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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

Essex Council meeting notes for Monday, April 17, 2023

by Sylene Argent

Entegrus shares plans for E.L.K. with Essex Council

A month ago, the new E.L.K. Energy Board announced it brought on Chatham-based utility, Entegrus Inc., to provide contracted management services to assist with the day-to-day operations for the local energy distributor.

The Management Service Agreement is for six-months, and can be renewed for another six-months.

Jim Hogan, President and Chief Executive Officer of Entegrus, and his executive team, approached Council to share their plan for E.L.K.

Hogan noted Entegrus serves 17 communities, has 62,000 customers, and 125 employees. E.L.K. serves six communities.

The focus will be on investing in and modernizing E.L.K., he said. Key Functional areas will include finance, customer service, outside operations, health and safety, human resources, etc.

Entegrus will work with E.L.K.’s staff and board to develop a smart grid plan to modernize the distribution system and implement new tech that is standard in the industry. A communication plan will also be developed for internal and external stakeholders. That will include expanding its customer communication by increasing its social media presence and adding a page to the website to allow for the posting of more information about outages.

Hogan also plans to incorporate an outage map, which could take a year or two.

The last Term of Council voted to change the composition of the E.L.K. Energy Board to include fewer Essex Councillors and looked to bring on members with experience in the industry. Hogan liked the change.

The Board wants to start posting some information after the meeting to communicate with customers, Hogan said.

So far, the Board has approved to start looking for two additional line workers, in addition to more customer care staff. It will also look at getting a new phone system, a back-up generator for its facility so staff can operate during a power-outage, and smart grid investments.

Hogan said E.L.K. will continue with its fault indicator program, which was previously started, and will make more investments in GIS. It will also invest in Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA), which will get information into the office as to where issues are located, what they might be, and if it is an E.L.K. or Hydro One issue.

It will also invest in automated switches, which will allow for the shifting to a different feed, if there is an issue on one side of the town.

The goal, Hogan said, is to reduce the number of outages and impact on customers.

Councillor Joe Garon asked about the Board’s priorities. Hogan said that is taking care of staff and investing in the distribution system. Entegrus is laying a foundation for E.L.K.

He also asked about CEO recruitment. Mayor Sherry Bondy, who is also the Chairperson of E.L.K. said that decision will be made at the Board-level and would not be addressed that evening. Finding a replacement could take some time.

She said when the Board decided to bring on another service to help E.L.K., many were interested.

Councillor Katie McGuire-Blais asked what Entegrus gets out of the Management Service Agreement. Hogan explained that in the industry, utilities help each other, as was evident when several pulled together to restore power after the February ice storm. As a former Essex resident, he said he wants to see the local distribution company do well.

Hogan said it is fun for him to help out.

Will this become something long-term? Hogan said he does not know, and that is okay. They are doing something to help the industry and having fun doing it.

McGuire-Blais asked if there will be capacity for growth as residential areas are developed.

Hogan said he believes E.L.K. will need to make the right investments in more staff and go to the Ontario Energy Board to get an appropriate rate of return. He said revenue is low currently, which makes it difficult for E.L.K. to provide what customers are looking for.

Split decision passes Colchester Beach Water Park lease provisionally

A split Council approved entering into a lease agreement with Aqua City for leased space at 87 Jackson Street in Colchester for a term of one-year.

This could be subject to an additional two-years, commencing May 15, 2023, subject to the general terms and conditions as outlined in By-Law 2241, which was provisionally adopted.

Formal adoption would come before Council for consideration in May.

The Report to Council noted that in October 2022, Aqua City contacted Administration regarding the possibility of operating a floating, inflatable water park at Colchester Beach.

The MNRF confirmed that the waterfront is permitted to be utilized for this type of activity. In order to proceed, a Land Use Permission has to be registered with the Province of Ontario.

To ensure risk is mitigated, the Town of Essex is requiring Aqua City undertake a safety audit by the Lifesaving Society to ensure all health and safety documentation, proper staffing, policies and procedures related to outdoor floating water parks are in place, in addition to emergency procedures, maintenance standards, and any other information pertinent to the operation of the water park.

