Water fees could dry up greenhouse construction in C-K

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By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Despite pushback from the greenhouse industry, new development charges for water and wastewater services in Chatham-Kent have been approved.

Designed to pay for critical infrastructure needs in the future, the charges will be phased in over the next five years. Prior to March 25, the new development charge for water was 21 cents per square foot, meaning one acre of a new greenhouse cost the builder $9,147.

Next year, the charge rises to 87 cents; in 2026 it’s up to $2.17 per sq. foot, eventually landing on $4.34 per square foot in 2029. By then it will cost a greenhouse grower $188,832 to put up one acre of greenhouse.

Recommended by Public Utilities Commission the development charge hikes will be used to pay for close to $600 million in new infrastructure. Under the plan, a total of $390 million will be recouped through new development charges, with $60 million coming from residential development and $329 million from non-residential sources.

But if a new greenhouse doesn’t need to hook into the PUC system, it will not face any water and wastewater development as outlined in a bylaw amendment suggested by PUC general manager Darren Galbraith.

In order to be exempt, Galbraith told council a developer will need to provide documented proof of their water source, be it well or surface water, as well as a plan for wastewater.

The increases have raised the ire of greenhouse growers with leaders warning the hikes will hamstring future greenhouse growth C-K. At the March 4 council meeting, councillors heard from industry officials who warned them Chatham-Kent won’t be viewed as a favourable place to build new facilities.

Wallaceburg Coun. Carmen McGregor, chair of the C-K Public Utilities Commission, said coming up with new development charge fees has been a “lengthy process,” noting the needs of everyone had to be looked at, not just those in a specific sector.

“There’s a lot of people in all areas and all walks of life that have to be considered in this decision,” McGregor said.

Along with the adoption of new charges, council has agreed to facilitate the formation of a new working group, based on a friendly amendment from West Kent Coun. Lauren Anderson.

The group will meet to discuss and troubleshoot issues within C-K’s greenhouse industry. It will include representatives from natural gas and hydro providers, Chatham-Kent-Leamington’s MP and MPP, PUC and other municipal staff, as well as industry stakeholders, including representatives from the Ontario Vegetable Greenhouse Growers.

“In order for this development to happen, we do require a large amount of infrastructure upgrades,” Anderson said, stressing that more funding is needed from upper levels of government to accommodate growth as it shouldn’t fall on ordinary ratepayers.

 

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