Residents of St. Davids living with grinder pumps are hopeful they may finally get the assistance they have sought from the Town for more than a decade.
There are about 180 homes in the village requiring grinder pumps as part of the Town’s sewer system, 90 that were connected as part of the installation of the system in 2005, and the others in newer subdivisions built since then.
Those who attended a meeting last week of the Town’s grinder pump committee, formed by the current council after the election, were given a thorough explanation of how the sewer system in the village works, the role of the grinder pumps and why they are necessary.
Committee members, including Councillors Erwin Wiens and Norm Arsenault and five residents, along with Town environmental supervisor Brett Ruck, were at the St. Davids Firehall Thursday to explain the recommendations they plan to present to council, which include what owners of grinder pumps most wanted to hear.
The committee recommendations to council include the Town taking over the responsibility, and the cost, of maintaining and replacing the pumps, as long as any breakdown is not the fault of the owner, such as material being flushed that shouldn’t be.
They will also ask for better inspection and oversight of any grinder pumps to be installed as new homes are built.
Through each election since the installation of the St. Davids sewer system, and with each new council, St. Davids residents with grinder pumps have asked the Town for assistance with what has become a costly burden to some.
The current council decided, as its committees were formed early in the term, to create a group charged with investigating the situation, and Thursday’s meeting was to present their findings to about 50 people in attendance at the village firehall.
The committee has also posted the information on the Town’s online Join the Conversation, and a video of the meeting is available online. As Ruck emphasized to those at the meeting, a greater number of residents needs to be involved to help the committee make its point to councillors.
“This committee of council was tasked with finding a viable solution to bring forward to council,” said Ruck, and was also asked to hold a public meeting before going to council.
He reminded residents several times throughout the discussion that council hasn’t seen or approved the recommendations.
Previous councils have taken the position the responsibility lies with the homeowners, he said, and requests to change that have met with resistance.
Coun. Erwin Wiens also spoke of council’s ongoing struggle to limit tax increases, which will be a factor in their decision.
The cost to the Town of assuming the responsibility for grinder pumps would be funded through wastewater fees, costing all taxpayers an extra $10 a year, residents were told.
Old Town resident Wayne Scott led the discussion, beginning with an explanation of how the St. Davids sewer system differs from the traditional systems found in the rest of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s urban areas.
The Town chose a low-pressure directional boring system for St. Davids, with narrow, shallow trenches for the sewer pipes. It relies on what was then new technology, and was much less expensive than the traditional gravity systems — possibly half the price, said Scott. It was also faster to install, and considered safer.
Grinder pumps were necessary in homes below the level of the sewers, such as in Bevan Heights, or those with basement plumbing, as in homes on Tanbark Road, Queenston Road and on some of the new streets, such as Sandlewood and Stoneridge Crescents, in the village.
“The system can’t work without those pumps,” Scott said, “and some of you have lived with this for a number of years.”
The grinder pumps reduce solid matter in a large tank before pumping it uphill to the sewer system, where it then travels to a substation, and on to the Regional wastewater treatment plant in Niagara Falls.
The scope of the committee’s work was to understand the context within which the pumps operate, and to prepare recommendations that ensure the system is both “reliable and equitable” for homeowners, Scott said.
He explained the St. Davids sewer system has two owners — the Town, and the homeowners with grinder pumps — and if the recommendations are approved by council, that won’t change, he said.
The grinder pumps are supposed to last about 10 to 15 years, but for reasons not always clear, many have not, possibly because pumps were defective, or in some cases, due to problems with their installation.
Some homeowners still have their original pumps, which are likely to need replacing soon, others have replaced them several times. One resident said when her pump was found to be defective, E/One, the manufacturer, replaced it at no cost, but others have been on the hook for about $2,700, in some cases because faulty installation was blamed.
One resident suggested a survey should be taken of all homeowners with pumps, to determine what has occurred since the sewer system was installed, and provide the Town with a database to build on — a suggestion committee members accepted as being a good next step.
Also looking to the future, Scott said, the committee will recommend the Town establish “a rigorous inspection and sign-off protocol for the developer and Town inspector.”
If accepted by council, recommendations could take effect beginning Jan. 1.
The process going forward, Scott said, is for the recommendations to be presented to councillors Oct. 7. A staff report will likely be requested, and a decision could come from council on Nov. 11.
For more information about Thursday’s presentation, or to comment, visit www.jointheconversationnotl.org/grinderpumps.
Comments will be accepted until Thursday, Oct. 3.