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Little road, big problem

By Mark Squibb | July 8, 2021

In a lot of ways, Emma’s Place is a perfect little street.

A quiet cul-de-sac nestled off Red Bridge Road, the street is just moments away from both the bustling playground, dog park, and sports fields of Ned Nugent Park, and the busy main road that connects one end of CBS to the other.

But the little road has a big problem.

The households, of which there are about 13, are not connected to water and sewer.

After decades of water and sewer being the hottest issue in CBS nearly every municipal election, the controversy died off in recent years as much of the town became serviced. But there are still 82 streets listed on the town’s water and sewer priority list awaiting lines. Some of them are entire streets, others are portions of streets.

Emma’s Place is number 17 on the list.

Residents there say that while they appreciate other roads are also without water and sewer, their quality of water makes Emma’s Place an outlier that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.

“The water from the well is so caustic, it’s rusting out all of our connections above the ceiling,” said Ron Corbett, who moved onto the street about 18 years ago. “I have a finished, drywall ceiling in the basement, and it’s rusting out the metal joiners and water is dripping down. This is the fourth time we’ve had to cut holes in the ceiling.”

On the day The Shoreline interviewed Corbett, he said he had his pipes repaired again that very morning. He emailed photos to the town and said he was told as it was an internal problem within his home, he would have to address it himself.

Corbett said residents are tired of dealing with the problem.

“I put a $4,000 water softener in, along with almost everybody along the street,” said Corbett. “We’ve gone as far as we can trying to fix it ourselves. There’s nothing more we can do. The issue is water from the wells rotting everything out.”

The water softener, said Corbett, needs to be serviced twice a year. Throw the costs of water damage repairs on top of that, and costs add up.

“The water is so caustic, the water softening doesn’t help,” he said. “We need to somehow get town water up the street here.”

He noted that Red Bridge Road, along with its many side streets, all have water and sewer, leaving Emma’s Place as the only dry road in the area. He said that he can recall Ashapple Way getting water years ago after concerns were raised, and added residents on Emma’s Place probably would be willing to chip in to help pay for the upgrades.

“The people on Ashapple kicked up a bit of a stink, and sure enough, one of the councillors sat down and talked to them,” he said. “A month later, they had a waterline put in.”

The Town confirmed that while Ashapple Way does not have sewer services (and is still listed on the priority list), a temporary waterline was installed in 2013 by the property owners under an old policy. 

“All we want is for somebody to come up, sit down, and talk to us, and tell us how much it would cost to put a water line in,” said Corbett. “Most of the people on this street are having major issues, and they’ve done everything they could for themselves, installing water softeners, and changing this and changing that, and it doesn’t work because of the condition of the water. This is ruining our homes.”

Eta Mooney and her husband built their home on Emma’s Place in 2016. “When we were in the process of building our home, several neighbours approached us, and warned us about the water issues here,” said Mooney. “Neighbors had recommended that we go ahead and install the water filtration system right then and there. So right from the beginning we had to tear down walls, and back track and install that system.”

Despite the warnings, Mooney said, she had no idea what trouble her family was in for.

“Did we anticipate how bad the water would be? Definitely not,” she said. “This house is a new home, its only five years old, and I’ve already replaced two hot water tanks.”

Like Corbett, and other residents, Mooney has been paying for expensive softener services.

“At least once a quarter, we have to pay out of pocket to have Router come and service our water softener system,” said Mooney.

Without that service, Mooney said, the water turns the colour of chocolate milk.

“I have filled a bathroom here, and the kids say, “Mommy, the bathtub is filled with chocolate milk!’” she said. “It is a full-time job to keep our toilet bowls clean. We already have staining on our toilet bowls. And in fact, they were stained even while the house was still being built… So, we have to do that, not to mention the upfront cost of getting that system installed. Then, there’s maintenance, plus the husband has to add salt to that system, so that has a cost.”

Roughly 120 lbs of salt go into the system monthly, running $600 to $800 annually.

And still, there’s trouble.

