Mayor Don’s Update – January 21, 2021

Happy New Year to all and I hope you had as good a holiday as possible.

COVID-19 Update

The Province of Ontario has declared a State of Emergency and issued a stay-at-home order in response to the increasing number of COVID-19 cases. As a result, new restrictions came into effect on January 14 requiring residents to remain at home with exceptions for going to the grocery store or pharmacy, and accessing health care that cannot be done remotely.

Additionally, outdoor public gatherings are further restricted to a limit of five people. Non-essential retail stores offering curbside pickup are only permitted to operate between the hours of 7 am and 8 pm. Some non-essential construction is further restricted.

In order to comply with the order, all Township facilities, including the Township Administration Centre are closed to the public. Staff are available to assist residents by email and phone and all contact information is posted on the Township website at www.springwater.ca/contact. The Springwater Public Library will continue to offer pre-booked curbside service to residents.

The Township has also made the decision to close all outdoor skating rinks. This decision was made in consultation with the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit and to ensure that the regulations under the provincial stay-at-home order are being adhered to. We understand that there is a lot of confusion regarding this decision, since rinks are permitted to be open under the Provincial guidelines, however it is the municipalities’responsibility to ensure that the restrictions are being adhered to.

Since they have opened for the season, the rinks have generated a multitude of complaints from residents concerned that users are not following the protocols put in place for the safety of the community. The complaints range from people not obeying the capacity limits, to playing hockey (which is against the restrictions), skating after posted hours, drinking on public property, littering and failing to remain off of closed ice surfaces and ice under maintenance.

The 12 outdoor rinks in the municipality are maintained by groups of dedicated volunteers in each community.  The Township does not have the resources to monitor the rinks and ensure that guidelines are being followed.

The closing of the rinks was not an easy decision for our Emergency Community Control Group to make, however it was made with the best interest of the community at heart and the potential liability we would otherwise face as a township.

Midhurst Development – Carson Road – Site Servicing

At the December 21st meeting, Council approved Phase 1A site servicing to commence for the Midhurst Carson Road Development, also known as the Micks Subdivision. The site servicing will be the next step in preparing the site for development and home construction. This phase involves the installation of services which includes watermain, sanitary sewers, storm sewers, and the stormwater management pond for Phase1A located in the Wilson Drive and Carson Road area. Tree clearing and site alterations will also commence on the treatment facility lands / utility campus (located on the north side of Snow Valley Road, East of Wilson Drive).

Professional engineers and geoscientists will monitor the site throughout this work, including morning erosion and sediment control fencing around the site. They will also ensure that the servicing proceeds in accordance with the approved drawings and regulations in place.

For additional information on this work and the Midhurst Development, as well as the process that got us to this point, please visit www.springwater.ca/currentdevelopment.

Blood Donor Clinic

Thank you to everyone who attended and donated at the blood donor clinic held in Elmvale this past Saturday. Amid the COVID pandemic the need for blood is greater than ever. If you are interested in donating in the future, please visit blood.ca or call 1-888-2DONATE to learn about upcoming clinics, donation criteria and to book your appointment.

Digital Main Street and Beyond

There are a number of free programs available to assist local businesses as they meet the challenges of the current environment. One of those programs is called Digital Main Street and the goal is to work with local business owners to provide a digital transformation. The program is built around an online learning platform, structured training programs and a Digital Service Squad, which is a team of digital experts who will provide 10-hours of free consulting time.

When businesses sign up for the Digital Main Street program, they will complete the onboarding process, then receive a free digital assessment and recommended to-do list that identifies technology and tools that can help their business meet their goals. The Digital Service Squad will work with businesses one-on-one to activate free and easy to use tools such as Shopify, Google My Business, social media and additional technologies.

The program expires on February 9, so interested business owners should act now. To get started, contact the Small Business Enterprise Centre at 705-720-2445 or digitalsquad@barrie.ca for more information.

