Tuesday, February 19, 2019
News Council Another $57m for Sewers? Council and the Public Consider the Challenge

At a Committee of the Whole meeting on May 28th, Council and the public met to discuss the options for the South Sewer System. 

At the end of the meeting, Council agreed a motion that Cumberland does not agree to participate in the current South Sewer option and returns to the Select Committee to propose amendments.

Village CAO Sundance Topham presented a report - available here - it's pretty clear and easy to read so this article won't go into much detail on the situation. 

It's important to know that the VIllage is out of compliance with liquid waste management, and discharges eventually into Baynes Sound, an important Shellfish habitat.

The Village has been engaged in the planning process for 16 years, partly because the original constructed wetland solution wasn't able to handle the expected growth of the community. In 2011, Council committed to the South Sewer Project together with CVRD and Komox First Nation, subject to some very important conditions around cost and governance. 

CVRD choose an option to connect eventually to a Cape Lazo outfall instead of Baynes Sound. Councillor Sproule noted that this is where it started to go wrong because the governance model didn't include the VIllage in the decision about the change of outfall. 

Solutions are expensive. 2011 cost estimates of Cumberland's cost share were around $22-27m. The total cost was estimated at $42m, that has now gone up to $57.5m with significant uncertainty, up to +/- 30%. After a UBCM Gas Tax grant, total Cumberland costs would be $15.5m.

Making some guestimates, and assuming a 20 year borrowing to fund the project, extra costs to residential ratepayers are estimated to be around $1,150 every year - and this is per unit, so those with suites would pay double. Businesses would pay more, and for example, the Hospital Laundry would see it's annual costs go from $28k to $142k. 

So, with our system out of compliance, and solutions exceptionally expensive, what can be done? Reopening the search for engineering solutions might not find cheaper ways to solve the problem, and it's not certain whether the existing $8m grant would still be in place when a solution is identified. 

Councillors had comments and questions

Councilor Sproule noted that if additional participants joined, maybe some of Courtenay, costs could come down.

Councilor Kelter had concerns about the proposed P3 (Public Private Partnership) model, and noted that using freshwater for liquid waste is not a good idea, and that it is much preferable to use ecosystem services instead of highly engineered systems. .

Councilor Kishi recalled that he was on the advisory committee that brought forward the recommendation to follow this option but at that time, the project was very different and as time goes on, costs go up, and there is a consensus that we need to do something, but the challenge it to find a solution we can afford and sustain in the future, for 40-50 years down the road. The decision to go with the Cape Lazo outfall was achieved with a lot of lobbying by the shellfish industry, and input from Denman and Hornby Island is there a way that they or others can help to make this project sustainable. 

Mayor Baird expressed a concern that if we move forward on this, we won't be able to afford other projects like roads because people will be taxed to the max.

Councilor Sproule noted that the wetland treatment appeared to be the idea thing with lots of support, until Trilogy and Coal Valley growth was factored in.

The floor was opened to public input.

Andreas Demmers - resident - very much in favour of constructed wetland, much has changed in recent years. Important to reduce what's going in, rainwater capture, greywater recycling, even composting toilets

Kate Greening - resident -  hope that council says no to this and reopens the old plan

Evan Gough - resident - moving discharge site - at behest of shellfish industry? Isn't the effluent the same and if it's not clean enough for Baynes why is it clean enough for Lazo?

CVRD representative said that the shellfish industry, Baynes sound residents and Komox First Nation were all concerned about that location. Effluent would far exceed the regulatory requirements for discharge, but fears were about the perception of the outfall as a threat to the industry. There is no cost-effective way to meet the phosphorus targets with discharge to surface water now, the targets are so tightly set by Island Health. 

Neil Bureki - We appear to be hobbled by the regulations. It is attractive to say 'nope, we're not going to do this' but the Ministry of Environment could start fining us. It does look like we can kick the can down the road a bit and explore other options. 

Phosphorus has very negative effect on fish habitat, which is the motivation for the targets. 

Kate Greening - Island Health needs to be challenged on targets that no-one can meet. 

Lois Harris - impressed with the amount of information available. We have very good resources here, and we might be able to come up with good solutions. This cost to this community is very high, and am concerned we will lose these people because they can't afford it. 

Ellen Rainwalker - It's not just the young people who can't cover the cost of this, if my landlord adds another $100 a month for this, I'd have to move somewhere else. 

Mark Springford - has stormwater retention been studied for the overflows? Have forest companies been contacted about constructing retention ponds? The I&I infiltration helps with sewer construction.