The Town of Essex will pay 50 percent of the cost for the Safety Audit and the initial Land Use Permit through the Ministry of Natural Resources. The Safety Audit will relate to the beach and waterfront as well as the inflatable water park. The cost is estimated to be approximately $3,000, which will be offset with additional revenues from Aqua City through the yearly operating budget, the Report notes.

Aqua City would pay the Town of Essex 10 percent of sales for the first-year of operation. If the Town of Essex and Aqua City mutually agree to continue the lease in future years, the remuneration rate will be negotiated based on historical statistics and if there is an impact to the Town of Essex operations.

Director of Community Service, Jake Morassut, said those funds could be put into a Colchester Parking Reserve or some other idea.

The water park could be an attraction, Councillor Katie McGuire Blais said. She asked if there would be interest in a shuttle service, as parking is an issue in the area. Morassut said the issue with that is where would it launch from. The Community Services and Infrastructure Services departments are working on a parking plan.

Councillor Kim Verbeek said she read a lot of emails on the matter from residents, which were basically split evenly between those who support the idea and those who had concerns. She also asked about affordability for families.

Councillor Joe Garon asked what is the actual size of the proposed site. Morassut said they are looking at a 100’by100’ area in the water. It would be placed in deeper water. Morassut said the sales report would be given to the Town of Essex to determine revenue and the portion that would be given to the Town.

Garon also asked about after hours security. Morassut noted in the lease agreement, the proponent is responsible for security for the water park. The Town does have security for the Harbour, who could notify the proponent if something was going on.

Councillor Jason Matyi brought up water testing and how that would affect the water park. It was noted if the beach was closed for E. coli, the park would have to close until water testing approved water activity again.

Mayor Sherry Bondy asked about staffing, as lifeguards are tough to find. The proponent said she believed she could pull from other areas to hire lifeguards. Councillor Brad Allard reiterated the Town struggles to obtain lifeguards for its own recreation programs.

It was noted it could take three-months for the plan to come together.

Mayor Sherry Bondy said she was not prepared to jump in with both feet just yet.

The beach is a free amenity. It puts a divide at the beach between the haves and the have nots. She believes there will be staffing issues with lifeguards. She wanted the opportunity to continue to accept questions.

“I want you to succeed and I want our communities to feel safe and comfortable as well,” Bondy said.

Councillor Rodney Hammond said he could not support the idea. He is a proponent for public access to water, and he said that is diminishing rapidly.

“I would hate to see our residents and our visitors not have that available to them. This is a great idea, I applaud you for it…we are just not there yet,” Hammond said, adding he wants to preserve the quality of life for residents and visitors.

Youth Council member Colin Pyne liked the idea, noting he believes youths are excited about the idea and it is needed to attract people to Colchester Beach.

In a recorded vote, Hammond, Bondy, and Verbeek were opposed. McGuire-Blais, Matyi, Garon, and Allard were in support. Deputy Mayor Rob Shepley did not vote as he is a co-owner of a business at the Colchester Harbour and declared a conflict of interest. The motion carried.

Development Overview for March

down 112.52% from March 2022

Council received the Development Overview for the month of March. It noted the total construction value for March 2023 – including all new and expanding commercial, industrial, institutional, and residential developments that required a building permit – was $7,319,000.

This was 112.52% down when compared to March 2022.

In addition, the average home sale price in Wards 1 and 2 was $420,193, which was much lower than the $680,870 recorded in the same month in 2022. The average home sale price in Wards 3 and 4 was $526,890, which was significantly lower than the $999,715 recorded in the same month in 2022.

Report a Problem received 299

submissions January through March

Essex Council received a report highlighting details of the Town of Essex’s online portal, Report a Problem, for the first quarter of the year.

Between January 1, 2023 and March 31, 2023, Town staff received a total of 299 submissions. The Report to Council notes the increase was a result of the severe winter ice storm that occurred on February 22, 2023.

There were 73 submissions for roads, sidewalks, and bridges; 57 for streetlights, powerlines and overhead utilities; and 56 for hazard trees and branches.

The report noted on average, tickets were closed within five-days of submission. Of all submissions, 54 percent were closed within three days or less, and 90 percent were closed within fourteen-days or less. At the time of reporting, 124 submissions were categorized as pending.

Essex Council Notes for Monday, April 17 will continue in the April 27 edition of the Essex Free Press.


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