Good morning, my name is Leonard Poole. I am President of the Community Council of Overbrook and am speaking on their behalf.
I am here to discuss infrastructure neglect, specifically the continual failure of our neighbourhood sewage system. I shall detail the history of this failure, the serious repercussions for our community, and how this is indicative of the city failing to live up to its commitments of smart growth.
When the village of Overbrook was developing during the First World War the Holt Commission had already documented the problem of flood control of the Rideau River. In 1950 Overbrook was annexed from Gloucester Township, leading to considerable residential growth. With this growth, however, also came recurrent sewer backup problems. Although more demand was placed on the system, the sewers themselves were never upgraded beyond a combined, or partially combined system. Backups of raw sewage occurred frequently.
The most recent event occurred this past September when, for the third time in 20 years, we were told that we had been hit with a 100-year flood. To be blunt, this explanation was beginning to wear a little thin.
It is one way to galvanize a community. Over 100 people attended a public meeting held in late October when they questioned city staff and our councilor. Unfortunately, what we were told was that we should think of our homes as “leaky boats” that we had to repair. It was also suggested that the cost of the needed upgrade could likely be far beyond the ability of the city to pay. Finally, the City told us that after the Universal Program Review, some residents of Overbrook, will be assessed a surcharge on their municipal taxes as they are deemed to benefit from flood control of the Rideau River. Some benefit!
The residents of Overbrook did not take too kindly to these suggestions. Here are some of the comments that I can repeat: “It is the 21st century; I shouldn’t have to deal with sewage in my basement. End of story.” Or, “This is Ottawa. We don’t live in a third world country. We deserve better.” In fact, no one on this planet deserves to be subject to the flooding of his or her home with human waste. It is a deplorable situation that presents severe health risks and requires immediate attention.
Lets detail the specific problems:
Property contaminated with sewage must be discarded immediately. I would appreciate comments from our own Medical Officer of Health with respect to problems caused by our citizens using furniture contaminated with fecal matter. For days there were dozens of piles of discarded household items left at the curb throughout my neighbourhood. It took weeks to get the city to remove this dangerous debris.
There are numerous reports of residents being told they are no longer insured for this kind of damage because it is repetitive.
Many property owners continue to effect repair to their property. Families were dislocated for weeks, and months.
Damage costs in excess of $60,000 per household have been documented.
Long Term Cost
Many residents of Overbrook understand the long-term value of curbing urban sprawl through increasing density in the inner city and want to be partners in this process. However, it is proving to be an unequal partnership as our taxes pay for new infrastructure in ever expanding, and costly to serve suburbs while we don’t have basic infrastructure that works. These expansive suburbs then demand ever more costly and inefficient road systems to bring ever more cars into and through our inner city. And then we are expected to welcome increased density in our neighbourhoods, which leads to ever more sewage that cannot be removed.
As President of the Community Council of Overbrook I have urged our residents to embrace the 20/20 vision of the Official Plan. Unfortunately, more and more people are saying no to increased density, as they are afraid of the strain it places on our sewers. Some are saying no to absolutely any investment in arts, culture, social programs, transit, or anything else until this problem is addressed. They make it clear that they share my belief that these are all valuable components of a city they want to live in, but say we MUST have the basic of proper sewers in place first. Is there anything more basic than the removal of human waste?
Last year during the budget debate we offered the following definition of Fiscal Responsibility. “For some it means spending the least amount of money, every year, and do whatever it takes to avoid a tax increase. In our view, it means spending the correct amount of money today to ensure that in the long term we spend the least amount of money.”
20 years ago governments were often accused of stealing from our children as we ran up massive deficits, spending like drunken sailors to pay for our excess. Today, I submit we can be accused of the same thing, except for exactly the opposite reason. Now we are in danger of handing our children a legacy of a crumbling city, as we refuse to accept responsibility to pay our share, by ensuring that we provide proper stewardship of our infrastructure. It is our belief that we shall be doomed to catastrophic cost increases in the near future if we do not make the necessary investments today.