Leamington Sewer Project Moves Ahead Through Resident Backlash

Leamington is moving ahead with the final phases of a major sewer project along Bevel Line and Point Pelee Dr.

A $6.2-million contract has been awarded to J&J Lepera to install new sanitary sewers to stop sewage from being leaked into Lake Erie.

The decision was made at a special meeting on Wednesday that saw residents pack council chambers, upset with significant cost overruns.

The project has jumped to a cost of roughly $11.7-million from an original estimate of $8.4-million. The portion local property owners pay towards the project has similarly shot up.

Per property, the cost has jumped from $10,800 to nearly $17,500.

Owner of Sturgeon Woods Campground Sam Mazzella says his bill for the new sewer line has gone from $350,000 to $650,000.

"Basically it screwed me up for the next five years," says Mazzella.

He had big plans for the park that will likely need to be put on hold.

"We were going to redo all our hydro," says Mazzella. "We already had contracted with Hydro One to buy all their systems inside our park and put in our own systems, that's a $300,000 budget right there and we're just not going to be able to do it now."

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Gisele McLarty attends a special meeting of council on May 31, 2017. (Photo by Ricardo Veneza)

Gisele McLarty owns a pair of properties in the project area and says the increased bills could drive some people out.

"There's already some residents seriously contemplating selling their house and for the first time ever in 23 years I'm one of them," says McLarty.

She took council to task over the increases.

Despite both administration and Dillon Consulting — which handled much of the estimate work — defending their work on the project, McLarty feels someone needs to be held accountable.

"I think it is disheartening that I believe there were mistakes made — definitely mistakes on the estimates," says McLarty. "If they needed to take more soil samples they should've done so, so that we knew what we were dealing with."

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Leamington Director of Infrastructure Services Rob Sharon attends a special meeting of council on May 31, 2017. (Photo by Ricardo Veneza)

The final phases of the project need more digging than initially thought because of unstable soil. The extra digging is driving costs up.

Clair Chase lives in the area. He thinks he'll be able to handle the increase, but worries about others in his neighbourhood.

"All I got is pension coming in. I can understand some of the people — I had everything paid for by the time I was 55 [years old], so I'm not in that bad of shape," says Chase.

Leamington councillor Larry Verbeke was the lone vote against awarding the contract.

He says the decision is likely the most difficult council has had to make this term.

"Probably the hardest one in the group effort. It was a tough one, but you have to go through those too," says Verbeke, adding it was a trying few days leading up to the special meeting. "What the hell are we going to do? How are these guys going to pay for this? It was a sleepless night last night."

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A special meeting of council regarding a major sewer project on Bevel Line and Point Pelee Dr. is held on May 31, 2017. (Photo by Ricardo Veneza)

Through a murmur of discontent from the crowd, Leamington Mayor John Paterson answered a question McLarty put to him — "How do we protect the taxpayer?"

"It's your drinking water. It's your bathing water. It's your swimming water," says Paterson. "It belongs to all of us and having septic waste go into it is not acceptable anymore."

Along with the the need to deal with raw sewage spilling into Lake Erie, the municipality feels the new sewer line will help the area grow.

Mazzella doesn't see it in quite the same way.

"I'm at my max right now. It's just going to be an expense," says Mazzella. "It's not going to bring me any more business. It'll make life a little easier, but that's about it."

The new sewer line is expected to be completely installed by the end of summer next year.

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Residents pack council chambers for a special meeting on a major sewer project in Leamington, held May 31, 2017. (Photo by Ricardo Veneza)