Wellington Skeptics

There was yet another high-octane community meeting in Wellington last week. This time under the guise of a Public Information Centre on the Wellington waterworks projects. No matter what these meetings are called, however, or who organizes them, they have become staging grounds for two sides along a major fault line.


About 300 people attended. A vast crowd for this village. Council, too, was well represented, not only by the Mayor and most councillors, but the CAO, the managers of finance, planning, and engineering, even the consultants — reps from CIMA engineers and Watson & Associates, population projectionists — were on hand.

All tried mightily to explain to how they were going to finance new waterworks for Prince Edward County.

The presentation was factual, informative, detailed. CAO Marcia Wallace explained the history. Not just that of amalgamation in the 1990s, which created a difficult, costly, unwieldy system stretched over six former municipalities, but a failure on the part of previous councils to plan for the long term. That failure means Wellington simply has no more capacity. The shambolic system in Picton, likewise, has very limited room to support growth.

And yet, opportunity is upon us. Developers are waiting to develop. People are waiting to come. It’s not a secret that many people who would like to live here cannot. There is nothing they can afford to buy. They are potential workers. Tradespeople. Young families seeking space and a sense of community. Retirees. People newly liberated by work-from-home arrangements. Healthcare workers. All want to come here. But there is nowhere for them to live.

“We are trying to optimize the moment we are in,” said Ms. Wallace. “If you start infrastructure before the development starts, for the express purpose of serving that development, then the developers must pay for it. If we wait, the developers are gone, and the costs are ours.”

The County has spent five years putting all the pieces together. If it works, it works beautifully: Wellington, Picton, and Bloomfield get a new, integrated waterworks system, and developers can start building. Two WTPs, those at Picton and Wellington, become one. Consolidation reduces overhead. The developers bear 75% of the costs of the work. With a mix of affordable and expensive, mixed-use, rental, and retirement housing available, the people can come. With people coming, costs are spread over a larger customer base.

But when Amanda Carter, Manager of Finance, said, earnestly, “there is nothing in these decisions at this time that will affect your water rates,” she was greeted with howls of laughter. “At this time? At this time?” More laughter. “How long after this time will we feel the impact?” asked one. “Well, in five years we will revisit the rates,” said Ms. Carter. “But growth means there will be more ratepayers to shoulder the burden, so…”

But, came the response, those people are not coming. Your assumptions are faulty.

It went downhill from here, or uphill, maybe, depending on your point of view. What were supposed to be questions at the mic devolved into speeches. Nothing that came from county staff was to be believed. Population projections, whether low, medium, or high, were overstatements. If not wild, pie-eyed optimism. It did not matter whether growth was projected at 1% or 2% or 4%, over five, ten, or thirty years. Balderdash, all of it.

Never mind Ms. Wallace noting, over and over, “it’s unaffordable for this community to do it any other way. If we wait, we will end up paying the full costs of development.” She was greeted with “just press pause,” and more loud applause, though not for the people who spent years creating these plans.

“I don’t trust you,” said one. “I don’t trust you when you say it won’t affect our rates in the future. I don’t trust you.”

And another: “I don’t believe you when you say there is no more capacity. I just don’t believe you.”

The accusations of a lack of transparency — when all council does, with its pie charts, graphs, and statistics, is try to explain — gave way to charges of superiority. The full-page ad the County placed in the local papers to try to sort out fact and fiction in the water debates was “dismissive, condescending, and disingenuous,” said another, “the height of arrogance.” Plus, “it was hard to read!” More loud laughter. More applause.

It’s true. Our waterworks plans depend on developers coming to the table. And on people coming to live in all the houses they plan to build. And that is the problem. The Wellington Skeptics don’t believe the plans, perhaps because they don’t want the people. The legitimate fear of even higher water rates pales before the even larger one, of all those people that just might come, hoping to share the joys, as well as the burdens, of living here.

-Karen Valihora