Legal advice sought on Booth’s Harbour water issues

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Norfolk County will seek legal advice before it takes further steps on the water situation in Booth’s Harbour.

Norfolk council heard allegations last week about the provision of water in Booth’s Harbour over the past 15 years and the possibility of oversight deficiencies on the part of public agencies responsible for the delivery of safe tap water.

Council also wants to clarify whether Norfolk might have to pay to take over the private water system from its current operator.

“There are many more questions than answers,” Port Rowan Coun. Tom Masschaele said at the end of the discussion on Sept. 3. “I would recommend we defer this until we get answers. We need to look more deeply into this problem.”

Nearly 100 households in the hamlet section of Booth’s Harbour have been clamouring for Norfolk to take over their private water system since the county assumed responsibility for the system in St. Williams nearby about 15 years ago.

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In that instance, Norfolk took over and repaired the deteriorated distribution system and charged the expense to property owners. Both St. Williams and Booth’s Harbour are served by a water main running north-east out of Port Rowan.

Low water pressure is a chronic problem in some parts of Booth’s Harbour. Brenda Himburg, who spoke to council on Sept. 3 on behalf of her neighbours, said some households have complained of discoloured water.

Himburg added she has been unable to piece together complete records on whether the private system in Booth’s Harbour has complied over the years with Ministry of the Environment regulations or whether the MOE has held the private system accountable for regulatory compliance.

“When is the county going to make the correct moral, legal and financial decision to do this right after 14 years of doing nothing?” Hamburg asked council. “I don’t see any way around it other than to take the system over.”

Himburg suggested residents of Booth’s Harbour have been over-charged for water for many years. As such, she said Norfolk County should consider absorbing a portion of the expense required to provide herself and her neighbours with safe, reliable water.

That’s not what happened in St. Williams around the corner on Townline Road.

St. Williams residents were given the choice of paying for the improvement to their property in a lump sum or amortize the expense to a maximum of 15 years with interest. Property owners opting for the latter were given the option of paying the balance at any time.

At this point, the county estimates it could cost as much as $1.34 million to provide a solution in Booth’s Harbour. The cost to individual property owners is estimated at $9,200 to $13,400.

“We are amenable to doing something,” Jason Godby, director of public works administration, told council. “We recognize the needs of this community.”

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