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County makes play to enter water and wastewater realm, Essa first out

Posted February 23, 2017

Simcoe County's Governance Committee, which hadn't met since November 2015, reassembled last Friday for the first time, and approved sending forward to council a recommendation to tap a provincial mediator and begin negotiations with its 16 lower tier municipalities "regarding potential future roles of the County and its local municipalities in the provision of coordinated, sustainable water and wastewater servicing in accordance with the Provincial Growth Plan."

The Governance Committee report notes the seeds were planted in the summer of 2015 when Warden Gerry Marshall and County CAO Mark Aitken toured each municipality and met with "senior elected officials and staff .... to establish better communications ... and to determine the opportunities, issues and challenges facing the local municipal level."

"One issue identified by a number of different municipalities was the challenge of provision of water and wastewater servicing. The Warden and CAO have just completed their 2016 / 2017 municipal discussions and this topic was again raised by municipalities in various ways, some with some urgency," according to the report. "Many municipalities expressed difficulty leveraging funds to maintain older infrastructure and build new infrastructure to realize economic development opportunities. Others with operational and capacity issues, with concerns for future abilities to adequately address these services."

Water and wastewater are exclusive jurisdictions of the lower tier municipalities in Simcoe County, though the County recently entered the fray through a deal that provided Innisfil's InnServices Corporation, a $57.7 million loan to finance infrastructure expansion along its Hwy 400 and Innisfil Beach Road industrial and commercial corridor.

"This matter (County involvement in water and waste water services) as you know is one that has come to the surface a number of times over the decades," Mr. Aitken told Free Press Online via email this afternoon. "Interest of late has actually been from the local municipalities in terms of their varying abilities to maintain existing assets, provide for future capacities, infrastructure and services, and address legislative needs and compliance - the question has been 'what can the County do to assist us?' As you can imagine, personal perspectives on this are all over the map depending on which municipality you talk to, and who you talk to."

New Tecumseth council has not had any discussions, at least not in public session, of any great depth that involved negotiating the takeover of water and wastewater infrastructure by the County. In fact, council voted against the County's loan arrangement with Innisfil.

New Tecumseth and the Town of Collingwood have an arrangement that delivers Georgian Bay water treated in Collingwood, to Alliston via pipeline. The two municipalities are currently trying to hammer out a long term deal involving the probable construction of a new water treatment plant with expanded capacity to meet both their immediate and future needs, including the pipeline extension to Tottenham.

Essa Township mayor Terry Dowdall, who is also Simcoe County Deputy Warden and thus chair of the Governance Committee, told Free Press Online this morning that he removed himself "to speak freely to the matter."

"Chair should remain impartial and run meeting and as you know I am very opinionated on the topic," said Mr. Dowdall. "Though I welcome and encourage working together, the Township of Essa has no interest as water and wastewater are municipal responsibilities. We have enjoyed great relationships with Collingwood and New Tecumseth and look forward to opportunities to work together."

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All stories, unless otherwise noted,
by Tony Veltri
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