell their home;

 

  • The Official Plan need not include any direction regarding sewer or septic systems. If a proven need arises, remedial action can be taken.

 

I therefore suggest there is NO reason to reference the possibility of an extension to the sewer system in the Official Plan and there are a couple of very good reasons to NOT include same.

You have only two reasonable options:

  1. Return to the comparatively benign but environmentally pro-active wording of Draft #6 (of the Official Plan), a listing of actions designed to ensure area septic systems are working properly, or,
  2. Remove the clause entirely.”

On November 24, 2015, the Lambton Shores council voted to accept the 7th draft of the Official Plan and send it to the County of Lambton for Tier II government approval.

This action occurred in spite of a public outcry to the contrary.

So this is democracy and your council at work? We wonder.

You can read the 7th draft of the Official Plan that Lambton Shores sent to the County of Lambton for approval in December, 2015 by clicking on the link below.

http://www.lambtonshores.ca/en/doing-business/resources/Planning-Services/Draft_7_Official_Plan/Draft_7_of_the_Proposed_Lambton_Shores_Official_Plan_November_2015.pdf