Petrolia water fix not as expensive as first planned

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Repairs to Petrolia’s water system won’t be nearly as expensive as first expected.

The town’s engineering firm looked at the historic water treatment plant in Bright’s Grove and its systems and came to the conclusion that about $25 million in repairs would be needed over the course of 10 years. Staff calculated that could lead to water rate increases in the neighbourhood of 60 per cent in five years just to pay for capital improvements.

That led council to direct staff to talk to the Lambton Area Water Supply System about becoming part of the group and closing the Bright’s Grove plant which was built in 1896. It was estimated costs would still rise, but not as sharply with increases totalling around 20 per cent in the same timeframe.

But the LAWSS board wasn’t looking for a new partner offering instead to sell the water to the town at double the cost of production. That would make little difference in the bottom line from the town, so it nixed the idea and began searching for savings.

Mayor John McCharles says the town directed the Ontario Clean Water Agency, which runs Petrolia’s plant in Bright’s Grove, to take a close look at what really needed to be done.

OCWA, CIMA and town staff have now come up with a “must-do” list totalling $14.4 million over 10 years. That includes this year’s $2.7 million replacement of the water reservoir for which the province is providing $2 million.

OCWA discovered one of the biggest projects recommended by the town’s engineers – CIMA – wasn’t necessary in OCWA’s opinion. An $8.75 million replacement of the water intake in Bright’s Grove was planned. “They (OCWA) didn’t think we needed to do anything,” says Rick Charlebois director of finance noting water levels were a concern at the time of the CIMA report. “The water level back then was a lot lower.”

“Now we’re at the highest water level in years,” says McCharles

The new OCWA plan does call for $612,950 in repairs of the system this year. In all about $3.3 million will be spent in repairs on the system instead of replacing big ticket items, up from an estimated $1 million.

All that translates into savings for taxpayers. Before, the town was looking at water rate increases around 5.5 per cent to pay for the work. Town officials say that is now more likely to be two per cent each year. .

“It brings it down to reality now.,” says McCharles. “Twenty-five million for our little system seems like a lot of money.

This allows us to stay in business.”

Council also gave staff permission to explore contracting out the operatation of the Bright’s Grove plant.

Water Capital Concerns History

November 2013

Mayor John McCharles tells The Independent that instead of $18 million in repairs, Petrolia’s water system will need about $10 million in repairs over the next ten years. At the time, the town was negotiating water rates with Enniskillen Township.

December 2014

McCharles talks about difficult times ahead including increasing capital costs.

April 2016

Town officials pass a motion allowing Petrolia to have discussions with the Lambton Area Water Supply System to become a partner. That would lead to the Bright’s Grove Plant being closed. Officials site $25 million in repairs at the plant which would lead to rising water rates as the main concern.

May 2016

LAWSS says no to partnership request offers to sell the town water. Petrolia says no thanks saying it would not improve the cost of water to its ratepayers.

June 2016

The Ontario Clean Water Agency, which runs the Bright’s Grove Plant, says a $8.75 million replacement of the water intake isn’t necessary because water levels are higher. Now, town believes only $14.4 million in repairs will be done over 10 years.

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