Perras’ farewell move on last day: sign off on Chelsea Creek

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by Mark Burgess on December 17, 2009

Former Chelsea, Quebec mayor Jean Perras didn’t spend his last day in office twiddling his thumbs, reflecting on his eight years in office or indulging in sentimental farewells with colleagues and staff. Or if he did, he also made the time on Nov. 5, four days after the municipal election, to sign the development agreement for possibly the most controversial projects of his eight-year tenure – Chelsea Creek.

Dec. 16 front page

Dec. 16 front page

“We just wanted it to be signed by Jean because he was the one who negotiated most of it, went through the hoops for the referendum and made most of the decisions,” said Chelsea Director-General Paul St. Louis. “It was just something he wanted to do before he left.”

Council adopted the agreement at its Oct. 1 meeting but it wasn’t signed until more than five weeks later. St. Louis said staff and lawyers from both sides were ironing out the details and doing “some fine tuning” on the document.

He said the timing was circumstantial, a “question of having everybody available for signatures on their part and on our part.”

Developer Mark Shank also attributed the timing to administrative delays, saying the protocol is primarily an administrative document where politicians provide little input.

After nearly seven years of administrative work, Shank said he’s ready to break ground in 2010. He said he plans to build about 40 of the 197 units each year, and to have the first 40 ready in 2011.

“We finally have a project,” he said. “Zoning is one thing but until you have the development agreement you can’t start the project.”

$9 million in water, sewer

The agreement commits Shank to pay for $9 million of on-site infrastructure, including water and sewer treatment. Though unorthodox, he said these were the basic conditions since the project started. He said Chelsea Creek residents will pay for the cost of maintaining the systems, and that it won’t be shared among the whole population.

The agreement makes reference to the option of connecting to a municipal sewer if the Old Chelsea line for which the municipality received funding in August extends east of Hwy 5. St. Louis said there are no grants available for extending the sewer and no decisions will be made until density questions are addressed in the centre-village visioning process.

St. Louis said the municipality is not legally bound to provide the sewer as the agreement gives Shank the option of treating wastewater on site. When asked whether the development of a sewer would lessen his $9 million infrastructure commitment, Shank said it would be “pretty much a swap”, with the cost to connect to a municipal sewer being almost equal to treating wastewater on site.

Shank said he would be deciding early in the new year whether he would be going the communal well or surface water route.

Impact on wells

The hydrological study performed by Chelsea Creek’s engineers, Dessau, which is contained in the agreement, warns of a possible negative impact on neighbouring wells. St. Louis said this is inevitable.

“It’s impossible to drill a communal well and not affect neighbouring wells,” he said. “It’s like a funnel.”

Chelsea’s PAE zoning bylaw, however, states that developments must not reduce groundwater levels: “… demonstrate that the project will not cause a reduction in groundwater levels for either the site in question or for adjacent properties.”

St. Louis said the Ministry of Environment has ordered the developer to monitor neighbouring wells for 10 years. He said the developer would bear the cost of solving any problems related to water quality or quantity.

Shank has 120 days from the signing date to provide the Ministry of Environment’s authorization on the project’s water supply. St. Louis said the project is a “go or no go based on having the permit.”