Sauble Beach Needs Municipal Sewer and Water Services

Members of the new Town of South Bruce Peninsula municipal council had a lot of things on their collective mind this past week, much of it related to Sauble Beach, surely one of the most unique communities in the Grey-Bruce area.

There was a time, many years ago now, when Sauble Beach was indeed a summer resort destination and cottage community. And for thousands of other people it was one of THE places in Ontario to spend a few hours driving to get to by car or motorcycle. You could spend the better part of the day just lying on the long, crescent beach, browse through little gift and souvenir shops, grab a bite to eat at a hamburger or pizza joint, and party. Occasionally, back in the days of what I’ll call the old Sauble Beach, the partying got out of hand and Sauble’s reputation as a family-oriented vacation destination took a beating. But the Labour Day weekend came and went, the shops and restaurants were boarded up and closed for the season, the cottages were locked up and winterized, and Sauble went into a deep sleep for another winter.

Businesses that stayed open were few and far between; so were year-round residents.

But much has changed at Sauble Beach in the past, I’ll say, 25 years or more, at least as far back as the time I started covering municipal affairs in the former Amabel Township. Sauble was an unincorporated part of the township, meaning it was not a municipal entity in its own right, though even long before the early and mid-80s it was undoubtedly the best known place in Amabel, certainly outside the local area. Ask anybody from Toronto, and even quite a few people from Owen Sound if they knew where Amabel Township was and they didn’t have a clue. But everybody knew about Sauble Beach, one of Ontario’s premier beach destinations, right up there with Wasaga, but better in some ways because it took a little longer to reach, and was maybe a little less crowded and tacky.

In retrospect it’s now fairly easy to see how Sauble’s growth and development fate was already taking shape from the 1950s. Youngsters like myself came to a family or rented cottage with their parents, or foster parents, for a week or two at the beach, returned perhaps as the flower children or bikers of the 60s and early 70s, or drove their Plymouth Duster Hemi-powered muscle cars up from the city with a bunch of buddies for a long weekend of partying. We were the baby boomer generation. We were and still are the demographic phenomenon that has powered every important socio-economic trend since the Second World War that spawned us, as the soldiers went overseas, or especially when they returned.

We baby boomers have virtually created the world in which we now live, for good or ill, from a natural environment in tremendous peril, to a materialistic prosperity the likes of which the world has never seen. We are the material generation. We have built and lived our lives on the foundations of material values, even those of us who at a certain rebellious time in our lives, disdained those values and hit the road for a while, thumbing to who knows where in search of something better. But most of us came home, to the values we were raised with, that were branded in our hearts and minds as children, possibly as much as anything by watching way too many TV commercials extolling the advantages of the good life, in terms of the amount of things one owned.

And standing high above it all on the scale that measure’s success in life, is that most important thing of all, the owning of one’s own home. And beyond that is another baby boomer generation dream, springing perhaps from family roots in the Canadian rural-pioneer experience: The dream of a home in the country, preferably somewhere close to water, a peaceful lake where the sun sets quietly and serenely on the autumn of our lives, a place we came “home” to because it was such a memorable, wonderful part of our childhood or youthful experience.

Like many people of my generation I went in search of “home” and found it at a little, old farmhouse in a secluded, rolling, well-treed rural area on the Bruce Peninsula. Other baby boomers have left the big cities in recent years and come “home” to the small towns and villages of Grey-Bruce where the sense and reality of a friendly “community spirit” is tangible, warm and welcoming. There’s a reason why many parts of this area are experiencing booming residential development, and that’s it.

And certainly lots of baby boomer have come home, and are still coming to Sauble Beach, where they spent many a happy holiday in years gone by. Actually an earlier generation, the parents of the baby boom generation, got the trend off to an early start in Sauble. By the mid-1980s people at or near retirement age were already starting to build or buy year-round homes at the beach in large numbers. Subdivisions were built on communal water and private septic systems. The growth continued, sprawling north up to the Sauble River and beyond, toward and then past Oliphant. Today Sauble is one of the geographically largest and most populous urban communities in Bruce County, as big or bigger than towns like Wiarton and Southampton. Go there now any day of the week and you will find it much like any other community, with banks, grocery stores, shopping plazas, restaurants, and local residents out on the town doing their shopping or their business.

Yet, through all this time of transformation from a seasonal resort destination that shut down in the winter, to the bustling year-round community it now is, Sauble Beach has never had municipal sewer and water services, despite studies and failed attempts over the years to get them funded and built. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. It boggles the mind. It was a no-brainer, an essential service that cried out to be built, especially because some great mind somewhere should have seen the scope of the development taking shape, and the extent to which sewer and water services could have provided much more scope for bigger and better development.

As far back as 1969 various studies have warned of the need for a sewage system at Sauble to safeguard the health of its residents and property values from the risk of pollution. I can certainly remember in the mid-1980s Amabel officials trying, but failing, to get provincial grants to help construct sewer and water facilities for a fraction of the cost it would take to build them today. And in those days there were 85 percent provincial grants, but they’re long gone, and will almost certainly never be seen again.

In 2001 a study was done that ended up recommending building a pipeline to bring water to Sauble Beach on Lake Huron from Wiarton on Georgian Bay, via Hepworth. A regional sewage system serving Hepworth and Sauble Beach would also be built. This huge mega-project would cost an estimated $80 million. Not surprisingly it ran into a lot of opposition in the municipality.

But figures were presented at a special South Bruce Peninsula Committee of the Whole meeting this past week in Sauble that suggest the pipeline proposal is still the most cost-effective solution, from the point of view of the hook-up costs for property-owners on the system.

Regardless of how it gets down – pipeline or not – Sauble Beach is long overdue for sewer and water system services. It should have happened a long time ago. Now, with EColi showing up in ditches and in sand-point well sampling, there’s a real risk much environmental damage has already been done. There’s a ticking time bomb under the beach. There should be no more debate on that point. Now is the time for action.

Meanwhile, town council was anxious this week to get the word out that Bruce County is participating in the Canada-Ontario Affordable Housing Program. It provides up to five percent in down-payment assistance to eligible applicants to help them buy a home. Information sessions are to be held Feb. 19 at the South Bruce Peninsula municipal office in Wiarton, at 7 p.m. Another such session is set for Feb. 21 in Walkerton, at the same time, at the Bruce County council chambers, 30 Park Street.

Sounds like a good program, but I wouldn’t recommend any young family short of money buy a house in Sauble Beach or Hepworth, and risk having to pay an $18,000 bill to hook up to a new water and sewage systems, when and if they ever get built.

Originally published in The Sun Times in 2008.

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