Bud Wildman, former Algoma MPP, represented current Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Michael Mantha at an information session held Wednesday evening for beleaguered River Valley Park residents wondering about the future of their homes.
Mantha was absent due to another pressing commitment in the riding, but Toronto-based Harjeet Dusanjh, the owner of River Valley Park (a trailer park located north of the Sault), as well as Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) officials, were also absent.
The session, organized by the Algoma Community Legal Clinic and held at the Delta Hotel, included several service agencies on hand to provide residents with information on housing options should the trailer park close by Algoma Public Health (APH) order Aug. 31.
APH ordered the closure of River Valley Park June 8 after repeated failure by Dusanjh to repair the park’s septic system.
Dusanjh lost an appeal of the APH decision Aug. 10 at a hearing in Toronto.
“It’s a mobile home park, but most of your homes are not mobile, some of them may have been there for 30 years, they cannot be moved, and even if they could be moved, there’s nowhere to move them to,” said Wildman, sympathizing with the River Valley Park residents gathered at Wednesday’s meeting.
“If anyone’s at fault in this process it’s the owner,” Wildman said (though residents have said the park has had its share of troubles with past owners).
Wildman told the audience he was informed by Mantha that Dusanjh is working with Kresin Engineering on a plan for sewage system repair to be presented to the MOECC for approval, but that it will not be ready until Sept. 15, to sighs of exasperation from the audience.
“I’m not defending the owner at all, he’s had time to comply,” Wildman said.
The June 8, 2017 APH order to fix the sewage system was the latest in a series of work orders issued to the park ownership, the first in April 2016, another in February, then again in June.
In addition, Ontario’s MOECC has been dealing with the park’s ownership for three years.
“Homelessness is not healthy, and that’s what you people face…if you’re going to be put out on the street, losing the largest investment you have, then the provincial government owes you support,” Wildman said, stating he felt various government ministries should have stepped in to ensure the park was in good, healthy shape long ago.
Joanne Pearson of the District of Sault Ste. Marie Social Services Assistance Board (DSSMSSAB) told residents they would be assisted if they are displaced by the park’s closure and need housing in Sault Ste. Marie.
Those in need of housing would have to fill out an application for DSSMSSAB to review, and, while waiting, some may have to go to shelters such as St. Vincent Place or Pauline’s Place.
“We really want to be able to divert you from that and be able to assist you the best we can and offer those supports,” Pearson said.
“We will take each circumstance and we will meet with people to find out what their current situation is.”
Officials from the John Howard Society of Sault Ste. Marie and the United Way were in attendance to help residents find housing if they are displaced by a trailer park closure.
“I’m very, very upset of course, because potentially we’ll lose a massive investment in our home…it’s a really nice retirement home, with mature trees, shaded, and we couldn’t replace it,” said Geoff Good, a River Valley Park resident, speaking to SooToday.
“So, we’re staying. The question now is ‘who’s going to fix the septic system?’” said Good, who has lived at River Valley Park with his wife for the past decade.
“We’re pretty confident it’s going to get fixed and we’re going to stay in our home and have something to sell if we have to, but we have no intention of doing that.”
But if the septic system doesn’t get repaired, and the residents aren’t able to sell their homes, Good said “we’re right up the creek,” chuckling good-naturedly amid the stress.
“There’s a lot of blame to go around,” Good said, pointing back to previous park ownership, current ownership and the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change.
Good said he thinks Algoma Public Health is doing it’s job, but possibly overreacting.
“Is there contamination in the river, I’m sure there probably is. How much of it is coming from the park I really don’t know,” Good said.
“It’s a terrible situation…our only hope is that our various government departments and the owner can get their acts together and get the septic system fixed.”
Approximately 35 families would be affected by a park closure.
“The owner of the park has to complete a full Environmental Compliance Application (ECA), and once he’s done that, that will provide the Ministry a process and a timeline to come under compliance, and once there is some assurance that will happen, the order will be rescinded,” MPP Mantha told SooToday Aug. 18.
“It is dire that the owner provides an ECA (before Aug. 31),” Mantha said.