Residents All Pumped Up

By John Swartz

There is hardly a major municipal construction project which runs smoothly. From concept to approval, construction start through duration and even years after completion there are people who object.

It usually boils down to communication. Bureaucrats don’t understand residents, residents don’t understand bureaucrats and often it’s because of a loss in translation from jargon to plain English. Bureaucrats fail to understand the angst because they don’t live in the neighbourhood, and residents often lack the expertise to understand the reasons for a course of action or the technicalities about why some things have to be done at all.

The Cedar Island Road pumping station is a case in point. Construction of a larger project involving reconstructing the roadway and connecting it to Centennial Drive in a coherent manner, of which building a new pumping station is part of, started in late April this year. A new pumping station is required because the old one on Elgin Street is 90 years old and not up to the task in several regards for current use and certainly for planned housing construction along the waterfront. It sends sewage on its way to the James Street pumping station.

“The trunk that is there now is taking the waste from everywhere in the north end of the City, up as far as Kuboda. Most of it is now being diverted to the new trunk under Front Street. There’s only a small amount still running though that (old) trunk,” said Ian Sugden, Orillia’s general manager of development services and engineering.

‘We’re putting in this new pump station (to take sewage) from the area, existing and future loads from that immediate area, and also allow us to abandon that trunk sewer. We have to run a sanitary sewer connection over from about in front of the Legion to the pump station, so that’s what’s been worked on right now,” he said.

The job was awarded to J B Enterprises Ltd. of Barrie. They are the same contractors who reconstructed Colborne Street and Coldwater Road and did site servicing in the Horne Industrial Park.

“It happened quite fast,” said Elgin Bay Club condominium resident Brian Adams of how the first weeks of the project unfolded.  “They had a crew in with an enormous drilling machine, you’d think they were going for oil, and they were there for quite some time boring these very deep holes into the ground into which they poured concrete. That part of the project came and went and the rest of the project seems to be related to setting up the de-watering system, there’s no active digging.”

Filtering equipment to decontaminate water before being dumped into a nearby creek.

“We get an update every week from J B Enterprises, which is the company that has the contract, and that’s good and I post it on our bulletin board to let everybody know what the planned activity is for the following week. Well, the issue of de-watering has been on that notice now for several weeks and there really has been no visible activity on the site, other than some cleaning up and grading of the grounds, nothing substantive in my books – and not just in my books, from the perception of many people. That tells us there’s a problem somewhere.”

“There was an acknowledgement there was a delay. All of the reasons for the delay weren’t disclosed.  Of course, it just leads to conjecture and speculation. The de-watering system is quite elaborate and that’s not activated yet,” said Adams.

Most of September and all of October work crews were not in sight. But, the pumping station is only part of the construction zone which stretches from Mississaga and Centennial Drive to Cedar Island Road / Davey Drive – including Elgin Street from the waterfront to Front Street.

“The work is continuing. The contractor is working on linear work and they are still working on their de-watering plan and action plan which we are currently reviewing,” said Sugden.

53 townhomes under construction on the former Schacter land, with more to come on the waterfront, will be served by the new pumping station.

“We have to run a sanitary sewer connection over from about in front of the Legion to the pump station.”

“That’s the linear work underway right now. This (pumping station) is part of a much bigger project. We have to get this done before we can abandon the old trunk sewer.”

So while nothing was happening in one area, the contractor was working in another. That doesn’t mean there couldn’t have been work going on at the pump station.

“The de-watering subcontractors experienced some delay on their side of things, but they are working at overcoming them,” said Sugden. Construction projects all around the province are experiencing shortages of skilled tradespeople and a labour shortage was part of the issue. “It’s not in our control. They have lots of jobs all around the province. They move around from job to job, so we’re waiting for them.”

Adams reported work crews have recently reappeared at the pumping station site.

“It was activated today (November 3). After weeks and weeks of nothing, there’s a flurry of activity in the last day or two with lots of people on site,” Adams said.

