An aerial view of Comox Lake, the source of drinking water for the Comox Valley Water System. (Photo by David Stapely)

CVRD launches use of alternative approval process for water treatment project

The Comox Valley Regional District has launched its use of the Alternative Approval Process (AAP) for its water treatment project.

The CVRD plans to borrow $29 million to help fund the $110-million capital initiative. The rest of the project is expected to be funded through provincial and federal grants, ($55 million) and from the CVRD’s own reserves. ($26 million).

The Comox Valley Water Treatment Project, expected to be completed in 2021 or 2022, will see an overhaul of the drinking water system for roughly 45,000 people in Courtenay, Comox, and surrounding areas.

Read More: CVRD approves revised scope, schedule, and cost of water treatment project

The project includes the installation of a deepwater intake in Comox Lake, a raw water pump station, and a new water treatment plant, as well as a five-kilometer long water pipeline and a connector to the existing system.

The AAP will determine public support for the borrowing portion to help fund the project. The Comox Valley Water Committee approved using the AAP instead of a referendum to gain public assent to borrow for the project in October 2017.

Under the AAP, more than 10 per cent of eligible electors — 4,785 people — would have to submit elector response forms that indicate they oppose the CVRD’s borrowing for it not to occur.

James Warren, the CVRD’s general manager of corporate services, says the reasoning behind choosing the AAP instead of a referendum was both cost and because drinking water is a public health issue.

“Traditionally, voter turnout for referendums in our community is very low, which poses a risk that not enough people in favour of the project will come out to vote. Given that this is a public health issue, we feel the AAP is warranted,” he said.

According to a CVRD staff report, a referendum would cost $40,000 to $60,000, depending on the number of voting places.

If less than 4,785 elector response forms are submitted, the CVRD will proceed with its original borrowing plan.

If more than 4,785 elector response forms are submitted, permission to loan the funds would go towards a referendum instead.

“We truly believe that this is the best course of action and if we are wrong, residents can be empowered to let us know by submitting an elector response form,” said Warren. “We understand there is apprehension about the AAP process and we carefully and thoroughly considered our options for seeking electoral assent.”

According to the CVRD, only those who purchase bulk water from the Comox Valley Water System will be responsible for helping pay back the debt. The regional district estimates the average increase to water system users is estimated at $86 per household per year, over a maximum of 25 years.

Elector response forms are available online at comoxvalleyrd.ca/AAP or at the CVRD’s office on Comox Road. The deadline for delivering elector response forms is 4:30 p.m. on March 16, 2018.

Read More: CVRD to host open houses on water treatment project

The CVRD is hosting an open house on its water treatment project tonight from 5–7 p.m. at the Comox Golf Club.

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