Waterline will be coming to Chelsea, Quebec

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by Nikki Mantell on November 17, 2010

If Chelsea, Quebec Mayor Caryl Green had any doubt about what is on the minds of citizens struggling with the onslaught of development that will change the face of Chelsea forever, she got the answer at the “open discussion and community-led strategy session” held at Larrimac Nov. 14: water.

Is there enough of it to go around? What will the municipality do to ensure there is? And if it puts in a municipal water line, what will be the impact on the environment, the centre village’s “rural” character, and their taxes? And residents wanted answers to those questions…  yesterday.

Here’s at least one answer: the municipality, at least while this council has its mandate, will be doing everything it can to push forward with a municipal water system.

When Sean McAdam, the frustrated Common Ground developer who organized the Nov. 14 meeting in protest after the municipality rejected his housing development’s plans to draw water from Chelsea Creek, was quoted as saying it was “because our project is a direct threat to their water mega-project”, he was right.

A sit-down of the Low Down with the mayor and her director-general confirms this. When asked if the PPU (the planning document that will map out the centre village from housing density, to look of buildings to where roads and parks are located), set to be released in February, will require all new developers to hook up to a new municipal water line, DG Paul St-Louis’ careful answer was “it could”. When pressed, it became clear that that was indeed the intention, if not overtly stated.

Besides the rejection of Common Ground, that explains another surprise move so otherwise outrageously irresponsible it boggles the mind. If not for a planned water line, how else would councillor Luc Poulin dare say publicly he is “pretty confident” the municipality will come up with a water source after the $9.8 million centre is built – despite the fact that experts have told the municipality that there very well may not be enough groundwater to supply it?

While Green announced that a series of long-awaited public meetings will be held on sewer, water and the PPU this winter, when we asked about a referendum on a waterline – something many residents fear is the key to the Pandora’s Box of urbanization – the answer was no. There is no obligation, as only 25 per cent of the waterline’s projected $7.5 million cost (according to engineering firm BPR, excluding any land purchase) would be shared by the general population; the rest to be picked up by the users. Green did mention a survey whose crafting is already underway, but St Louis pointed out that questions would be mainly geared toward potential users, not residents in the northern wards.

Before any Chelsea readers gnash their teeth and throw this news into their woodstoves in disgust – they should know there is a very good argument for a municipal water line. (In fact, it might be downright stupid not to at least lay down the pipes for a future system while Old Chelsea Road is being dug up anyway for the sewer line.) What’s not good, in fact, what has been terrible, is this council’s ability to communicate those arguments and show transparency.

Mayor Green heard the anxiety over the need for water answers at that Nov. 14 meeting. She will have to have them ready and be on her best game at her upcoming public consultations.