“On our last service check, our PH (the acidity rate), despite the filtration system, was found to be critically low, which in turn leads to corrosion of your piping and what not,” she said. “So, we had to add another system, and that carried a cost of about $2,000 to install… What choice do you have when a professional approaches you and tells you that if you opt out of installing this additional filter, you’re going to be looking at leaks and corrosion. You’re kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place.”

She’s hearing the same problems from neighbours; corroding pipes, deteriorating brass fittings, leaks.

“We’re just looking for a reasonable resolution,” she said. “I’m sure there are lots of residents in CBS who are not on serviceed lots. I can certainly appreciate that. We’re number 17, so where does that put us? The system that we just installed needs to be replaced in five years. So, is this going to be a continuous issue for us that every five years we’re forking out money to replace systems? We just need a reasonable time frame as to where we are on the priority list. Perhaps the list could be revaluated.”

Being a smaller road, she acknowledged there is less financial incentive to hook up water and sewer.

“There’s probably 10 or 12 houses on the street, so council probably won’t recoup their money as quickly,” she admitted. “It’s probably not a priority when you can go to a subdivision and recoup that money very quickly.”

When other residents on the street learned that some people were being interviewed for a story, many turned up for a group photo at the start of the lane to show their support. Several pointed out they were practically standing on a sewer manhole on Red Bridge Road while posing in front of the Emma’s Place sign, showing how close the line comes to their street.

Ward 3 councillor Gerard Tilley said he is well aware of the concerns. He said there is no plan to deviate from the priority list.

“This water and sewer priority list has been on council since I believe the early 80’s,” said Tilley.  “And to my knowledge, I don’t think that was ever deviated from. I’ve spoken to some residents on Emmas Place, and I can understand their frustration. It’s no different from say someone on Dalton’s Road in Seal Cove. They still don’t have water and sewer as well. I would love to tell everyone, ‘Look, we’re going to get everything done in the next five years,’ but the cost would be in the tens of millions of dollars to turn out and get everything done in the next five years. It’s an expensive process, there’s no doubt about it. I’d be a fool to say we can guarantee water and sewer to everyone five years from now. How about the people that have been on the priority list for the last 10 years, or the last 20 years? To turn around and tell someone that you’re going to move their street and give it to someone else, I guess deep down that would be unfair.”

For residents like those on Emma’s Place who wonder whether there’ been a drought when it comes to funding for water and sewer work, Tilley said there is an explanation. The last phase, of water and sewer work, Phase 47, which saw water and sewer upgrades to parts of Seal Cove, was approved in 2017. Tilley said that that phase was divided into two different tenders: one for paving and one for water and sewer.

“From a water and sewer perspective, it’s 100 percent complete, people have been hooking on for the past couple of years. And that final phase, that surface coat of asphalt, we’re hoping to get done in the fall.”

Water and sewer, said Tilley, are completed with multi-year capital works funding from the province.

“All of our water and sewer is done through our multi year capital works program and of course with the pandemic there hasn’t been a multi year capital works (program) for 2019-2020,” he said. “We’ve received assurances from the provincial government that with the 2020-2023 multi-year capital works funding, that money is going to go allocated for the second coat of asphalt for that area in Seal Cove, which is approximately 4.5 to 5 kilometres.”

Tilley expects the town will receive about $5 million in funding, and he expects the money will cover off the next five roads on the priority list, thought the exact number depends on the project costs.

“That’s why I’m hesitant to say that we’re going to definitely do the next five roads, when it could be four roads, or it could be six roads,” said Tilley.

Even for those streets which are next up on the priority list, residents ought not hold their breath, as the town has to go through a lengthy tendering and engineering process before shovels go into the ground.

“There won’t be any holes dug this year, “said Tilley. “That water and sewer probably won’t start until spring of 2022.”

Tilley noted most of the town does have water and sewer. “Conception Bay South is a big place. We are somewhere around the 88 to 92 per cent full water and sewer rates,” he said.

As for residents of Emma’s Place, if the process is not expedited or the street is not given a higher standing on the priority list, it will likely be well over a decade before residents get their wish.

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