A provincial legislation called the Drainage Act may mean several landowners will have to pay for the construction of a drain they don’t want.
Frank Szeder, who owns land in the townships of Emo and LaVallee submitted two petitions — one to each township — requesting that a municipal drain be installed to benefit his land.
Although the majority of the drain would be on Szeders’ property, other landowners in the watershed would still be required to pay for a portion of its installation under the Drainage Act. Each landowner is assessed in regards to how much their respective properties would benefit from the drain. This means the Szeders would pay a substantial portion of the cost.
In accordance with the Act, Emo appointed an engineer to prepare a report, identifying the proposed solution to the problem and how the costs will be shared.
In a special Emo Municipal Council meeting to discuss the Szeder drain, John Kuntze, the engineer who prepared the report, said the petition is the driving force behind the Drainage Act process. He says the petitioner, Frank Szeder, is responsible for determining if it is a reasonable expenditure.
Kuntze says the total estimated cost of the drain is $403,150.
Kuntze says his estimate is based on his own experience costing out drains, but that he also consulted with Stefan Szeder — Frank’s brother — who has ditch excavation experience.
It’s a figure that some impacted landowners felt was excesive.
“It seems a lot to pay for something that’s a private concern,” says Jean-Paul Gagnon, a nearby landowner impacted by the Act.
If the petition passes, the project will go to public tender, and the Szeders would be allowed to bid on the job. Kuntze says to be eligible, their bid would need to meet certain requirements like equipment, security, insurance, and worker’s compensation, but that nothing else is stopping them from bidding.
Gagnon feels that if the Szeders decide to bid, it would be a conflict of interest.
“That cannot be permitted,” says Gagnon. “That means they’ve petitioned a public body to fund a work that will inevitably pay them.”
Mayor Harold McQuaker asked why the drain couldn’t be moved south so only the Szeder property is affected, rather than having to involve other nearby properties.
Kuntze says that decision is up to the Szeders since they are the petitioners. Stefan Szeder, who attended the meeting on Frank’s behalf, says if the municipality can provide him and his brother with an equitable solution, they will look at it, though he did not commit to anything further.
Kuntze says it’s rare to solve a drainage problem on just one property.
“That’s why we have this process,” says Kuntze.
One of the affected landowners, Mike Shepherd, says he wants an environmental study done.
“What about the endangered birds?” says Shepherd. “We don’t know what’s living back there yet.”
Gagnon agrees an environmental assessment should come first. He says that when the peat bog is drained, it will release greenhouse gases like methane.
Shepherd and Gagnon tried to convince the Council to request an Environmental Appraisal, since the party who requests it must also fund it.
“You have the ability to influence the Council tonight,” said Special Projects Manager Doug Brown. “But at the end of the day, we have to follow the Drainage Act.”
Under the Act, landowners in the watershed will have several appeal stages where they can voice their objections. The Act says this is done so the end result of the process is a “communally accepted” project.
The first seating of the Court of Revision is to be held on June 7 at 5 p.m. From there, Council will make decisions on any appeals that are made.
The Drainage Act is one of the oldest legislations in Ontario, passed in 1859.