HCA directors OK swipe-card fix for Ancaster well
Opponents vow court fight as Ferguson declares victory
The Ancaster Wells site, accessible from Sulphur Springs Road via a maintained driveway and parking lot about 350 metres south of Governor’s Road, has long been a popular source of free water. Photo by Richard Leitner
Despite threats of legal action by those demanding unfettered access, Lloyd Ferguson is declaring victory on his compromise plan to keep water flowing at a popular Sulphur Springs Road artesian well after a new arsenic regulation takes effect in January.
Hamilton Conservation Authority directors emerged from a 50-minute closed session last Thursday to vote 6-1 without discussion to support the Ancaster councillor’s proposal to fence the well’s two taps and introduce a swipe-card entry system.
To gain access, users will have to pay a one-time $10 fee for a card and sign a legal waiver acknowledging the water isn’t for drinking, isn’t tested and contains elevated levels of sodium and arsenic.
A sign at the well will similarly warn users. The well water’s arsenic typically ranges from 17 to 23 parts per billion — below the existing provincial limit of 25 for the carcinogen but above the pending new maximum of 10.
With all these tough decisions it’s important to try to find a compromise where possible. This way it stays open and we are satisfying public health.The plan is contingent on getting approval from the city’s medical officer of heath and public health services as well as confirmation that it doesn’t negate the authority’s general liability insurance.
Ferguson said afterwards the authority has received a flashing green light from its insurer but needs to make sure it gets “a full green” before proceeding.
He said he had to overcome resistance in the closed-door session to charging just a one-time fee of $10 and doubts it will cover the cost of restricting access, which he estimated at $6,000 to $10,000.
“I’m glad it’s over,” said Ferguson, who in June convinced directors to give him time to find an alternative solution to a staff recommendation to simply close the well by the end of this year.
“With all these tough decisions it’s important to try to find a compromise where possible. This way it stays open and we are satisfying public health.”
Ward 1 Coun. Aidan Johnson cast the lone vote against Ferguson’s plan but gave no reasons and didn’t elaborate much when asked for an explanation afterwards.
Back in June, he indicated he was ready to support closing the well “without complaint” to comply with the new arsenic limit.
“I’m on record already making comments on this. I wonder if I should just resort to my previous comments,” Johnson said, noting he also raised concerns and questions during an August council discussion on potentially treating the water.
“I just need more answers to my questions before I’m comfortable.”
The decision came after a public delegation session at the meeting during which those opposed to limiting access to the well vowed to fight Ferguson’s plan, including in court if necessary.
Joel Moran, one of four speakers, rejected that the well qualifies as a small drinking water system under Ontario regulations as contended by public health services and others, and said two lawyers have indicated they are willing to take on the case.
He said a deed to the well property requires the authority to provide public access in perpetuity and the new regulation is based on bad science funded by “big food and beverage” companies who want to privatize water.
“If we were to agree to the use of swipe cards and waivers, we would be changing the very agreement that promises water to us,” Moran said.
“We’ve gathered more than enough evidence. It’s time for the law to decide now as it should in a dispute of this nature.”
Erin Davis, another speaker, said councillors on the authority board will pay at the polls for limiting access because people come from all over to use the well.
“Your next election is coming soon,” she said. “Being on the wrong side of this issue is political suicide.”
Only speaker Keith Baker indicated he could support the swipe-card system but said he’s worried what will happen if it’s vandalized or people find a way around it.
“It would probably mean that it would then be closed down and that would be my concern,” he said.