Sewer Birch Hill

I first ran this column in April 2011, so some of the numbers have changed a bit and the financing split was eliminated but it makes more sense than ever. We need to address this problem, yet at last council we heard that there are still no clear plans or timelines to install sewers in the Birch Hill area. We’re about to have an infrastructure leaning Federal budget and we really need to get a plan moving forward. 

Original column starts here:

Hudson should quickly install sanitary and storm sewers in the Birch Hill area as well as any other area of equally dismal environmental condition. The cost of the required new debt to service required installations should be averaged into the debt service costs of all areas currently serviced with sewers.

I don’t own or have interest in any property in any of the affected areas, so I stand to gain nothing by proposing this vision of fairness. In fact I’d lose money. Our property’s sewer debt costs would rise by some amount, perhaps even double in the interest of fairness and correcting longstanding mistakes of past councils. But, I’d sleep better knowing that my neighbor citizens were being treated fairly and that their problems were being taken seriously and solved.
The current council mentality is that I’m among six hundred plus lucky homeowners who benefit from the grants. Our sewers were installed at publicly subsidized cost and anyone else who needs connecting will have to pay the whole cost themselves, only if they can all agree to the associated debt for the system they need.This grant and debt averaging idea came to me one day when I pondered the ethics of confining the benefits of government grants to select groups of property owners and then refusing to support owners in equally compromised areas because the government grant well has been pumped dry fixing our part of the problem. What right do I have to this exclusive benefit funded by everyone’s
taxes? What right do I have to insist that others pay the full costs for the same benefits our
collective tax dollars have granted me?
Go way back and one might easily say that the development of the Birch Hill area should probably never have been allowed, but we knew far less of geotechnical issues back then and had far less regulation and oversight from higher levels of government. All past mistakes of town leaders become common property in a community, we own them together and we should fix them together. The councils that finally packaged the sewer project and grants were reluctant to think bigger and confined their thinking to the most visible areas, or areas where sewers would allow new developments like a senior’s assisted care, a new medical center and expansions of schools.
Birch Hill’s dirty smelly problem is tucked conveniently out of sight and out of mind and despite petitions and demands for action over decades they never stood a chance of inclusion in the project. They have been offered various bad deals and half measures, but council mentality has never been to accept these problems as a failing of management of development in an entire community deserving a solution by an entire community.

My total annual cost for sanitary sewers is under $400, a combination of grant subsidized debt and annual operating costs. I don’t know the exact current cost of a proper modern septic system for Birch Hill but I’ve heard cost close to $20K installed, plus regular pumping and servicing. Based on a twenty year life span, average out the capital, personal debt and the operating costs of septic on Birch Hill are well in excess of $1,500 per year. It’s pretty simple why you need to pay four times what I do: I’ve got a grant from our government, you don’t, good for me, bad for you. I think that attitude is completely wrong.
It’s wrong to wait for every Birch Hill owner to replace older septic systems with new more
efficient septic. That will take decades, unless we’re willing to compel owners to replace existing septic systems that our town permitted and approved the installation of with more efficient expensive ones, which would also be wrong. Even that drastic measure wouldn’t fix the problem.
Our town engineer has publicly stated that the only way to solve the entire problem is to install storm sewers too. The only way to actually solve the environmental issues in the Birch Hill area quickly would be to connect every property to sanitary sewers, and to add storm sewers at the same time. The only condition I’d attach is a reasonable deadline to get connected to the newly installed system so the pollution stops quickly.
Hudson needs to aggressively seek government grants for future work expanding on our sewer system.

Hudson should be aggressively planning to expand the sewer system to those areas that so
obviously need sewers because of past development errors. Hudson shouldn’t hold back simply because we think grants aren’t available and we shouldn’t expect present owners to bear the entire cost of fixing those past errors in development. Past administrations have simply set high expensive bars for those areas to jump over and then ignored the real environmental needs of the community.

For the sake of a better community, and to average the costs downward for an area in need, I’m willing to share the grant money I’ve benefited from. We need to fairly reduce the costs of others in similar need of the same solutions our governments helped buy for me. I’d like to see known and acknowledged past errors in development being quickly cleaned up and fixed, not be ignored for yet another decade.

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5 thoughts on “Sewer Birch Hill

  1. Hudson’s sewer system has started to look ridiculous, almost patchy like the spots on a cow. McNaughten.. Yes.. Upper Mcnaughten.. No. Or how about, 69 Cote St. Charles.. Yes. 67 cote St. Charles.. No. The sewer system was a massive middle finger to anyone who lived in the outskirts of town, excluding Bellevue. Brisbane, Lower Whitlock and Birchill aren’t in any better shape than bellvue was. Like highlighted, when the original homes started going up in 1964 on Lower Whitlock after the Whitlock family started selling off their farm, there wasn’t modern day geological testing and the overall knowledge there is today. Our basement has 3 sump pumps to keep it dry.. And if you take a shovel to our yard.. The first scoop, and the hole will fill with water. The sewer systems appearance on these streets NEEDS to be part of the three year plan on these streets. I think within the 10 year plan, every household in Hudson should be serviced by the sewer system instead of.. 72 Oakland.. Yes.. 108 Oakland.. No.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Kevin,
      Thanks for your comments.

