May 27, 2009

Kids have ideas for Erin's future

As published in The Erin Advocate

Kids at Erin Public School love their town, and they have lots of ideas for making it an even better place to live.

A batch of 19 letters arrived in my mailbox after I invited students to add their opinions to the Town's "visioning" project, the initial phase of the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP) process. My thanks to Librarian Lesley Rowe, who read my May 13 column to many students, and held a brainstorming session.

All the letters have been emailed to SSMP Project Manager Matt Pearson (, with copies to the mayor and town councillors. Here are some excerpts:

• "We want Erin to stay like Erin. We don't want Erin to become overcrowded. We like the small population. More fun stuff, more parks, swimming pools."

• "What I like about Hillsburgh is that it's not so crowded. Hillsburgh would be a better place if it had more stores and more restaurants (fast food). They should have better roads so that there are not potholes, and more parks so kids have somewhere to hang out."

• "Erin is not too big, but it's also not too small. The thing that I don't like about living in Erin is that you're not allowed to skateboard in town. So to fix that, I think that we should get a skate park, so that people can skateboard without getting in trouble."

• "I think that we should have a public pool. I don't think that that there should be any more houses."

• "We should have more health care. People have to waste gas driving to Brampton, Mississauga or even Toronto to see their doctor or dentist. I think we should have a health care centre right in downtown Erin. We should have an indoor pool. Why not build one right beside the Erin District High School."

• "In the near future, I want more little shops in Erin. Also more parks, and people should plant more trees in their yards. Maybe a Tim Horton's or a Starbucks, but otherwise I like it the way it is! Please don't put any factories or giant buildings."

• "You can walk around town to go where you like and it's not too big. We should open a sports store in Erin and the school should buy new equipment."

• "I like that Erin is a small town, but that's about it. There's never anything for teenagers to do. All of the activities are sports, and it'd be nice to have a mall and a Tim Horton's. Any place to hang out'd be nice; Centre 2000 gets boring after the first six years of living here."

• "I like Erin because you basically know everyone, and they have fairs. I wish they had a Tim Horton's."

• "I think that there should be a huge mall, or a regular mall, in Erin so you can have more people in it."

• "I think Erin is a good town and is perfect the way it is. I think that if Erin had buses or got any bigger the town would be over-populated and polluted. I think the town of Erin should build a Motocross track. Erin should also get a BMX park."

• "I would like to see more trees and parks, because there's so many people who like to walk, and go up town with their dogs. I don't think Erin should change that much, because that's what makes Toronto and Erin way different – no city shops and big houses, with huge highways and traffic."

• "The town of Erin is the right size. If it grows too much it will be a mini-Brampton. It should get some more entertainment, because all you can do on the weekend is go biking, and go to the theatre. They should get either a skate/bike park or an arcade. We could get a mountain bike trail."

• "We have lots of space and lots of fresh air, and where I live, lots of forest. Everywhere around us they are tearing down trees and adding strip malls and houses. I really wouldn't like it if they start building even more houses – we would be crowded, and the space we have right now is really nice. I really wouldn't like it to be like the city. It sucks in the city in my opinion. I really don't want factories because that would pollute the air. Some people already drive far away from where they live, so why can't they keep doing that."

• "We need a recreational area with a pool. Dog parks. More trails. The roads are bad on the small roads and they also need garbage clean-up; we pay taxes for services we are not receiving. Need more tourist attractions, more restaurants, more bike racks, a bigger Humane Society and more trees. We need a mall."

• "We should make an organization that has games and stuff to do after school. It will give our parents some time away from the kids and it will keep the teens off the streets."

• "I don't like how people litter a lot. Maybe some more restaurants. No factories because it would pollute the air even more. Better roads – too many cracks. I think the population should stay the same. Maybe a few more apartments. Maybe a paintball arena where an open field is."

May 20, 2009

A new vision for Erin? What's the rush?

As published in the Erin Advocate

Last week I invited students to think about the type of place they would like Erin to become, and to put their ideas into the mix during the "visioning" phase of the Town's Master Plan project. They will surely be adults by the time the plan has its full impact.

Of course, everyone is welcome to contribute to the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP). At this early stage, we are asked 1) What do you really like about your town? and 2) What would make it a better place?

Send your responses (including photos if you want) to Project Manager Matt Pearson, who will use some of them in Erin's SSMP website. Email to:, or send letters to B.M. Ross, 62 North Street, Goderich, ON N7A 2T4.

