Norfolk County hopes to have a response to water woes in Booth’s Harbour before summer arrives.
Residents of the hamlet on the south side of St. Williams have been on hold since they approached Norfolk council about the matter last September.
Since then, there has been a change at the top of Norfolk’s public works division. As well, the COVID-19 pandemic emergency has been the county’s focus since it was declared in March.
Jason Godby, Norfolk’s general manager of public works, said this week he would like to bring a report back to council in June. Port Rowan Coun. Tom Masschaele also understands that recommendations should be tabled sometime this spring.
The distractions and delays have been frustrating. But residents of Booth’s Harbour accept that the world has become much more complex since they asked the county to take them on as water customers.
“We just get the runaround,” Brenda Himburg, spokesperson for her neighbours, said in a recent interview with Canadian Press. “I’d like to use stronger language, but that wouldn’t be nice.”
As a courtesy, Norfolk County ran a secondary main to the edge of Booth’s Harbour 15 years ago when the municipality assumed responsibility for the delivery of treated water to St. Williams.
Scott Booth is the manager of the private water system that serves Booth’s Harbour and the broker who pays the monthly water bill.
In recent years, there have been complaints of weak water pressure, discoloured water, and tap water with a strong smell of chlorine.
Residents have been told the problem is likely substandard private plumbing, starting at the property line, but some have their doubts. Debbie and Ron Linington installed new plumbing during a renovation and the same issues persist.
“Sometimes you can’t get enough pressure for a shower or to flush the toilet,” Debbie Linington said.
Norfolk council deferred a decision last summer to get legal advice. Council also wanted to know if the county would incur costs eliminating the middleman or whether it would be able to bill beneficiaries the full price of the upgrade. This is how Norfolk handled the upgrade in St. Williams in 2005.
“There are many more questions than answers,” Masschaele said last summer. “I would recommend we defer this until we get answers. We need to look more deeply into this problem.”
As it stands, an upgrade in Booth’s Harbour could cost as much as $1.3 million for 103 households. The cost to individual property owners ranges between $9,200 and $13,400.
Residents told Canadian Press that Scott Booth threatens to cut off their water if they complain too loudly. CP reports Booth “did not respond to numerous detailed requests for comment.”
The Ministry of the Environment classifies systems such as the one in St. Williams as “a non-municipal year-round residential drinking water system that is privately owned.”
There are hundreds across Ontario – 458 to be precise – according to the MOE. These systems serve homes in trailer parks, apartments, condominiums and townhouse developments.
The supply for the private system in Booth’s Harbour was decommissioned in 2005 in favour of water from Port Rowan. The private grid supplies water to the marina in Booth’s Harbour, which is home to 245 boat houses and docks as well as 98 mobile homes.
“We’ve got to get moving on this,” said Godby, who was manager of public works administration when Himburg and the Booth’s Harbour delegation last appeared at Norfolk council. “It’s been out there long enough.”
Godby’s first order of business is to huddle with county solicitor Paula Boutis and discuss Norfolk’s legal standing and obligations under the current arrangement.
– With files from The Canadian Press