Media

Sam Slams City Sewers, Pans Pan Am Stadium

By Ryan McGreal
Published July 27, 2009

In response to extensive flooding after the heavy rains of Saturday and particularly Sunday, Ward 4 Councillor Sam Merulla went on an email tear, sending several messages to his fellow council members and local media accusing the city of misplaced priorities and negligence.

The City reported yesterday that over 1,000 homes have experienced flooding in their basements, particularly in the lower city, as well as a power outrage that, among its effects, impacted the Woodward Wastewater Treatment Plant. The Plant ran for several hours on back-up generators.

Merulla, whose ward was heavily affected by the flooding, sent out the first email early yesterday afternoon, "demanding" that the city use municipal Future Fund money to support victims of flooding, as well as renewing a call to have Council ask for federal stimulus money to replacing aging infrastructure.

In addition, he accused City Council and many local media organizations for supporting the 2015 Pan American Games bid while some city infrastructure remains in a poor state of repair.

[S]hame on the Hamilton Spectator, City Council and all media outlets that supported the mother of all unfocused priorities, the Pan Am games bid on the backs of hard working Hamilton residents who have to contend with feces floating in their basement as a direct result of pie-in-the-sky gross expenditures supported by unfocused initiatives.

The Spectator has endorsed the city's Pan Am Games bid, which would commit municipal money toward building a stadium and a velodome for the 2015 Pan American Games. The head of the bid committee is Jagoda Pike, who resigned as the publisher of the Toronto Star in September 2008 to concentrate on the bid.

Between 2001 and 2006, Pike was the publisher of the Hamilton Spectator, which Torstar has owned since 1999.

Merulla's subject line, "Let's build a stadium", may be a reference to a previous altercation between Merulla and Ward 2 Councillor Bob Bratina on the announcement that US Steel was closing its Hamilton and Lake Erie operations. At that time, Merulla wrote an email to council and the local media that simply stated, "Let's build a stadium!!!!!!!" [sic]

Yesterdy, Merulla sent a follow-up email about an hour later, calling the flooding situation "a state of emergency" as residents have experienced flooding up to nine times in the past five years. He also demanded that "all levels of government come to our aid!!!!" [sic]

Two hours later, Merulla forwarded an exchange with Bay Observer reporter Peggy Chapman stating that he had received "over 150 calls in four hours" and announcing:

The media and council is being put on notice. I'm not available for a self-serving photo op when residents are in tears over feces floating in their basement.

He also called the Bay Observer an "irrelevant periodical" and told Chapman the Observer should "endorse the reconsideration of the Pan Am Games".

A little over an hour after that, Merulla issued another email "demanding full compensation to all residents who have been impacted by the storm and the human feces floating in their basement."

Thousands of residents have been impacted by the recent failure of Hamilton's infrastructure. Merulla is demanding full compensation to all residents that are expected to pay for flood damage but are denied from insurance companies due to the state of Hamilton's infrastructure deficit!!!! Let's build a stadium? I NOT! Let's get our house in order and provide fundamental services rather than pie in the sky bullshit!!!! [sic]

Meanwhile, the city issued an update stating that seven pumps were running at full capacity to reduce water levels in the Wastewater Treatment Plant's wet well, and asking residents to avoid unnecessary water use to reduce the amount of water running into the sewer system. The city also affirmed that the city's municipal water is safe to drink.

The following roads and facilities were closed as a result of flooding:

Various other local roads were also closed. For more information or to report a problem, residents can call a flooding hotline the city activated: 905-667-3157. The city also opened a relief centre at the Valley Park Community Centre, 970 Paramount Dr.

By 9:00 PM, the Wastewater Treatment Plant was back to running on main power rather than its back-up generators.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus and HuffPost. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.

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By frustrated ward 4 resident (anonymous) | Posted July 27, 2009 at 11:16:21

That the same Sam Merulla who championed spending megabucks on the (just flooded) Red Hill Expressway that's promoting expensive sprawl (we know suburban building actually costs the city money) and paved over a big part of the Red Hill Valley? Boo freaking hoo, Sam. You helped make your (flooded) bed, now lie in it.

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By Dave Kuruc (anonymous) | Posted July 27, 2009 at 11:49:33


How many other Ward 4 residents will see through Sam's talking out of both sides of his mouth? His emails to the press are becoming quite ridiculous. Will voters make a connection between the multi-millions spent on the Red Hill Expressway to facilitate sprawl - lowered fees to developers building these homes in the middle of nowhere - pressures on the aging infrastructure and lack of municipal money to repair it because of the huge mistake that is the Red Hill road...

I'd like to hear from the pro-expressway folks on this one!

