The Cranberry Creek Mess-Up by Shirley Dolan

Shirley Dolan
Shirley Dolan

On Monday, April 23, North Gower landowners attended a Court of Revision meeting to appeal assessments to upgrade the Cranberry Creek municipal drain. An engineer’s report completed in December 2017 was the basis for the assessments.  Of the 300 households that received an assessment, more than 100 submitted an appeal.

I attended the meeting on Monday and although some may say that this is a case of residents not wanting to pay for a project that will benefit the community, there was much to suggest that this situation could have been handled better and landowners given better explanations about the project.

The cost of the $1.5 million project will be shared among the 300 landowners, the City of Ottawa, and the Ministry of Transportation (MTO), all of whom will “benefit” from the improvements to the Cranberry Creek municipal drain system. However, the landowners will pay the bulk of the cost.

Benefit is an important concept in the provincial Drainage Act. It is the basis for costs assigned to property owners. According to the Act, “benefit” means the advantages to any lands, roads, buildings or other structures from the construction, improvement, repair or maintenance of a drainage works such as will result in a higher market value or increased crop production or improved appearance or better control of surface or subsurface water, or any other advantages relating to the betterment of lands, roads, buildings or other structures.  Here things get a bit sticky because some of the landowners don’t care or don’t want their lands drained. They don’t mind a bit of water in the spring.

In some ways, the story of Cranberry Creek has been a comedy of errors.  This municipal drain has a long history. First constructed in 1895, improvements to the drainage works, new branches, and associated watersheds were addressed in 1953, 1969, and 1973.  Around 1969, a dyke and a pump were installed to accommodate the higher levels of the Rideau River – higher because, some say, the River has filled in with silt and needs to be dredged. Parks Canada keeps the water high enough to accommodate pleasure boats and this appears to be too high to let the municipal drain empty naturally into the Rideau. Hence the pump to get the water over the dyke and into the River. (Parks Canada has not been asked to contribute to the upgrades to the drainage system.)

About 27 years ago, the pump went missing. The Ward councillor has stated that if the missing pump situation had been addressed at that time, it would have been at a much lower cost than today’s estimate. So, should the landowners be on the hook for mistakes made almost three decades ago?

It appeared to me that many of the assessments were being revised downwards because of information not considered when arriving at the fee. Of the forty or so appeals that I heard at the court of revision, many fell into this category. It begs the question, if so many assessments are being reduced, who pays for the shortfall to make up the difference?

There were rumblings of ineffective notifications, of people missed in the assessment, and of those unaware of the project and its affect on it.

It was also mentioned at the meeting that the MTO did not do a drainage study for the construction of 416 and should their share be higher because of this?

Another issue that was raised is the ongoing costs of the pump which is powered by expensive electricity.

There is a second session of the Court of Revision on May 7th. Landowners also have the right to appeal to a Drainage Tribunal.