Engineers Disagree With Water “Crisis” Report

In a letter dated July 2, 2021 to the CAO and the mayor, in response to staff report CAO 2021-10, two of Collingwood’s most respected engineering firms took exception to the town’s claim there was a “water crisis” and offered solutions to the alleged problems. In responding to the report’s recommendations about releasing some capacity for development, the engineers said the recommendations fell “considerably short of what is appropriate.” It adds,

Further the report makes little mention to the dialogue and solutions discussed with the industry that have occurred since the ICBL was abruptly put in place on April 26, 2021.*

Water Basically, they are saying the town is ignoring expert post-ICBL advice and recommendations from the professionals who actually know what they’re talking about. But with a council that Already Knows Everything and is too ideologically obsessed with lavishing taxpayers’ money on the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial inquiry (the $10 million SVJI) to bother with anything else, that’s not surprising.

And why haven’t local media reported on this? Why haven’t they interviewed these engineers for their comments? What do the developers have to say about this letter? What do New Tec, Clearview, and Alliston have to say? Why aren’t the media asking any questions?

That staff report was presented to council July 5, 2021, accompanied by the usual PowerPoint slide show in big fonts, with few words, read aloud slowly (but lacking the pie charts most councillors expect). It recommends offering a limited number of exceptions to the growth-job-and-revenue-killing interim control bylaw (ICBL) passed in April to allow a limited number of construction projects to go ahead (including several monster homes).

(Note that this comes more than two months after the ICBL abruptly ended all new construction here, and that many developers may not be able to assemble the crews, supplies, and other resources to pick up where they left off in time to get back to building this year…)

That staff report noted that the town received “65 ICBL Exemption applications” that requested exemptions for “1,473  SDU” (Single Dwelling Units). The CAO recommended granting 218 of these per year, for a total of 1,091 SDUs over five years. Five years! That’s a sly admission that the bylaw will be in place until at least 2026, when the expanded water treatment plant is expected to come online.

The engineers from Tatham and Crozier countered in their letter that there were actually 863 SDUs available now, not merely 218, and said they had “4 ways to increase the 863 to 1773 within 2 years.” They added:

We believe sufficient information has been collected that justifies an immediate meaningful release of more units as part of this exemption request (in the order of 740-800 SDUs now – at a minimum). A release of this amount will not over-allocate the WTP and will provide some certainty and continuity to a key industry in the Town by keeping the approvals / permit / construction process moving in a consistent manner.

More to the point, to make their case, one of the companies brought in an outside consultant who worked on the original water treatment plant design and knew its capacities and capabilities:

Crozier and Associates retained an independent consultant, Steve O’Brien, to examine this issue (Steve has considerable knowledge of the WTP having been on the original design team). Mr. O’Brien completed chlorine contact calculations and concluded additional winter capacity is available within the WTP based on the current chlorine dosing practises and we believe this option warrants serious discussion with Town staff. Mr. O’Brien’s memo was circulated to Staff earlier this week and we append his memo for your information.

AvoidanceOf course, what do the professionals know? Their advice was, as expected, ignored. It’s unlikely any of our reading-averse councillors even bothered to glance at this four-page letter dense with technical terms and reasoned arguments. After all, they made up their little minds and have already moved on to hunting for ambulance-chasers to pursue their SVJI. They’ve basically told builders and workers hurt by their ICBL to “eat cake.”

First, a bit of history about how our inept council blundered us into this mess. I recommend you read my posts from April 25 on how this ICBL got passed without public or industry consultation, then the post from April 27 on how this ICBL will affect the town, residents, and jobs. Then read my posts from April 27 (a second one), April 28, May 30, and June 15 on how the mayor (a real estate lawyer) and deputy mayor (a real estate agent) are ignoring conflicts of interest by participating in the discussions and voting on issues that directly affect their careers and finances (and also flat-out ignoring all the recommendations in the SVJI about avoiding apparent conflicts of interest. Which shows exactly how much they really care about the SVJI and about ethics).**

Word on the street suggests the mayor hopes these exemptions will mitigate his increasingly poor reputation with some developers so that they will donate to his campaign when he abandons Collingwood and runs for MPP next year (thanks to a corrupt nomination process, but he still continues to take the town’s paycheque!). He did not declare a conflict of interest when these exemptions were discussed, even though developers are among the highest contributors to political campaigns. But why worry about ethics when your personal ambition is at stake?**

Others think council is desperately but vainly flailing to recover a shred of public confidence after their collective reputation took a nosedive when this ICBL was passed (it was already in tatters from spending more than $10 million on the SVJI yet still being unable to stop wasting taxpayers’ money on it). Meanwhile, our streets crumble, our sidewalks decay, the terminals continue to deteriorate, and local businesses and workers affected by the lengthy lockdowns have received no financial aid or proper relief.