It is an "early stage" for the SSMP, but really it is the start of a new chapter in a long saga that revolves around sewage, housing growth and protection of the environment.

I found an Advocate article from September 1995 on a standing-room-only public meeting regarding a $25 million sewage treatment plant for Erin Village. As soon as Reeve Terry Mundell had made his opening remarks, an audience member expressed concern about lack of information, and requested that the whole project be put on hold until there was consensus in the community. Many questioned the need for a plant, and criticized the planning process.

A sewage plant still has not been built, and while there are lingering concerns about septic systems and the type of growth we are getting, nobody seems too upset about the situation. Maybe we will still be looking for consensus 10-15 years from now.

Town Council is wise to seek people's views of the future and promise full communication, before making detailed growth plans. Ultimately, though, most people just do not care enough about municipal affairs, or do not have the time to participate. Among those who do care, some are actively opposed to any new costs or disruption of the status quo.

Nothing seems to happen quickly around here. That is frustrating at times, but like it or not, it forms part of Erin's character. We're a work-in-progress – a little rough around the edges. There are a lot of things it would be "nice" to have, but when there's not enough money or political will, they just have to wait.

And we are making progress – services and facilities are improving. For example, the new pedestrian bridge is being installed on Millwood. It provides a safer crossing of the river for students of St. John Brebeuf School, which opened 30 years ago.

We moved to Erin in 1985 because we wanted a community with lots of open space, walking trails, fresh air, clean water, views of green hills, historic buildings, safe streets, reasonable taxes and friendly, helpful people. Real estate was less expensive than in Georgetown, and it was within acceptable commuting distance for work in Brampton or Mississauga. Except for real estate prices, not much has changed.

Things that would make Erin better: a heavy truck bypass, bus links to neighboring towns, a few more stores, a better housing mix (more small homes, and apartments), a boardwalk on the Credit River, improvements to Stanley Park, more social and health care services, and high-speed internet access for everyone.

If it got really crowded here, I would want to move. But even with sewage treatment, Hillsburgh is only projected to grow by 800 people by 2031 and Erin village by 1,500 people. That does not qualify as crowded. The whole town would grow to 15,530, with 9,050 living outside the urban areas.

As part of that rural majority, I am willing to pay my share of studying Erin's future growth, since we rely on the urban areas for our local identity and economy. Obviously, though, I do not want a huge surcharge on my tax bill to pay for a sewage system to which I cannot connect.

Improvements need to be made to sewage handling in the urban areas, in order to protect the river and the groundwater, to allow moderate population growth (more customers for local stores) and to build up our commercial/industrial tax base.

I disagree with those who would oppose sewage improvements in an attempt to stop all new development, and I hope the SSMP process will come up with practical solutions that most people can support. Hoping for it to happen quickly, however, is probably hoping too much.

May 13, 2009

Help create a vision of Erin's future

As published in The Erin Advocate

When an important decision has to be made, everyone should have the chance to say what they think. When it is something that will affect the lives of kids in Erin, their ideas should get some attention.

Right now, the mayor and town councillors are trying to decide how Erin will grow for the next 20 years, and they want some advice. There was a meeting last week at Centre 2000, and about 40 people came to share their ideas about the future. That was good, but since 11,000 people live here, it is not enough.

I am inviting the students of Erin to get involved in creating the town's Master Plan. When I say Erin, I mean the whole town, including Hillsburgh, all the farms and rural homes, all the small hamlets and Erin village.

A Master Plan might sound complicated, but what we need right now is very simple – answers to just two questions. 1) What do you really like about your town? and 2) What would make it a better place?

You can answer in different ways. Write only a few sentences, or write as much as you like. Take a photo of something interesting in your area or send in a copy of a picture you already have.

I am hoping that people will cut out this article, show it to their kids and encourage them to respond, make copies for people they know, send it to the schools and help generate some energy for the project. By next week, the column will also be on my blog:

The Town has hired a company, B.M. Ross, to organize this "visioning". Once we decide the type of town we want, they will make detailed plans for future growth. The project will take two years and cost us about $420,000. No more new homes will be allowed until it is done.

The project manager is Matt Pearson, a very friendly planning expert who was the host of last week's meeting. He wants us to email our ideas to him (with photos attached, if you want). He will be creating a website (it's not ready yet) dedicated to the Master Plan. Many of our comments and pictures will appear on the site.

