Costly sewer hookup has Bay Roberts councillors scratching their heads over a fair fee

By Craig Westcott \ May 18, 2023

Bay Roberts councillors didn’t quite know what to make at first of a request last week from a property owner who has rejected chances over the years to connect to municipal sewer services, but now suddenly wants to do it so he can sell his property – but at a substantial cost to the Town.

The land in question is on a congested stretch of Route 70, the main artery through the heart of Bay Roberts.

“Council is aware of this issue, it’s been on the table for a number of years, back and forth between the current property owner and the former property owner and the Town,” said chief administrative officer Nigel Black in introducing the item. “Basically, there is a sewer service on that piece of land that was allowed to go through another private property, and it was never hooked up on the road frontage like it should have been. Now the owner has sold the property and would like to get this situation rectified and get a proper sewer service. It is a complicated service – we’ve got a fair amount of infrastructure in the ground there and a busy piece of highway.”

The problem for the Town, Black explained, is to determine a fair charge for the hookup, as it is likely to cost much more than what is covered by a regular sewerage connection fee. The other question faced by the planning committee and now before council is, who should pay – the current property owner or the previous property owner.

“The former property owner has agreed that he’s willing to pay for this service,” Black added. “The question then became, what rate do we charge?”

Black said the usual fee is $2,000 for a sewer only hookup. “In the case of this property, the actual cost of doing that service is going to be substantially more than $2,000. We’ll have to hire traffic control services and it will tie up our public works crew for probably two days.”

Black noted, though, the Town performed a similar service on the same property last year and the applicant was charged $2,000 at that time.

“So, my way of thinking is what was fair in that case is fair in this case and we should charge the $2,000 and from this point forward we should establish a new rate to protect our costs,” he said. 

Mayor Walter Yetman agreed council should consider adjusting the rate, but first it should make a decision about this particular application. He then called for a motion.

“This has been brought to Public Works numerous times,” said the chairman of that committee, Deputy Mayor Geoff Seymour, “and the same recommendation has come back every time, that we should not be entertaining this. We spoke with Public Works staff and when all that infrastructure went through that individual had a chance to hook on and didn’t do it. Now we’re in a situation where the property is sold and it needs to be done and the taxpayers are on the hook for this amount of money.”

Seymour argued the work that was done last year for $2,000 should not have been done for that amount.

“Now we’re back here looking at this,” he added. “It’s a lot of money, it’s a considerable amount of time… It’s just not fair to the taxpayer.”

Councillor Dean Franey asked how it was that one part of the property was connected to Town sewerage last year.

“It was the same situation, basically,” said Black. “There was one big property, and it was serviced down through the other property and down to County Road and they were looking to subdivide that, the house portion of that property. In order to do that, they needed their own service.”

Seymour said in that situation, the person selling the property should have been responsible for covering the extra costs associated with connecting the house to the Town’s service on the highway, not the Town of Bay Roberts.

“It’s the only rate we have,” Black said of the $2,000 fee. “It’s the only rate there is.”

Councillor Silas Babcock asked if the Town had solicited three bids last year to do the work, in the hope of getting the best price.

“We tried that and we couldn’t get any bids on it. It’s kind of specialized work, so there are not many contractors who would try it,” Black said.

“It’s a big job too, isn’t it?” asked councillor Perry Bowering. “And pretty deep?”

Mayor Yetman asked if it would be helpful if the Town approached the applicant to see if he is willing to pay more of the cost than the $2,000 fee. The mayor indicated he has been given to believe the applicant will pay more.

“Unfortunately, we are stuck in the position, like the director said, that we only have that one rate,” said Franey. “We’re going to get a new rate developed for this kind of situation… Maybe there will have to be a fairer split of the costs rather than it mostly being on us.”

Yetman suggested council table the motion until someone from the Town can talk with the applicant to see if he is willing to cover more of the cost. As for adjusting the cost of connections generally, he suggested council look at creating a separate category for hookups on Conception Bay Highway, which is busier and entails more costs than connections in residential areas.

“Just to throw a monkey wrench into it, because I remember when this came up,” Bowering interjected, “it’s pretty deep… and we’re only estimating (the cost), because we don’t know what we’re going to run into once we get it tore up. So, your costs could go way down, or it could double.”

Getting back to the mayor’s suggestion, Seymour said it was a fair one. Franey seconded the deputy mayor’s motion to do just what Yetman had asked. The motion passed unanimously.

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