Karen Viery - There are not enough hook-ups in Cumberland, Union Bay, Royston, to support this huge bill. Why can't phase 1 have more hookups? (we've tried to maximise the number of connections already) Does Cumberland require a referendum to approve this project? (no) How can an estimate be +/-30%. I have a septic system which costs $300 every two years, which is much cheaper. If shellfish industry want's a cleaner sound, shouldn't their leases be more expensive. 

Melissa Roeske - What are the consequences of non-compliance? As long as we are moving toward a solution, the Ministry of the Environment said there would be no consequences, but it is not clear what consequences would be if we stopped.

Vig Schulmann - The problem is larger - I feel we have to be more concerned about what we are putting into the water. If phosphate is the issue, be phosphate free. Cumberland is a very responsible community, we could explore composting toilets and greywater recycling. 

Councilor Sproule - phosphates in the main come from human waste. Phosphates are a threat to river health, not ocean health. 

Tony Powsey - this increase would be an enormous amount of money for those who are living on limited incomes, especially seniors. Newer subdivisions have been built to modern standards and don't place a big maintenance cost on the town, so Council should consider that within 10-20 years, these will be older subdivisions and we will face costs for repair that will add to the tax burden.

Ian Davis - Property tax is based on assessment, water is based on consumption, sewer should be consumption too, there doesn't seem to be a mathematical rationale behind it. 

Eugene Chung - Is it possible that we can reclaim wastewater like Mt Washington, Kingfisher Resort? Can we require new subdivisions to build reclaim systems. 

Councilor Sproule said that it is a well known modular system for small operations, not known whether it can scale up. 

Even Gough - is there a drop dead date for deciding on South Sewer? If we want to examine new options, we have to say no to South Sewer and move forward to let our project partners be able to move on as well.

Dan Mooney - This appears to have suddenly become the Village priority, are you going to drop all the other infrastructure upgrades? I don't think that's realistic, a lot of people are retired, they can't afford these costs, and it's an unknown cost, could go up by 30%. We just can't afford it.

Council Discussed Possible Directions

Councilor Kishi - I'm not prepared to just say 'no' to the South Sewer at this point, there are still some avenues to explore within the existing process.,but we do need to look at other questions. Especially 'what is affordable?' This solution clearly isn't, but any solution will cost money. What is the community prepared to pay to support a solution?

Councillor Sproule - It's clearly not affordable, but we can't go back to looking at alternatives without withdrawing from the South Sewer because there are costs involved in looking into things. 

Mayor Baird - What is the dealine from CVRD for an answer? No specific deadline, but the PPP council from Ottawa will be in the Valley in July, and we should let them know whether we will be participating or not. The PPP contribution could be 25% of the capital costs, maybe $250 a year reduction in estimated residential tax burden. 

Councilor Kishi - We can say that the current proposed option is not one that we are prepared to move forward with, so we require changes or we can't accept it.  Even being on the Select Committee, I'm not aware that we've had serious discussions with the Shellfish industry to approach government to make the case for funding. But how much is affordable? If we get more grant money, does it bring it down enough? How much do we need?

Councilor Ketler - There are just way too many questions to ever commit our residents to this sum of money.  

Motion by Councilor Ketler - Cumberland does not participate in the South Sewer project. No-one would second this motion.

Motion by Councilor Kishi - Cumberland does not agree to participate in the current South Sewer option and return to the Select Committee to propose amendments. Seconded. 

Councilor Sproule asked for three conditions - more connections, outfall in Baynes, costs cut in half. 

Councilor Kishi didn't want to make conditions like costs in half, because does that mean we agree we can afford that?

Sundance Topham noted that it appears we are going in circles, and if we don't think we will every be able to afford this, it's fair to our partners to know what we think as they spend money on planning. 

CVRD representative noted that a full committment can't be expected from Cumberland if Union Bay has more time to decide, but funding agencies want to fund projects that are moving forward before committing - so dissolving the partnership at this point would drive funding away. 

Councilor Ketler - when is the next planning cost associated with this? $38k for developing the PPP business case. 

Motion voted on - Carried - Cumberland does not agree to participate in the current South Sewer option and return to the Select Committee to propose amendments.


0 # cindy forrest 2015-05-29 08:00
would it be possible in these articles (which are wonderful and informative) to list at the top the names of which council members are in attendance. thank you
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0 # Nick 2015-05-29 08:38
Sure. All of them were (you can assume that unless it says otherwise). Thanks.
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