Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Spring is Showing Itself, as is our Ageing Infrastructure

By Stephen Vance, Editor

The last week has provided many hopeful signs that we are finally escaping the cold grip of winter, and we’re heading into warmer temperatures, and soon perhaps, a blossom or two will appear.

Spring. A time of renewal, rebirth, and new life all around us.

It isn’t just the natural world around us that is humming with the signs of the fresh start provided by the ever loosening grip of winter.

Meaford’s iconic visitor services apple will stay where it is on Sykes Street, a consultant is to be hired to help guide Meaford council’s decision on policing services, the water tower is readying itself for a summer makeover, the municipality had an unexpectedly large surplus from 2013, and residents concerned about potential health implications of a proposed cell tower in a residential neighbourhood were not only listened to, their concerns were immediately acted upon by our council.

Sure seems like we’re not in Kansas anymore Toto.

Then again, it is an election year, so lots of nice things are done by those seeking a seat at the council table leading up to an election.

With the current term of council nearing its end, as all of this new life is about to blossom in every corner of our municipality, it is important to put all of the recent good news into perspective.

I hate being the buzz-kill, however if we set aside all of the recent successes and positive signs that we’ve been seeing of late, there is a major, major problem on the horizon, not just for Meaford, but for virtually every municipality on the continent – crumbling infrastructure.

The problem isn’t that municipalities have been ignoring the warnings, in Canada at least, the issue is that municipalities have very limited sources from which to draw funding, leaving most municipalities severely handicapped when considering their infrastructure replacement needs.

In September of 2012 a ‘Canadian Infrastructure Report Card’ was released jointly by the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering, the Canadian Public Works Association, the Canadian Construction Association, and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and what was contained in that report was distressing to say the least.

The report found that, on average, about 30 percent of Canada’s municipal infrastructure ranked between ‘fair’ and ‘very poor’, and the replacement cost for that municipal infrastructure is a whopping $178 billion nationally.

Roads, bridges, pipes and sewers, water treatment facilities. All of that infrastructure that we rarely stop to think about, all of those pieces of our infrastructure puzzle, most of which was built decades ago in the glory days when governments upheld their unwritten agreement with the private sector that when the economy tanks, government steps in with infrastructure funding to help give the economy the cash injection it needs to once again thrive.

The difficulty though, is that in modern times, that unwritten agreement has fallen away in favour of appeasing the ever increasing cries for tax relief.

So we’ve essentially been hiding our pending infrastructure collapse in a closet like that sweater from Aunt Mable that you just don’t want to be seen in public.

And while we may not see the cracks in the systems on a daily basis – the roads get us where we’re going, and the water still comes out of our taps, so what’s the worry?

Well, many of our roads are in terrible shape, and not everyone has seen water coming out of their taps in Meaford in recent weeks.

What? You can’t be serious.

It’s true. For the last couple weeks at our own office there’s been no municipal water due to the fact that the pipes that deliver that water have been frozen somewhere beyond the 40 feet or so that municipal workers were able to reach in an attempt to thaw the pipes.

When water pipes in the commercial core aren’t able to handle the chill of winter, there’s a problem to be fixed.

The municipality has been fantastic throughout the ordeal. For the last number of days they have been able to provide us with water by running a garden hose from a neighbouring building.

I’m told that a dozen or so addresses in the urban section of Meaford have experienced the same sort of issue, and most have been accommodated with the temporary garden hose.

Is it a sign of a major problem? An expensive problem? It’s hard to tell right now, but it should serve as a reminder that while much of our infrastructure is virtually invisible to us, it is there, it is ageing, it is in need of a major overhaul, but nobody is sure where the money will come from to refurbish that infrastructure in Meaford or anywhere else in the province.

As we embrace the early hints of spring, let’s also embrace the reality that in the coming years, money will have to be found somewhere, lest more taps run dry in a cold Ontario winter, or a bridge crumbles, or potholes grow to the point that they swallow cars whole.

We want all that infrastructure, we need it in order for the society we’ve created to function.  Our parents and grandparents paid to build it, and now it is our turn to pony up and repair, refurbish or replace that precious infrastructure.  The difference this time around is that in light of our ever shrinking industrial base, and with real wages in decline, everyone is stretched as far as their cheque books will allow, and there’s no appetite for spending on the part of governments who are forever being lobbied to slash costs.

On the infrastructure front, the sweet hints of spring are likely the calm before the storm.

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