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Council postpones decision on Cedar Island sewage pumping station for third time

'I don't believe we're working with a blank cheque,' says staffer of potential implications of new site

For the third time in three months, city councillors have postponed a decision about the location of a controversial sewage pumping station in the Cedar Island Road area near the Elgin Bay condo.

With about two dozen neighbourhood residents in the audience, the tension mounted as Monday night’s meeting dragged on.

The decision to postpose the matter did not come until about 11:45 p.m. – almost four hours after the meeting started and more than two hours after debate on the issue began. (About 30 minutes of the debate was held in closed session so council could deliberate ‘land and legal’ matters related to this issue).

Earlier this summer, council decided to place the sewage pumping station on city-owned land adjacent to the lakeside condominium. That caused quite a stink among residents of the condo and Cedar Island Road who expressed concerns about the stability of the soil, its proximity to the lake, noise from its generator and how it would fit into the shoreline landscape and adjacent trail.

In the face of growing opposition to the location, councillors, in July, asked staff to investigate the cost and timelines of finding an alternative site.

In August, that report landed with a thud at the council table, revealing that finding an alternate site would cost about $160,000 – not including the necessary acquisition of land – and could add 21 months to the process, potentially delaying a major waterfront redevelopment project.

That uncertainty and concern over costs prompted another postponement – until Monday night. Eventually, after much debate and amid groans from residents in council chambers, council again delayed a decision.

Coun. Ted Emond was not in favour of a further delay.

“We really are between a rock and a hard place,” said Emond, noting postponing the location would add 15 to 20 months to the process.

“We have a very, very major waterfront development pending the (Municipal Class Environmental Assessment) approval,” said Emond. “It has a huge impact on this entire city in terms of future growth and prosperity. Unfortunately, this particular decision has a relatively narrow impact on a relatively small community.”

That comment was met with derision from the residents. Despite that, Emond said it’s vital to move forward, stressing residents have threatened to appeal council’s decision so any delay would, likely, just delay that appeal, which would add more time to the process.

“Let’s get on with it, let’s get it going, let’s move it forward,” said Emond.

But the majority of council supported Coun. Tim Lauer’s plan to postpone the decision to allow time for staff to report on a potential new location he believes is suitable about 300 metres south of the controversial location on old rail land owned by the city.

While council, ultimately, agreed to pursue that path, staff cautioned against the plan.

“Respectfully, we have postponed this motion, we have reconsidered the location and we brought forward a report on logistics of finding alternative locations,” said CAO Gayle Jackson, noting during that process there were opportunities “to pursue other locations but, at that point in time, council directed staff to pursue the location” previously approved.

She noted staff also went a step further and investigated building the new sewage pumping station on city-owned land at 150 Front Street (the old railway station) and, most recently, at the behest of council, reached out to RONA, the owner of the former lumberyard on Front Street. They were not interested in selling land to the city for a sewage pumping station.

The chosen site is ideal because it is in the centre of the area it would serve and is on city land. Other locations that have been explored would add significant costs to the project. That would also be the case with Lauer’s suggested site, 300 metres away, noted Jackson.

To compound the issue, staff said due to the ongoing “corporate budget” process and the increased workload due to the impending municipal election, staff would not be able to prepare a report on logistics, costs and timelines related to Lauer’s preferred location in time for the Oct. 1 council meeting. There is no meeting after that until Nov. 26.

“A lot of other decisions are hinging on this,” said Jackson. “If council is prepared to delay all those other issues that are pending, that’s fine”, but council needs to be aware of the ramifications, Jackson noted.

Ian Sugden, the city’s director of development services, also warned councillors about the potential costs of finding a new location.

“The one thing I would caution is I don’t believe we’re working with a blank cheque,” said Sugden. “We can look at any solution anywhere in the city … but the engineering realities become dramatically more expensive” the further away the sewage pumping station is placed.

“So, we can keep reporting on other sites, but we need a direction,” said Sugden, noting the costs of exploring an alternate site range from $100-200,000 – not including those “dramatically” more expensive construction costs.

Coun. Mason Ainsworth, suggesting the process was “getting too political”, urged his colleagues to let the next council decide the issue. He did not receive support for that idea.

However, the majority of council did agree to postpone the decision. If Sugden and staff can find a way to delay other projects they are working on, a report could come to council Oct. 1. If that goal cannot be achieved, the issue won’t likely return to the council table until Nov. 26.