      You’re right that today Birch Hill would not be built as it is configured.

      I’ve long said that Hudson needs an annual “Gravity Project” where we extend the village lines as far as we can up each hill as long as we have a gravity feed down there’s no additional pumping. That’s the lowest cost first step and should be an annual infrastructure grant application. I haven’t walked it, but I bet we’ed get 150-200 more homes. At the same time we’d define the starting point for the next steps that would require new pumping stations.

      When I say Birch Hill, of course I mean the whole area including Upper and Lower Whitlock and Brisbane.

      Only the citizens who get sewered are financing the debt for that expansion, so it’s somehow different than long term debt.

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  2. Kevin makes good points. The initial Birch Hill and Brisbane developers had no fancy testing equipment or as it turns out common sense either. Just the existing conditions and vegetation should have warned them off. Then again it’s one of the higher elevations in Hudson w/ the Viviry valley on one flank and the Ottawa river on the other. Would seem a no brainer technically to drain just throw dollars in bucketfuls at it.

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    1. In the distant past when we once had a Town Engineer he said at a council meeting that there was no point in doing the sanitary sewers alone. The area needs storm sewers as well.

      It needs to be done, it won’t get any cheaper and the more people who install new $20K septic systems the harder approval will come. People at the bottom of he hill are worse off, who knew all that water flowed downhill?

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  3. It would be great if there was infrastructure money from the Trudeau government for Hudson to be able to address the Birch Hill issue; however, if not, the town has to draft up some sort of long-term plan to fix this problem.
    After listening to the long Strategic Plan Presentation with all those tactics to make Hudson great again, I have to admit I left the meeting very disappointed. There was absolutely no mention of intending to address Hudson’s biggest weaknesses, the Birch Hill area issue and the 80 homes in the west end that are not connected to town water. It seems to me very foolish to ignore those issues. I realize that sewers and water pipes are not as sexy topics as arts centres, eco-trolleys and boardwalks on the waterfronts but Hudson residents who live in those areas not serviced deserve better. We have been paying taxes for many years and it’s disrespectful to put all our money to attract visitors who don’t pay taxes before improving on the quality of life of their own residents.
    Why is there no mention of extending the sewer network save for new builds and no mention of maintaining the water infrastructure save for existing connected homes and new builds? From my perspective, it’s as if a young couple who’ve bought an old farmhouse and dream of turning it into something worthy of 2 pages in House & Home magazine, but ignore the leaky stone foundation, the uninsulated walls and the mold in the attic. If you’re going to dream big make sure you have both feet on the ground as well.
    I agree with Peter Ratcliffe that everyone who is connected share in the cost to expand to other users even if there are no grants, but that’s my personal opinion and I wouldn’t have to pay into that as I’m too busy writing cheques to maintain our own septic system. (Just reminds me I have to change the moss in our eco-flo this year – kaching!)
    With regard to the present water infrastructure not covering all taxpayers, we, the 80 homes in the west end, are already paying for a lot of water related expenses through our property taxes as they come from the general fund. I have said it before at council meetings, the costs to maintain a well are not insignificant, around 1,000 a year for us. Sounds like a lot but I’m not exaggerating, it is, we crunched the numbers. Don’t forget, we pay for higher insurance premiums on our home, we pay for testing for bacteria (twice a year @ $70 and the extra really expensive tests for pesticides, heavy minerals, etc., the cost of a generator which is a necessity and not a luxury as we can’t drink water, nor flush toilets, nor take showers or bathe without water during a power failure. Without one we would have gone, what, how many hours did the last power failure last?)
    It seems to me the least the town could do is test our well water saving us the cost of going private, (after all we are paying for 2 employees who work at the water filtration plan). I testing really important? Well, one of the reasons the town got all that water infrastructure money from the government was that Hudson’s well water was heavy with minerals, including iron and manganese (This info from the government’s own study) We are also downhill from the Falcon golf course and pesticides unfortunately may someday find their way into the town’s aquifer. With a state of the art water treatment plan Hudson’s residents would be protected, except for those 80 homes. I sincerely hope the golf courses are being monitored properly according to Hudson’s pesticide bylaw and that their reports are not just put on the shelves.
    I hope this council or if not this one the next one, tackle this difficult but crucial issue and don’t keep sweeping it under the rug. To do so would be very irresponsible.

    Liked by 3 people

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