Broadband Update

We know of the constant challenges and frustrations residents in many areas of Springwater are having with inconsistent, unreliable, unaffordable broadband hi speed internet. This has been made worse with the impacts of COVID – working, schooling, surviving from home, resulting in huge demands for a system that is spotty and weak to begin with. I hear and share all your comments and complaints and that is why I initiated exploring the possibility of a Community Broadband Strategy last year.

After several years of getting up and running, last December Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT) announced it has awarded $41.1 million in funding for 6 projects in Simcoe County to expand broadband services for more than 12,700 households (approximately 31,750 residents) and businesses with limited or no connectivity. The newly announced projects will collectively service approximately 500 kilometres of roadway across 60 communities within Simcoe County.

As part of this, Bell Canada has been awarded funding to support three fibre-to-the-home projects. The newly awarded projects will collectively service 389 kilometres of underserved roadway to bring high-speed internet to 10,604 homes and businesses throughout the Townships of Clearview, Adjala-Tosorontio, Essa, Springwater, Oro-Medonte, Tiny, Tay, Severn, Ramara and within the Towns of Midland, Penetanguishene and Innisfil. The projects represent a collective total investment of approximately $32 million and will be completed with service available by mid-2022. Of the three Bell projects, it appears that parts of Springwater (Anten Mills, Phelpston, Snow Valley and Hillsdale) have been included but there are many other areas which have not. Further details can be accessed via the approved project map at https://swiftruralbroadband.ca/resources/our-service-map/. It is these areas that require attention as part of a Community Broadband Strategy.

To look at addressing the deficiency of broadband services in Springwater, Council last August authorized staff to issue a Request of Expression of Interest (REOI) to look for solutions from Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to enhance broadband internet services in underserved areas of the Township. The goal is to secure the provision of reliable, high-speed broadband internet services to underserved areas in Springwater that will meet or exceed the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) end-user objectives to operate at speeds of a minimum of 50 Mbps for downloads and 10 Mbps for uploads (50/10) Community Broadband Services. This was issued last September and closed in early November. Research suggests that a fibre solution (as compared to copper wire or wireless) will provide the fastest and most reliable internet connection and will offer the greatest compatibility with technological advances in future. Five submissions offered a potential fibre solution. Council this week is considering next steps with this. I believe as next steps we should issue a Request for Proposal to the five proponents seeking more detailed submissions and from that, we can consider next steps. If we were to proceed with a Community Broadband Plan, it would require a sizeable financial investment along with the finalized ISP partner however there are possible funding sources.

Some government funding has recently been made available for broadband projects but it requires the applicant to have provable experience building, owning , operating and servicing broadband infrastructure so it would require the Township to partner with some party with that experience.

The other options being reviewed and considered by Council this week include:

Advocacy or Support Role – advocate for more funding for rural broadband assistance and support ISPs if they try to increase their service offering to areas of Springwater. This would delay any improvement of the current situation for a considerable period of time.
Another alternative is to do nothing at this time and wait to see what happens with SWIFT.

 

In addition to the need for good, dependable, affordable broadband outlined above, it is vital to have this from an economic development perspective to attract businesses and residents to Springwater so we are not seen as falling behind the times with what we are offering.

Council this week is having a delegation from Mr. Jeff Kerk, a resident of Hillview Avenue off Gill Road. He took it upon himself to organize his neighbourhood of 160 homes and form a company to develop and is implementing the Hillview Internet Broadband Project. They have convinced a telco company to bring better broadband to this community using fibre. If funded (and that is likely), a fibre-to-the-home solution meeting the 50/10 standard will be provided to the Hillview Gill and Crystalwood communities by November 2021. Kudos to them. Now that is being innovative and determined. Kudos to you folks.

It is this determination and thinking outside the box which I feel we need to do with this ever-growing issue.

Stay well and keep playing by the rules. 2021 is going to be a lot better than 2020.

These are my thoughts and not necessarily shared by all of Council.