Sewage lagoons or senior’s housing in Chelsea, Quebec?

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by Mark Burgess on April 22, 2010

Chelsea council is looking at rezoning PAE-201 to use half the land (PU-260, above) for municipal utilities.

Chelsea council is looking at rezoning PAE-201 to use half the land (PU-260, above) for municipal utilities.

Senior’s housing or sewage lagoons? Chelsea, Quebec council took a step toward the latter choice at their April 6 meeting, presenting a notice of motion for a bylaw to re-zone approximately half the land intended for a senior’s residence project to be used instead for sewage treatment lagoons.

It being Chelsea, the issue is not so black-and-white, and soil stability is the trump card being played to determine the plans.

The site in question is the PAE-201 zone, about 52 acres of land east of Hwy 105 between Hudson and Mill roads, a former Meredith family property with a deeded option belonging to Innovation Chelsea. The bylaw would re-zone the southern half.

“We started with 50 acres to play with,” Innovation Chelsea President Warren Major said. “That would leave us with 25.”

Major’s plan is to build 70 senior’s units on the land, which he estimates would generate $4 million in taxes for the municipality over the next 20 years.

The municipality has been seeking a location to treat the waste from its forthcoming sewage system for some time now, negotiating with Hydro Quebec to use some of its land along the Gatineau River. Those negotiations have thus far proved unsuccessful and they are now talking about giving up.

“We’ve really had no success in negotiating for the Hydro land,” Mayor Caryl Green said.

Director general Paul St. Louis echoed the futility, saying “I think we have extinguished all our political and non-political avenues.”

Major thinks it could be a matter of what’s being proposed to Hydro Quebec and he’s been researching alternative technologies that would take up far less space than the lagoons.

“The municipality has to take the right case to Hydro,” Major said. “And I don’t think they have.”

Major found a University of Ottawa professor he calls “one of the world’s leading experts” on waste-water treatment for rural municipalities. After consulting Dr. Ron Droste, he came upon a Quebec-certified alternative to horizontal lagoons at the same cost. He has passed on the information to the municipality.

St. Louis said he’s receptive to reducing the space required for the sewage treatment as long as the cost remains the same. He said the municipality’s consulting engineer from the firm BPR is in contact with University of Ottawa assistant professor Dr. Robert Delatolla on the subject.

Green said that Director of Public Works and Infrastructure Alain Bourgeois has looked at some of  Major’s proposals but the lagoons remain the choice route.

“To this point there hasn’t been any other technology we felt we could use,” she said.

The other factor muddying the potential land use is the soil itself. The land is classified on the current municipal landslide zone map as a “theoretical risk,” which requires certification from a soil engineer before construction can be approved.

The Ministry of Transport (MTQ) has been conducting an extensive review of Chelsea’s landslide zones and is creating a more precise map using newer technology. Some of that information has been made available to the municipality and was used for the train feasibility study (which also concerns  Innovation Chelsea land and should be completed by the end of May).

Green and St. Louis both stated that the re-zoned land would not be able to support buildings but could support the lagoons.

Chelsea Director of Planning and Sustainable Development, Stephane Dore, said development is not out of the question. He said a developer would need to have a geotechnical study done on the land to demonstrate that there is either no risk for construction or a manageable risk that could be mitigated using certain measures.

He said building something other than a principal building – he used the example of a swimming pool but said the same principle applied to the lagoons – would not require a study.

Major said he’s supportive of the sewer system and won’t oppose the re-zoning if there’s no alternative, but he doesn’t think that’s the case right now.

“We believe there are alternatives in terms of both technology and location,” he said.

A public consultation on the bylaw will be held April 29 at the Chelsea community centre.