Chelsea, Quebec council waters down citizens’ rights

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by admin on September 29, 2010

By Sheldon Weatherstone

On September 13, having realized Chelsea, Quebec residents may not approve borrowing millions for water and infrastructure to serve the Meredith Centre, council passed first reading of By-law 770-10 which adds “water and sewer” to an existing bylaw on public works.

Following an undefined “public consultation” process, council can pass this amendment.

So, why should we care?

Because it allows any property owner to build water and sewer infrastructure that will become public, and to recover costs from those they designate as potential beneficiaries, whether or not those so designated wish to use the infrastructure.

“Beneficiaries” could include any or all Chelsea taxpayers, should the owner so choose. The municipality would then be obliged to collect on behalf of the owner. Thus, the municipality can achieve its mega sewer and water project without having to subject it to public consultation or a referendum.

Last December, the municipality quietly commissioned an engineering design for a “Scott Road to the Gatineau River” water-and-sewer project. A contractor now stands legally required to start work at any time. The treatment plants were to be built this winter, so that all would be ready for the completion of the Meredith Centre in June 2011.

In April, the community loudly expressed its concern about the proposed project. Since then, council and developers have tried to find another way to build this infrastructure that would distribute the costs as broadly as possible.

To ensure water will be guaranteed before construction starts, the municipality has sought a temporary water supply from Chelsea Creek Estates well until a public supply system can be built in the future. The Meredith Centre still requires a hookup to a municipal sewer system that doesn’t exist.

However, the Québec Ministry of Environment is once again reviewing Chelsea Creek’s application for its well, meaning the temporary water source for the Meredith Centre may not be available in time, if ever. Even if the centre’s construction-completion deadline can be extended again until the end of 2011, the municipality is running out of time to meet the completion deadline for the grant.

If passed, this bylaw would provide a very convenient means to have the system built by a private owner without any borrowing referendum, public scrutiny or even prior knowledge of the agreement. With our municipality acting as collection agent, beneficiaries can include all taxpayers, as demonstrated by the Farm Point sewer project.

Let’s bear in mind that this infrastructure is not envisioned in the Master Plan, is contrary to the findings of the recent Community Visioning process, and has not demonstrated taxpayer support for borrowing the funds required.

We invite the municipality to explain the reasoning behind this proposed amendment. Can it demonstrate that it serves the best interests of Chelsea residents; or is it really designed to meet the needs of the Meredith Centre and the wishes of private developers for the removal of the limits to development which water and sewer infrastructure would provide?

That is why everyone should care passionately about a few words added to an obscure Public Works bylaw. ACCCA feels that this proposed amendment is unjustified, demonstrates bad governance, and sets a dangerous precedent.

Chelsea resident Sheldon Weatherstone is the president of ACCA, the Chelsea Citizens Association.