Q&A with Chelsea, Quebec Mayor Caryl Green

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by admin on December 17, 2010

Caryl Green

Caryl Green

Is there a need for a municipal waterline servicing Chelsea’s centre village?

The question of water is an important factor in Chelsea’s future – whether the water comes from the ground, from surface sources or from the Gatineau River. Chelsea residents and council are looking at all options with regard to the infrastructure needs of a municipality that is in the process of defining what it wants to look like in 25 years. Today, our needs are met by tapping into the aquifer; will that be adequate for Chelsea in 2035? We won’t know until we’ve completed the current process of defining where we want to be in a quarter century (based on the Chelsea Vision report and the Special Planning Program (Plan particulier d’urbanisme, or PPU). Think of Chelsea in 1980: residents and Council were debating whether to keep our local four-person police force and had just updated the 1971 Master Plan. In 2010, Chelsea residents and Council continue to reflect on the needs of our community, and the infrastructures to support those needs.

What are the top five main arguments for such a waterline?

The need for a municipal waterline has not yet been fully established, therefore this question cannot be answered, as posed, at this time. I can confirm that council has been researching the option of a municipal waterline based on the following reasons.

a) Our duty to protect existing wells

In the process of studying Chelsea Creek’s request to build a communal well, the Ministry of the Environment advised Council that it would be “highly unlikely” that another permit to draw water would be issued to anyone building in the prescribed zone of influence (which covers much of the centre village sector). Many residents within this zone of influence, and some outside of that zone, expressed their concern to council about this situation. Also, this summer, several residents and businesses in this area reported problems with their wells. Drawing water from the Gatineau River, rather than drawing on the water table, would protect existing wells within the centre village sector, and beyond.

b) Centre Village Vision Report

For the past two years, Chelsea residents and council have been engaged in a process of revising the “Village Centre” section of the Master Plan. We are currently at the stage of writing the Special Planning Program (often referred to as the PPU) which is grounded in the conclusions of that visioning exercise. This revised Master Plan, based on this extensive public consultation, will concretize the residents’ vision of what the centre village sector will look like in two or three decades. While the visioning exercise did not specifically discuss municipal sewage or waterworks, it should be understood that some public infrastructure will be required for any growth (e.g., housing for seniors, affordable housing, local services and small businesses) in the centre village sector.

c) New firefighting regulations

In the past few years, the provincial government has imposed much stricter firefighting standards on all Quebec municipalities. Consequently, Chelsea, in collaboration with the other municipalities of the MRC des Collines de l’Outaouais, has established a regional Fire Protection Plan to meet this provincial requirement. With any growth in the centre village sector – even with a slight increase in density and/or with the clustering of buildings – greater fire protection will be needed. Without a municipal waterline and fire hydrants, more trucks, equipment and personnel would be required if we continue to rely on trucking in water to fight fires.

In considering the cost to home owners, note that home-insurance premiums would decrease significantly with the added protection of fire hydrants in this sector.

d) Long term planning and leadership

Chelsea Council has the responsibility to consider the municipality’s needs in the coming decades, that is, to plan for long-term growth, and not just the needs of the present. When roads are being dug up for a municipal sewer line, the opportunity exists to install a water pipe at a considerable cost savings (in comparison with a future waterworks-only project) given that excavation and road reconstruction are an enormous part of such projects. Not taking advantage of this opportunity would be fiscally irresponsible. If Council approaches every question with a short term solution, we will be economizing in the present but at a cost for the future.

The 2007 study on municipal sewage treatment showed that building and operating one system, instead of multiple, different systems, is more economical both for its capital costs and its operating costs. The same applies for a municipal water treatment system.

e) Sustainable Development

The Ministry of the Environment issues water permits on a project-by-project basis; it does not quantify water supply or the rate of refresh or depletion of existing aquifers. We know that ground water is subject to depletion from climate change as well as from increased demand. Reducing the stress on existing supply is an environmentally sustainable way of ensuring long-term access to potable water to both residents and local businesses in the centre village sector.

