Residents, cottagers concerned mandatory water, sewage hooks not affordable


By Barb McKay


Hooking up to the municipal water and sewage systems could cost Inverhuron residents thousands of dollars, but remaining on private systems could be dangerous, according to local water quality experts.


Inverhuron residents and cottagers packed council chambers Saturday morning for a public meeting hosted by the municipality to get public input into what project engineers are calling the ‘best alternative’ – to making a connection to the Kincardine water and sewage system mandatory. The plan would connect properties in the mostly densely populated areas of Inverhuron to the municipal system. Those properties already hooked up to municipal water and sewage through previous expansions are not included in the proposed extension.


Other options that had been considered included extending only the water lines, extending only the sewage system, or leaving residents on private wells and septic systems.


Residents listened intently to presentations by local hydrogeology expert Brian Luinstra, environmental planner Kelly Vadar, of BM Ross & Associates, and Pat Scarfe, a former public health inspector who is now project manager for BM Ross and Associates. All three pointed to problems with drinking water quality in Inverhuron.


Luinstra, who provided a detailed look into the geology of the area, raised his concerns about a very vulnerable aquifer, which could be easily contaminated. Inverhuron has a thick layer of bedrock, with a maze of deep fractions that run through it where water flows. The problem, he noted, is that the protective ground covering, known as the overburden, is very thin. This allows groundwater to travel into the aquifer, which is the drinking water supply. Private wells can also act as a transporter of contaminates from the surface to the aquifer.


“We don’t have a lot of that overburden cover to act as a protective barrier to the aquifer,” Luinstra said. “The activities at the surface, there’s a high probability they can impact the aquifer.”


A total of 40 private wells, out of the roughly 275 properties in the study area, were tested for water quality in 2009 and 2010 as part of the process to determine the best solution for servicing Inverhuron homes and cottages. Scarfe was troubled by the results. Of the wells tested, 11 had poor water quality, three of which were contaminated with e coli bacteria.


“The alarming thing was, only one property owner had a treatment system on their property,” Scarfe said. “One person thought they had pristine water and they had e coli.”


She found that many residents did not routinely test for water quality and residents had been drinking contaminated water for an undetermined amount of time.


If drinking water quality wasn’t bad enough, Scarfe found that more than 60 per cent of properties did not have enough space for a septic system, according to Ontario Building Code standards. Some homes were sharing septic systems and many properties had septic tanks that were over 40 years old. The life span of a septic system is estimated to be 30 years. The most concerning find for project engineers was the close proximity of septic tanks and leaching beds to wells.


“It creates a perfect storm for the highly vulnerable aquifer,” said Vadar.


It was these findings that led engineers to recommend that municipal water lines be extended to properties included in the study area and that properties be hooked up to a low pressure gravity sewage system. They also determined that a pumping station should be constructed in Inverhuron.


“It (option chosen) addressed the risk associated with the geology of Inverhuron,” said Vadar, who noted the option requires very little maintenance and is cost effective.


The recommendations did not sit well with some residents who were concerned they wouldn’t be able to afford the costs of closing their wells and septic tanks and connecting to the public systems.


“How can people open their chequebooks today and hand over $20,000,” asked Marelle Evans, whose home sits at the end of a 200-foot driveway, and hookups to her home will be costly. She said she was afraid she may have to sell her home.


Kincardine councillor Laura Haight said Evans shouldn’t worry just yet.


“In the end it may not be part of the service area,” she said.


Under pressure to produce real numbers for residents who will have to pay for the hook ups, BM Ross president Bruce Potter stressed the costs would not be as astronomical as some thought. Rumoured estimates have been anywhere from $5,000 to $40,000 per property.


“What I can tell you is that it will probably be a bit above the $5,000, but it absolutely will not be $40,000,” he said. “I’m hesitant to give you any more than that because you people will hang me if I’m five per cent above that.”


Potter said the municipality could look at options to either lower costs or make them easier to swallow, including subsidizing costs by applying them to future developments in the community, or by setting up payment plans. The municipality will be receiving a grant of up to $6 million from the provincial and federal governments as part of the Build Canada fund to cover two-thirds of the cost of project, estimated at approximately $9 million. Costs could change depending on what the bid prices are when the project is tendered. Even if estimates rise, the governments will only kick in $6 million. The town has until 2016 to finish the project in order to receive grant money.


Resident Rick McInroy questioned where the extra money would come from if the project were to go over budget.


“The bottom line is, can you afford this,” he asked councillors present at the meeting, which received resounding applause. “Come on guys, they’re spending our money.”

Councillor Randy Roppel, answered that municipal money from tax contributions was part of the mix of funds.


Not all in attendance were against the project. Don Bird, a seasonal resident who hails from Vancouver, has been spending his summers in Inverhuron since he was a child.


“It’s a great idea,” he said. “I’ve been coming here all my life and there have always been water issues, so I’m very much in favour of getting this done.”


Project planners will begin the engineering design for the project this Fall. In Spring 2011 the environmental assessment of the study area will be finalized and a final public meeting will be held to review the findings, then the project will be turned over to Kincardine council for approval. If it gets the go ahead, water and sewer system extensions could begin as early as Fall 2011.