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Change in plan has residents fuming

The following editorial was published in the Guelph Mercury, August 26, 2006.

The latest tale of development run amok comes from the town of Fergus, Ontario, population 10,000.

Here, some north end residents will be soon be looking at suburban-style fences instead of expansive agricultural lands. That wasn’t a big problem when the plan called for 66 new homes. Today, that number has more than tripled. Centre Wellington Council dealt with the change as an “amendment”. That’s a little like getting a permit to build an outhouse and erecting a three-story home.

The new Bonaire Highlands subdivision will have all the water and sewer services you would expect. The impact has local residents steaming.

A surprising majority of people in this area draw their drinking water from shallow dug wells. They like their water as it is, but fear the situation is about to change. They may have reason: the development property sits on a ground water recharge area, and there have apparently been water problems here in the past as a result of other development activity.

Owners of deep drilled wells are not safe either. When the township did its 72 hour flow test on a new municipal well, it lasted just 12 hours. That’s how long it took for surrounding deep wells to be sucked dry.

As a result, 28 homes will now be offered a “free” connection to new services on Beatty Line—both water mains and sewers, courtesy of the town—because a town well created the problem. Fair enough. That won’t be the case, however, for shallow well owners. Their potential problems are more likely to stem from the subdivision itself. They argue that when you put that much asphalt on an area that contributes to their water supply, shallow wells are going to be affected.

If that happens, and if it can be proven, the developer would have to pay. Don’t hold your breath.

Stephen Pollock, an environmental consulting engineer and resident of the affected Sideroad 18, feels “the developer is just going to say, ‘sorry, we didn’t have anything to do with it.’ And when you have a dug well, it’s practically impossible to prove.” The only recourse would likely be through the courts.

The new services will run directly in front of some of the affected homes, enroute to two planned access roads off Sideroad 18, where the developer has bought adjoining property to minimize resistance. This handful of residents could opt to connect now, at an average estimated cost of $15,000. According to Centre Wellington director of public works Ken Elder, that money would flow back to Bonaire to recover servicing costs they will incur regardless.

Pollock believes that extending services along the entire road is inevitable, and that connection will soon be mandatory; a scenario that Bonaire’s Don Laverty agrees is likely, especially if problems occur. “You can’t reasonably expect to have an island of houses surrounded by a serviced community,” says Pollack. Meanwhile, residents living just one sideroad to the south feel paralyzed. Some have shallow well problems they believe stemmed from an earlier development, and they don’t know whether to drill a new well or not. They’re afraid that in a year or two, the town will bring services up the road, they could be obliged to connect, and their investment would be lost. It wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened.

Serious questions remain. A citizens petition delivered to Centre Wellington Mayor Russ Spicer was referred by staff to the developer for response. R.J. Burnside and Associates, the developer’s engineering firm, has a financial interest in the property—a widely-held perception that Laverty has confirmed. Ward Councillor Gord Feniak is a Burnside employee. While Feniak has declared a conflict of interest and has not attended Council on this matter, it renders him totally unable to represent the interests of his constituents.

Because of concerns expressed by shallow well owners, the town has directed there be a “comprehensive hydrogeology examine the impact if any of the proposed development on the existing neighbourhood.” This study is being conducted by Burnside, albeit under the scrutiny of a respected hydrogeologist, Sandy Anderson, who is contracted by the township.

The methodology consists of installing "five or six data loggers”, and a self-administered questionnaire left in mailboxes of residents that immediately border the property. It includes a form that anyone short of a trained professional would have trouble completing. Neighbours across the road have not received one. Perhaps Burnside feels the pavement is a sufficient barrier to prevent problems on the north side of the road from impacting wells only 50 meters away.

And in answer to the question: how did the number of housing units bloat from 66 to 202? Well, money talks. At 66 homes, there’s not enough revenue to offset the developer’s cost of infrastructure to service the homes. But with 202, the developer makes more money, the township collects more money from development charges and future property taxes, and everything fits neatly within the provincial planning policies that promote this type of high-density suburban construction. Everybody’s happy.

Everybody that is, except the existing taxpayers. They could eventually have upwards of 1,000 more cars trips past their doors every day. Their water quality may be disrupted with no easy solution. And they’ll be living back in the suburbs with none of the services, and without ever having moved.

It’s another example of government not paying attention to people. Convince me I’m wrong.

©Garrett Klassen is president of Crunch! Communications in Elora, Ontario, Canada.


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