The provincial government passed a law on sustainable development, requiring all municipalities to integrate their social, economic and environmental needs in order to be sustainable for years to come. Chelsea Council must consider these three factors in all decisions related to the question of municipal infrastructure.

What is the estimated cost of a municipal water infrastructure (please reference the origin of the estimate)? How will the cost be broken down between the existing residents/businesses, future developments and the general taxpayer base?

Chelsea Mayor Caryl Green speaks at the all candidates debate in 2009.

Chelsea Mayor Caryl Green speaks at the all candidates debate in 2009.

Preliminary estimates by the engineering company, BPR, suggest that a municipal water system would cost about $7.5 million if built at the same time as the proposed municipal sewer system. If the water system were to be built later, as a separate project, the costs would be higher due to the cost to a second road excavation and reconstruction.

If, during construction of the sewer system, only the water pipeline were installed, the additional cost would be about $700,000 (added to the $6.8-M sewer project). A waterworks project could proceed later, without the need to excavate the road a second time.

The cost to affected residents for drinking water is calculated at approximately $1,500 per unit per year for 20 years, with businesses paying more, according to their usage.

The cost to landowners (future developments) would be calculated on a ratio that combines their property’s surface area (i.e., number of acres) with the evaluation of their property.

The cost of the water system attributed to the general taxpayer would be about $8.50 per year for 20 years, based on a median assessment (i.e., a home evaluated at $290,000).

The last Master Plan is based on the premise that development be limited to the carrying capacity of existing in situ groundwater resources. Does the municipality no longer agree with this policy? If this is the case, will it go ahead with such a fundamental change in policy without first attaining public agreement for such a change?

I would like to emphasize that Chelsea’s current Master Plan (www.chelsea.ca) must be considered in its entirety. For example, the Master Plan regulates zoning to “one- or two- acre lots (to protect the aquifer) for all new land development except in Urban Growth Boundary areas equipped with community water treatment facilities” (page 23).

The Vision report, with its accompanying PPU, will largely dictate whether the principles established in the current Master Plan are still valid in today’s context. Any decision regarding infrastructure – in support the conclusions of the Vision report – must be further researched and analyzed by council.

Note that when council reviewed the 1971 Master Plan, they opted to encourage development and densification (to three units per acre) in the 300 yet-undeveloped acres in the Centre Village, and chose to encourage the construction of more hotels, motels and small businesses. Master Plans are revised on a regular basis in order to meet the changing needs of the community.

To what extent is the push for municipal water infrastructure a consequence of the concern that, should the Ministry of Environment give approval for the withdrawals requested by Chelsea Creek Estates at full build-out, no more approvals for large development initiatives, including the Meredith Centre, will be forthcoming?

In the process of studying Chelsea Creek’s request to build a communal well, the Ministry of the Environment advised council that it would be “highly unlikely” that another water permit would be issued to anyone wanting to build in the prescribed zone of influence (which covers much of the centre village sector). This information, along with the findings of the Vision report for the centre villages, prompted council to investigate the costs and feasibility of establishing a municipal waterline to service the centre village sector.

The Meredith Centre cannot be, and is not, the justification for a municipal waterworks project; however, there is no denying that if such an infrastructure were to be built, it would be economically responsible for the Meredith Centre to hook up.

The Vision Chelsea Report shows that residents want to maintain Chelsea’s “rural” character. What do you say to residents who fear that such an expensive, urban infrastructure will inevitably lead to the urbanization of the Chelsea centre village?

The Vision report describes nuances rather than specifics and, as we’ve seen, the word “rural” means many things to many people. Strictly speaking, Chelsea is classified as a “peri-urban” region, meaning it shares a boundary with one or more urbanized centres. “Rural” is defined as “living in or characteristic of farming or country life.” With only one farming permit issued in Chelsea, it’s clear that the term “rural” is a descriptive, rather than proscriptive, term.

The current Master Plan and the Vision report both support the desire by Chelsea residents and council to preserve and enhance the historic, rural “look and feel” within the two centre villages. Decisions to implement the Vision report findings regarding seniors’ and affordable housing, public transportation, local services and small businesses will need to respect the historic, rural character of the villages.