Excavated pit where the new pumping station will sit.

De-watering is one of the issues residents are concerned about. The whole area is on a flood plain and the water table is virtually at the surface. The creeks on both sides of Cedar Island Road and along Elgin Street were full of water recently. An excavation pit for the station was also full of water. Many people thought it was a deep pit and the water filling it may have been groundwater.

“It’s surface water, its rain water. There is no big, deep hole there There’s a shallow hole (2 ft.) there right now and it’s collecting rainwater. The water you’re seeing is sitting on top of some granular. Any water we pump out of there has to go through a filtration system before it gets put into the City’s storm system,” said Sugden.

“As the water has gone, you can see the ground level which just below where the water level was. I think a lot of people did (think it was deeper), including myself,” said Adams.

The City spends thousands on consultants for construction projects, and one of the things they expect to get good information about is how much groundwater to expect when they open up roads to rebuild, or build libraries, rec centers and etc.

“Before we put this out to tender we did geotechnical testing, we sampled groundwater so we get an idea as best we can what it’s likely to be like. We have a permit to take water from the ministry. Any pumping that’s been done so far related to the Elgin Street construction has been far less (than permitted),” said Sugden.

“When we put in the linear infrastructure for that sewer pipe over to Mississaga Street, we’re going to be down about 20 meters. We will definitely be into groundwater there. So the de-watering and the permit we have is related to that work,”

Water is a big concern for some residents. It’s not just an influx of rain or groundwater that has to be disposed of, it’s also the waste water, which if the system breaks down has people worried it will get into Lake Couchiching untreated.

“Why are they actually locating it here? I fought that thing quite vigorously in 2018 before they approved it. Then I appealed it to the province and they reviewed it and decided to let it go ahead, but I never in my wildest dreams thought the construction would have this much impact on the residents of our condo and the surrounding area, it’s been an incredible headache,” said Tom Griffiths. He too lives at Elgin Bay Club and is a retired manager of an environmental department at Ontario Hydro and a certified environmental auditor and environmental management systems auditor working to identify and managing environmental effects in the natural resources sector.

“My main concern, from the get go, was the facility would cause pollution in Lake Couchiching.”

Silt flowing into Lake Couchiching from a creek near the Elgin Bay Club (Photo by Tom Griffiths)

Griffiths reported what he calls a spill to the City in June, and sent along a photo from November 1 of what he thinks may be another. Excerpts from email correspondence are as follows:

“For the record this plume is very different than anything we have seen before and many of us have been here since the Elgin Bay condo was constructed over 17 years ago. Perhaps all the construction on the reclaimed land has caused leachate from the contaminated soil to migrate into the creek and Lake Couchiching. One can find out by testing the water in the creek below the construction and upstream from it,” Griffiths wrote.

Sugden responded saying the City inspects all the City’s construction project sites daily and, “there was no construction activity occurring on the City’s Centennial Drive Improvements (Phase 1) project yesterday, and that the City remains in compliance with all obligations imposed by law and policy. The inspection conducted yesterday, and again this morning confirmed that the City’s construction project is not contributing to the siltation that your photo shows.”

“The rain event that happened yesterday appears to have led to erosion and siltation from other lands not owned by the City. City staff will continue to monitor this situation, and will be contacting the source property owners.”

Griffiths believes there were other options for locating the pumping station.

“They had a perfectly ideal site where the existing one is on Elgin Street, which is closer to Front Street and off the flood plain,” Griffiths said. The old pumping station is on the south side of Elgin Street, surrounded by empty lots, some of which are the Rexton property. It looks like there’s room to build the new station there, but the City would have had to buy land to do so.

“That pump station is very old and it’s not big enough for what growth has occurred. Also the parcel of land it’s sitting on is not big enough to accommodate all the things we’d put in a modern pump station. (The current station), it doesn’t have back up or reserve, excess capacity. If a pump fails there’s no extra well to give us some additional containment. There’s no generator back up. There’s not enough land there to accommodate that. We needed to put all that together so we have a modern pump station that’s more resilient to mechanical failures, weather events, all that kind of stuff and that’s why we had to relocate it,” said Sugden.