"Erin is very brave to do this," he said. "It is risky, because you don't know what you're going to get at the end."

His email address is: If you don't use email, send your letters to B.M. Ross, 62 North Street, Goderich, ON N7A 2T4.

We need to imagine ourselves living here 20 years from now. Here are some more questions to help us think about the future. You don't have to answer them, just use them for ideas.

What should it feel like to live here in 2031? Will we take good care of our river, our forests and our air? What would make you want to stay – or to move away?

Should Erin have a few thousand more people, or stay about the same? If we grow, should new houses be large, medium or small? Should we have townhouses, and more apartments to rent? What about homes for senior citizens?

Do we need more stores, and how big should they be? Should we allow large factories, so people don't have to drive to Toronto, Mississauga or Brampton for their jobs?
Do we need more doctors or police officers? Do we need to give more help to people who are in trouble?

Do we want more schools, or larger ones? Do we need more parks? Do we need more restaurants and entertainment? Do we need more roads, or better ones? Should we have bus service? How about more trails and bike paths? Do we have enough places for sports and recreation?

If we get more of everything, will we still be a small town? Will we be the same as all the big towns, or can we be someplace special?

May 06, 2009

Paying the price of doing it yourself

As published in The Erin Advocate

I was just cutting a horizontal strip of drywall out of my bathroom wall, near the floor, where the vanity used to be, so my electrician could run a new wire to an outlet on the other side of the new counter. For better or for worse, I am one of those amateur home renovators who want to do some of the work themselves.

Sometimes, you save some money (as long as you do not count too many dollars per hour for your own time). Sometimes, you get the satisfaction of doing a good job on a practical task. And then, there are days like last Sunday.

I was hacking away with my manual drywall saw, and getting pretty tired, so I decided to get out my Sawzall, with enough power to chop my whole house into little pieces. I was able to glide through that drywall like butter, just working my way around the studs.

Later, I checked the operating manual for that reciprocating saw, which clearly said, "Make sure hidden wiring, water pipes, or other hazards are not in the cutting path." It also advised me to, "Stay alert, watch what you are doing and use common sense."

As the saw approached the sink area, I heard a metallic ping, and was hit with a spray of hot water from the copper pipe behind the drywall. It took about two seconds for the nature of the problem to sink in, and another 20 seconds for a mad dash into the crawl space to turn off the water supply.

When I returned to the bathroom, the paint in the open can on the other side of the room had been diluted, and my plugged-in power tools lay in a pool of water on the floor. Fortunately, this story does not have a shocking conclusion (unless you count the bill from the plumber); I was able to cut the power, clean up the mess and assemble a logical explanation for when Jean got home.

My plumber retired a few years ago, and I have not needed one for a while, so I looked in the Advocate's Community Service Directory – no plumbers. I checked the Orangeville and Georgetown Yellow Pages, but could find no Erin-based plumbers, and there are none in Erin's "Who Does It" directory.

There must be some Erin plumbers, but I couldn't find one on short notice. (It only costs $10.50 a week to be in the Service Directory.) So I used a big plumbing company with a branch in Georgetown.

They charge $39.50 to show up, then quote you a flat rate once they see the nature of your problem. If you have them stay to do the work, the $39.50 is waived, which seems reasonable, until you hear the flat rate.

In the meantime, I had trimmed away the wet drywall so the nicked pipe was fully exposed. The price to replace three inches of pipe was $192 plus tax. It took the guy only 20 minutes. I guess I could have just paid the $39.50 and got someone else in to quote on the job, but for all I know, $192 is the normal price for fixing a pipe. In retrospect, I probably should have looked for a firm that charged an hourly rate.

Also, I know I was paying for more than just that 20 minutes of work. I was paying for the answering service on a Sunday, for the dispatcher who called first thing Monday morning, for the privilege of having a tradesman at my door within two hours, and for the quality control phone call later in the day to ask if the plumber had been prompt, courteous and successful in fixing my problem.

As a kid, I remember people being in awe of plumbers, because at that time they were said to make $10 per hour, which seemed an extremely high wage. I guess these things never really change: when you have an emergency, your bargaining power and ability to shop around are limited.

The kicker came when the electrician showed up. It turns out he did not really need that strip of drywall to be cut out of the wall after all.