Collingwood deserves better.

~~~~~

* Back in April, shortly after the ICBL was abruptly passed without consultation with or even proper advance warning to the development and construction industries, or to the municipalities which depend on our water, the town sent off a media release that said in part,

“Council deliberated at length, and considered all the information provided by staff, our solicitors, the deputations this evening, and written submissions, before coming to a very difficult decision that we all know will have significant impacts in the community. However, the implications of not taking this pause on development were potentially much more severe. This is not our first choice, but we are in a situation that demands action,” says, Mayor Brian Saunderson.

Although the Planning Act provides for an ICBL to be imposed without notice, to be transparent and open, especially regarding such important matters, Town Council opened the meeting to comments from any member of the public wishing to speak on the matter.

Well, that’s disingenuous piffle. Council considered nothing at length (it never does), and treated the bylaw with no more seriousness than as if passing a bylaw to recognize National Hot Dog Day. Transparent and open? That’s simply a bald-faced lie. This council was as secretive and deceptive as it could legally be in getting this passed. The release also noted:

In consideration of comments received, and recognition of the effects of this decision, Council directed Town staff to evaluate, review, and negotiate, with the Town of New Tecumseth and the Town of the Blue Mountains to retain as much water capacity from those agreements as possible. Council further gave direction to simultaneously implement a Request for Proposals to expand capacity at the Water Treatment Plant, and to advance construction of a chlorine contact tank that will increase capacity.

But that’s merely cover-your-ass spin. The town should have consulted with all parties FIRST, not offered it as consolation after they passed the ICBL. The water agreement with New Tec expired in May, 2020, almost a year earlier, and this council has been aware of the upcoming end of that contract since a few months after the 2018 election (and four of them, including the mayor, have known about it since 2015!). Yet they were all too obsessed with the SVJI to bother with negotiations, until a year after the contract expired and their “crisis” emerged.

Offering to negotiate after the fact shows how badly this council bungled the water issue right from their first days in office. Why didn’t local media call the town out on this self-serving claptrap?

** The entire point of the final report of the $10-million-plus Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry was that elected officials should avoid even the appearance of conflicts of interest, as the following SVJI recommendations (emphasis added) noted:

9 Section 223.2(4) of the Municipal Act … should be amended to require that municipal codes of conduct for Council members include provisions on real, apparent, and potential conflicts of interest.
12 The Province of Ontario should amend the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act to broaden its scope beyond deemed pecuniary interest to encompass any real, apparent, and potential conflict of interest.
27 The Code of Conduct should contain specific provisions addressed to apparent and potential conflicts of interest as well as real conflicts of interest.
28 The Code of Conduct should state that Council members must understand and adhere to their obligations concerning real, apparent, and potential conflicts of interest under the Municipal Act, the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, the Code of Conduct for Council members in Collingwood, and other relevant Town policies and legislation.
31 The Code of Conduct for Council members in Collingwood should include provisions on disqualifying and nondisqualifying interests. The Code should prohibit Council members from participating in “decision-making processes” related to “their office when they have a disqualifying interest in the matter.”
A disqualifying interest is “an interest in a matter, that by virtue of the relationship between the Member of Council and other persons and bodies associated with the matter, is of such a nature that reasonable persons fully informed of the facts would believe that the Member of Council could not participate impartially in the decision-making processes related to the matter.

Apparently, Saunderson doesn’t seem to think these recommendations apply to him. I guess he’s the ‘do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do’ kind of politician who can blithely dismiss recommendations about potential conflicts when they affect his own interests. Why don’t local media call him out on this?

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2 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    I don’t understand how this would ever happen to begin with did nobody look down the road to upgrade the water plant and to shut down construction is beyond me never seen this happen ever

    • The council of 2010-14 under Mayor Cooper was already working on it. The COO of the water utility, Marcus Firman, was in talks with the CAOs of Bradford and New Tec in late 2014 about the pipeline contract and the expansion (Bradford even agreed to pay $44 million of the cost). The plans for the water plant expansion had already been contracted for and received by the water utility board and the environmental assessement for the new plant done in 2014. (The current plans are merely an updated version of those prepared for the utility board in 2014!).

      Had Firman and the board been allowed to continue, the new plant would have been built by now and a new contract signed years ago.

      A new council was elected and took office in Dec. 2014 (including deputy mayor Brian Saunderson). Most of that council sided with the then-CAO to fire the water utility board, so there was no longer any independent oversight on the utility. The CAO took over the negotiations with New Tec and ended them in spring 2015. They were never restarted under that or this council. That CAO tried to give the water utility to EPCOR as part of the deal to privatize the electricity utility but that hit some resistance when it became known publicly. The water utility and staff were brought under town management (instead of the independent board) and basically ignored for six years.

      This council was given a full report on the water pipeline, the contract and the plant in its first year, but ignored it. They ignored the pipeline contract which ended in May, 2020. The mayor has never offered any pretense at leadership or guidance in an issue he has been aware of since 2015.

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