There’s other pollution bugging area residents, noise and air pollution.

“I think the residents in that entire area have been a very patient group of people for the most part in tolerating the inconvenience that comes with a construction project. However, one of the big problems, dust, clouds of it. People on the west side of the building for the most part haven’t been out on their balconies this season, primarily because of the dust,” said Adams.

The City did acknowledge dust was a problem and had the contractor take steps to reduce it.

“For the people that live on the west side of our condominium adjacent to it, the noise when they first started doing the drilling last June, the whole building shook. All through July and most of August they couldn’t open a window because of all the dust and the noise. They had two generators they had operating on each end of the building 24/7 and it’s just been a complete disruption,” said Griffiths.

“In fairness, when we asked about the one which was really noisy, there’s a new one installed and the residents will be the first to say it’s much quieter, less obnoxious,” said Adams. Of course, it’s the point of having to ask. Why wouldn’t someone on the construction crew realize a noisy generator wouldn’t be a welcome addition to a neighbourhood?

Traffic is also an issue. Not that there is a lot of it, but there are people who do have places to be and there is the trail system running through the project area.

Generator and water tanks at the south end of the Elgin Bay Club

“If you drive along Cedar Island Road as if you were going to go right on to Cedar Island, there’s a sharp left hand turn that’s very troublesome from my perspective because the second generator is right in the right hand lane of the road and it will be there for some time, which forces traffic more to your left as your going towards Cedar Island and then stops because the rec trial is there and the visual field is obscured by the generator. That’s really hazardous. The company did install stop signs both on the trial and the road, which helps, but it’s a very cumbersome intersection area and not everybody obeys the stop signs, particularly people using the trail. Cars get it, but not trail users, so bikes, electric carts and even sometimes joggers,” said Adams. He has asked the City to do some grading and light paving so the roadway is more clearly defined, which he thinks is important with winter approaching.

Griffiths doesn’t think this issue disappears when the generator is no longer needed.

“That’s a terrible corner and it’s another issue I had to putting the building there. It’s a real visibility issue and a public safety issue,” he said.

Residents are afraid they will have to live with the construction for longer than they thought because of the delay they perceive, and there is some as stated above because of the delay getting rid of groundwater.

Construction, excepting the new pumping station, should be done by the end of the year.

“The project was always slated for substantial completion being April of 2022. The roadworks and the buried infrastructure works would be done before that, but the actual construction of the pump station was always planned to be a winter project. The building, the electrical, mechanical, that’s all another subtrade that will come in and do that work. I think we are running a couple months behind at this point, so it will be sometime in the summer of 2022 before that building is done and operational,” said Sugden.

Residents also wonder if the delay is affecting the cost of the project. The entire project budget is over $10 million with the pumping station accounting for $4 million of that. Sugden said the tender for the station portion came in under budget and as of now it’s still on budget.

Adams thinks the overall project is a good one, despite the pumping station concerns residents have.

“The Elgin Street part of the job is absolutely magnificent. What a beautiful job they’ve done on that part of the street. Of course the intersection of Elgin Street/Cedar Island Road/The Esplanade – that laneway by the skateboard park and the legion, I’m sure when it’s finished in a defined T intersection is going to be quite attractive and well done,” Adams said.

In the end, maybe the City could be more proactive disseminating easy to understand information about construction projects, particularly when snags happen, to those directly affected. It might solve a lot of complaining.

“There’s the perception of the lay public, people like ourselves. This is in front of them; we watch what’s happening and not happening. Then there’s the engineering side where some of the things folks here are concerned about are seemingly not concerned (by those involved in the project), only because there isn’t reason to be concerned. That’s legit, I totally understand that,” said Adams.

(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia) Main: Elgin Bay Club residents are upset about some aspects of the construction project happening next door.


Support Independent Journalism