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By jason (registered) | Posted July 27, 2009 at 12:11:53

frustrated ward 4 resident, I feel for you. Most residents in your ward get distracted by all the crazy emails and press releases and fail to realize that one of the main culprits responsible for their constantly flooded basements is the unchecked sprawl Hamilton has allowed in recent years. Complicating the problem is the fact that development charges are so low on new sprawl projects, no money has been available to upgrade our water/wastewater systems to handle the new growth. In other words, developers get to build what they want and you and I face ever-increasing water rates and ever increasing flooding thanks to all the new runoff flowing over the escarpment from all the new pavement.

The recent proposal by the city to increase charges on new developments is a welcome change. The Spec called it a 'rain water tax' but it's simply a means of charging developers a more appropriate amount to help pay for all the new infrastructure needed to support their development. I can't believe it, but it appears that after 30+ years of flogging this dead development model, the city is actually going to start charging those responsible for the new developments instead of burdening existing taxpayers any further.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted July 27, 2009 at 12:40:44

Re Pan Am Games vs. sewers, part of the problem is that politicians like to throw money around to build new things (exciting! innovative! groundbreaking!) but don't like to sink money into maintaining or repairing things already in the ground (booooring!) so there's alot of momentum for a shiny stadium (or, coughcough, a shiny new highway) but not alot of momentum for sewers and stormwater drains hidden under the road. Their only noticable when they break, otherwise there out of sight out of mind.

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By jason (registered) | Posted July 27, 2009 at 13:06:28

actually, nobrainer the city has been working very hard at catching up on our underground infrastructure. Water rates have been climbing as you probably know if you live in the city. The problem has been the free ride developers have had for decades. It's made it virtually impossible for the city to catch up. Lower city residents have also been doing their part with huge numbers of people getting rainbarrels and disconnecting downspouts. Hopefully more will do this to help our cause.

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By JonC (registered) | Posted July 27, 2009 at 13:19:45

The Pan Am stadium & velodrome is a red herring. The real issue is that politicians such as Sam Merulla haven't been doing a good enough job to ensure a) the city is designed properly and b) that there is sufficient expansion of facilitates to accommodate an expanding population base. As far as I've heard, this isn't even a case of burst pipes, just flat out inability of pumping station to keep up to increased demand

To blame decades of neglect on a future potential development, whether or not that idea is beneficial, is dishonest.

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By synxer (registered) | Posted July 28, 2009 at 09:40:20

Damn, Sam.

The stadium and games support job growth which supports positive spin-off effects that eventually lead back to infrastructure improvements. That is, if it is spent correctly ;)

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By jason (registered) | Posted July 28, 2009 at 10:07:27

"That is, if it is spent correctly".

That's Hamilton's problem right there.

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By Daredevil (anonymous) | Posted July 29, 2009 at 10:57:56

How happy is Mr. Ecklund that Albion Falls is now SUPER Albion Falls after the storm?

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By The Godfather (anonymous) | Posted July 29, 2009 at 13:47:16

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted July 29, 2009 at 14:26:18

I think that the problem lies within the very structures of our society where profits are put before people.

Maybe scrutiny needs to be focused on the whole political structure as well as it seems that the voices from the people are being lost.

Just remember it is the families, the individuals that are affected, those who have put trust in a system that has failed them on many levels.

Those with the money, have the ability to influence policy that does not always take into consideration the needs of the people. It is all about "power", I am the king of the hill type of attitude.

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By Really? (registered) | Posted July 29, 2009 at 16:25:46

Worst Politician Ever! (Sam Merulla)

*He only hears himself *Supports Sprawl, yet Slams the lower-City's infrastructure problems *Completely UNPROFESSIONAL

Ward 4 will have their voices heard come November 2010

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted July 29, 2009 at 16:29:43

@godfather - externalities are hard, lets go shopping!!

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By synxer (registered) | Posted July 30, 2009 at 10:24:28

*He only hears himself *Supports Sprawl, yet Slams the lower-City's infrastructure problems *Completely UNPROFESSIONAL *Loves Google Alerts.

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By drhydro (anonymous) | Posted July 30, 2009 at 14:15:25

I think there is a general misunderstanding of the design assumptions and intended performance of most of the storm/wastewater infrastructure here and in any modern city. With the amount of pre-wetting in the Red Hill catchment and the magnitude and intensity of Sunday's event, even normally pervious surfaces (grass, riparian areas, forests, etc.) behaved like impervious surfaces (E.G concrete). Nearly 100 % of the rain that fell would runoff as surface flow (or if you want to get scientific about it, "Hortonian overland flow") and runoff rapidly reaching pipes and creeks nearly instantaneously. Any city's infrastructure would have been stressed and overwhelmed and engineers/planners are always juggling design with cost...and the decreasing rate of return (or safety) with increasing cost.

