Petitioners say thanks but no thanks; Town still on hook for $38K
BY NATE SMELLE
Petitioners for the North Pelham Drain were given an opportunity to withdraw their names from the petition at a special meeting of Council on Wednesday, March 1. Members of the public filled every seat available in Council chamber to hear a report from K. Smart Associates Ltd. engineer Neil Morris, and to ask questions about the proposed solutions it was expected to provide. The meeting was short-lived, however ,and Morris didn’t even get the chance to present his report, because the last remaining petitioners, Kerri Hollinshead and Jamie Gregoir, withdrew their names from the petition, rendering it invalid.
The couple was visibly upset, stating that they had sent an email 22 months ago, allegedly indicating that they did not want to proceed with the process, since their drainage issues had been resolved.
“The truth of the matter is that since we took some legal action the problem has almost been solved,” said Hollinshead.
“Here we are, 24 months later, and we are being told we are on the hook for $14,000, and we had to file a legal suit to get this problem to stop. And now the Town is on the hook for almost $40,000. It’s mind-blowing really. It’s all of our money, all of the taxpayers’ money being thrown out the door for something we said we didn’t need.”
The North Pelham Municipal Drain includes an area comprised of lands mainly north of Metler Road, south of Kilman Road, between Cream Street and an area west of Maple Street, covering 51.4 hectares of land and roads. Under the Drainage Act, Morris said that technically the only times petitioners can legally withdraw their names from a petition are during the first onsite meeting, and at the meeting which took place on March 1, 2017.
“At that point, I would have to write what is called a ‘Section 40’ report ,saying that this drain work is no longer needed, and there are specific criteria that I would need to support that it was not needed.”
At that time, he said that he did not need to do this because he did not see any changes from the petitioning landowners.
“We had a meeting at the fire hall, and then from the firehall we moved out to the property, and then we had another discussion there, and at that point they seemed like they wanted to go forward with it,” said Morris.
“We also sent out an information package before I finished this report, and at that point they didn’t send information that they wanted to withdraw either.”
Another of the landowners affected by the flooding, David Horton, said his family has been farming the land since 1827, and he had never seen, nor heard of flooding such as they experienced. His wife, Brenda, said it was obvious that the water was coming from their neighbour’s greenhouse operation, since it was full of red silt, which she asserts is not found on the other side of the street. When the flooding stopped once their neighbor redirected his water, it was clear that a drain was unnecessary, she said.
“As for Mr. Morris, we’ve been telling him that we don’t want this drain, and these kids have been telling him,” said Brenda.
“He’s got something to gain, right — hundreds of thousands of dollars-worth that they’re trying to milk the Town for. We’ve been telling him from the get-go that this is not the right way to solve this problem. This is a problem that came from that greenhouse operation. This is not the whole Town’s problem, so why should everybody in the Town pay for it.”
The total estimated cost of the project was approximately $372,000, breaking down as follows: $172,000 allotted for construction, $52,000 for engineering costs, $100,000 for allowances to compensate private property owners, $43,000 for administration and $5,000 for HST. Now that the drain has been deemed unnecessary, the Town is responsible for $38,150 of the engineer’s fees, with Hollinshead and Gregoir absorbing the remainder of the fee, $13,820.
Morris said most these costs were unavoidable, having been incurred prior to the first onsite meeting. His fees include design costs, surveying, cost estimates, investigating three different alternatives, consultations with environmental agencies (NPCA, DFO and MNR) and determining how the costs are distributed and broken down.
“It has always been a problem. It’s been an issue in Canada a very long time,” Morris said.
“The Drainage Act is designed to deal with those problems. It’s designed to deal with when you have a problem between neighbours that’s bigger than a little community for everyone in the community to come together to pay for a solution. So, everyone in the watershed has to pay for part of the cost.”
After Council received the engineers report, Director of Planning and Development, Barb Wiens recommended that the Town investigate the matter further by speaking with the petitioners and the engineer to get both sides of the story.
Following these discussions Wiens will report back to Council to advise the Town as to what their next course of action will be.