Cumberland fined for wastewater non-compliance issues

Council moves to get legal advice and appeal penalties of more than $85,000

The Province has fined the Village of Cumberland for continuing non-compliance over wastewater treatment issues.

On July 17, the Village received a letter from the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy notifying the Village failed to comply with five sections under the Environmental Management Act and was being penalized. The issue was a late addition to the agenda at Monday night’s council meeting, as staff and council discussed next steps for Cumberland.

While the penalties had potentially been higher, the Village is being fined $85,800 in connection with the contraventions, particularly issues around “wet weather flows.”

The dispute is a longstanding one, as the Village has been working since the late 1990s to deal with the wastewater issues through the development of a Liquid Waste Management Plan. The process was interrupted, but resumed again in 2016. However, in February 2018, the Village received its third notice for non-compliance on wastewater treatment regulations and that it could be facing fines.

RELATED STORY: Province issues Cumberland non-compliance notice for wastewater treatment issues

At council on Monday, financial officer Michelle Mason outlined the situation and said a consultant recommended appealing the decision.

“We definitely do not admit guilt,” she said. “We have been working towards our compliance for quite some time, and we have been working with the ministry on solutions, so then we would not want to be then faced with ongoing penalty charges for every future incident of peak wet weather flows.”

The Village has been working on fixing its system, and by admitting its culpability could be opening the door to fines in the near future for any issues that occur in the meantime.

There was a suggestion from council about looking for any other municipalities facing the same situation as potential partners for the Village, but manager of operations Rob Crisfield explained that while other jurisdictions could be facing the same situation, Cumberland is the first in B.C. to face the penalties.

“They’re setting a precedent…. It’s uncharted territory in the public sector,” he said. “I just think we need help and guidance through this.”

Crisfield reiterated some of Mason’s points, saying the Village needs to be careful about admitting wrong-doing while working on a solution. He explained it still may take a number of years to get to “flow compliance,” adding that Cumberland has spent a lot working over the last 15 years to fix the in-flow filtration and sewer separation issue.

While council members did not discuss the matter at length, Mayor Leslie Baird summed up the ministry letter outlining the decision to penalize Cumberland.

“There’s so many questions that it doesn’t answer for us,” she said. “We definitely need some of our questions answered.”

Coun. Sean Sullivan successfully made a motion for the Village to appeal the decision and seek legal advice.

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