Wallaceburg’s W.P. Moynihan Water Treatment Plant will continue to serve that community’s water needs for decades to come under a proposal approved by the Chatham-Kent Public Utilities Commission Wednesday.
The commission endorsed a plan for a 10-year upgrading of the plant as opposed to constructing a pipeline to link Wallaceburg with the Chatham plant.
PUC members Bryon Fluker, Jeff Wesley, David VanDamme, Leon Leclair and Brock McGregor voted in favour, while Trevor Thompson was opposed.
Wednesday’s vote was the end of a two-year process in which the project was the subject of four public input meetings.
PUC chair Mayor Randy Hope said the decision was proof that the system worked.
“We looked at the facts, listened to public opinion and in the end made the right decision,” he said after the meeting that was held in Wallaceburg’s former town council chambers.
The issue was a controversial one as the consulting firm Stantec and the PUC had favoured a Chatham pipeline.
Widespread opposition from Wallaceburg business groups, citizens and environmentalists questioned the financial viability of the move as well as the quality of Lake Erie water, which the Chatham plant uses as its source.
Wallaceburg gets its water from the Snye River.
As a result, a committee, which included representatives from Stantec, the PUC and the Wallaceburg community, was established.
That group completed a matrix that concluded retaining the Wallaceburg plant was the best choice.
Mayor Hope said he believed whatever the source, Chatham-Kent residents get quality water.
Thompson said he opposed the project purely on a financial basis.
“I respect the decision, but I don’t think it’s the best use of $30 million.”
That figure was based on the $6 million in upgrades the plant will need over the next decade as well as operating costs for the next 40 years.
Wesley said the $30-million figure is misleading in a variety of ways, noting the operating costs aren’t an addition, but are already budgeted.
He said the PUC is saving $8.5 million in initial capitol costs (the difference between a pipeline and upgrading the plant) and interest costs on that amount will add millions to the total.
“Even after 20 years, the financial cost between a pipeline and upgrading Wallaceburg are even,” he said.
“When you get 40 years down the road, the estimated numbers favour a pipeline, but who is really willing to predict what will happen in 2056? The money is essentially the same, and by upgrading the plant we’re listening to the public.”
VanDamme said he wanted assurance the expenditure wouldn’t increase water rates across the municipality. PUC manager Tim Sunderland assured him it wouldn’t.
Sunderland said the process was fair and impartial, noting that the matrix was examined from different perspectives, and each time the result was the same.
“This is the preferred solution for the community,” he said.
A total of $2 million will be moved from one reserve account to another for the beginning of the project while the remaining amount will be taken from lifecycle funds as needed to eliminate borrowing costs.
Fluker said he believed increased use from the developing greenhouse industry will help the PUC increase demand, which has been declining due to low-flow showers and toilets.
VanDamme suggested the PUC investigate any opportunities to tap into capitol funding expected to be available through the federal government.
Sunderland said the PUC is constantly reviewing projects for grant availability.