This was a unique event, although these unique events appear to be occuring with increasing frequency with climate change likely exerting an influence. Granted, there are still many areas of the city that are in need of infrastructure upgrades. Pipes and pump stations are not sexy and typically are not seen as vote getters. Maybe it's time that we hold our politicians to task to ensure that a proper level of resources is dedicated to upgrading, maintaining and sustaining this oft forgotten "out of sight and out of mind" but oh so important infrastructure.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted July 31, 2009 at 01:03:15

Ryan >> Sprawl is not to blame for the rain (although to the extent that our persistently bizarre and unpredictable weather is a result of disruptive climate change, the high-carbon throughput associated with car-dependent sprawl is a nontrivial factor

I thought there was scientific consensus that human carbon emissions were DEFINITELY causing the earth to warm. Now there's only consensus that HCE's are causing the earth's climate to "change" unpredictably?

Let's get this straight, it's vitally important that we all change our behaviour, because if we don't, scientists are not sure what will happen to the climate. Of course, if we do cut back on our CO2 output, they won't be able to predict that either, but at least we'll all feel like were doing something good for Mother Earth.

Who wants Kool-Aid?

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By JonC (registered) | Posted July 31, 2009 at 08:26:29

a) I didn't realize Ryan was scientific consensus b) Ryan never indicated Earth wasn't warming. c) Here's Kool-Aid, the idea that people could modify a system (even naysayers have 20% of change in CO2 emissions related to people) and expect that there would be no appreciable change. That you believe that confirms (yet again) that you either a grade A moron or a fabulous art experiment. I don't even know how you took a left at Albuquerque, but the climate can warm AND change. They are not mutually exclusive changes.

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By Eastend (anonymous) | Posted July 31, 2009 at 11:18:27

Me thinks Sam Merulla & Chad Collins are trying to buy some votes in the next election with this whole payout deal to affected residents.

Just a hunch...

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted July 31, 2009 at 15:22:40

JonC >> a) I didn't realize Ryan was scientific consensus

I never said he was.

b) Ryan never indicated Earth wasn't warming.

Nor did he indicate that it was, that's my point. He now only talks about "our persistently bizarre and unpredictable weather" due to climate change. Do you see the problem here? If the climate is changing in ways that climate models can't predict, this indicates that the climate models are unreliable.

If climate models are unreliable, then recommendations made based on their output are equally unreliable.

Therefore, why should anyone believe that burning fossil fuels are bad? If the effects of burning fossil fuels are unknowable, then there is no scientific basis for limiting their use.

>> the idea that people could modify a system (even naysayers have 20% of change in CO2 emissions related to people) and expect that there would be no appreciable change.

Change is a part of life and it's also why we have brains. Limit the rate of change and you limit progress.

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By JonC (registered) | Posted July 31, 2009 at 17:29:41

Yes you did. To his quote you said "I thought there was scientific consensus that human carbon emissions were DEFINITELY causing the earth to warm", which implies that he's indicated otherwise. I suppose it's possible that you don't understand the grammatical implications of your words, based on overall comprehension.

"Nor did he indicate that it was". I never indicated that I know ten year old children that can reason better than you, but I have.

"If the climate is changing in ways that climate models can't predict, this indicates that the climate models are unreliable." Wrong again, all climatic models out of the past three decades have predicted increased irregularity in weather patterns. Environment Canada can't tell you for sure whether it's going to rain tonight, I can't imagine what makes you think that a model that takes on a planet wide scale area over decades to centuries time line can predict rainfall any better. It's obvious that you have no idea what a model actually does. We can't definitively predict where an electron will be, so they don't exist? To re-iterate, climactic models have predicted increased irregularity, which has been observed. This in no way means that there isn't error associated with all of these models. But even the minimum (assuming maximum error in the models, shows a change.

"If the effects of burning fossil fuels are unknowable, then there is no scientific basis for limiting their use". Again, wrong, and plenty of 10 year olds are definitively better scientists than you, at a minimum. If you've ever used a lighter, you know at least one effect of burning fossil fuels. Increased heat. Scientists, the people that make the models you deride, have measured the output of this flame, CO2, CO, NOx, CH4, and some other stuff. Scientists have also observed the heat capacity of these gases, and compared them to atmospheric gases. Scientists have also simulated the effects of these changes using both mathematical models and actual real life simulations. We also have relatively accurate measures of GHG emissions that are a result of human activities. So even if you don't believe in all the markers that climatologists use to show historical patterns, there at a bare minimum should be no doubt that a) people emit GHG b) GHG behave differently than air and c) a combination of those two statements.

"Limit the rate of change and you limit progress." This is precisely the idea. Limit the rate of change in atmospheric composition and limit the progress of climate change.

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By REALITY123 (anonymous) | Posted October 31, 2010 at 06:27:24

85 percent in the election results for Merulla! WOW SAM ROCKS!

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