On June 18, Area A residents will have their say about a proposed south sewer project. A referendum question will determine support for the next steps of a community wastewater treatment system for parts of Royston and Union Bay, and the Kilmarnock neighbourhood.
A similar vote was held 10 years ago. In 2006, the community passed a referendum on borrowing to pay for a sewer project, but it did not proceed due to a lack of grant funding.
This time, various sources have committed more than $30 million: the Union of B.C. municipalities ($15 million), P3 Canada ($13.3 million) and the K’ómoks First Nation ($5.4 million).
Because Cumberland withdrew from the project, Phase 1 will deliver sewer services to about 950 homes. The cost is roughly $56.2 million, to be paid by a parcel tax over 30 years, estimated at $1,804 per year per parcel.
The maximum yearly requisition is $2,036.
The contentious proposal has angered a number of residents. Royston’s Rob Macdonald, for instance, questions why government is “spending our money on a battleship when a rowboat is required,” he states in a letter to The Record. Macdonald says most homeowners have septic systems that operate well — “and in fact many in the area are new” — and questions why the community would spend millions on a system that’s not required. He suggests a more conservative approach to help repair systems that might be failing.
Area C director Edwin Grieve — a former chair of the Comox Valley Regional District board — sympathizes with those who have purchased new septic systems, and would support some form of grandfathering for systems less than 10 years old.
“Maybe they can cut them some slack for a few years, and still get the thing rolling ahead,” Grieve said. “But eventually, every septic system fails…There’s hundreds of other systems that were put in in the ’60s and ’70s that are causing the environmental problem to begin with. There’s no quick solution for them.”
The problem is contamination in Baynes Sound, where elevated fecal coliform counts are considered a risk to public health and shellfish harvesting.
Grieve notes a number of prominent wastewater consultants have looked into the southern sewer issue more than once.
“It’s pretty well understood that a lot of the small lots, especially in Union Bay, with the topography there, high water table and clay substrate, it’s damn-near impossible to put a system in some of those smaller units. You can’t be digging up hundreds of septic systems and call that sustainable.”
Grieve also notes a misconception about the 950 homes in Phase 1 being stuck paying the whole shot. He said the $30-plus million in funding should reassure residents that senior government sees the big picture.
“Time and time again, senior government ministers have said that ‘We will not entertain anything but regional solutions for services (water and sewer) in the Comox Valley.’ Obviously, the 900 connections in Phase 1 is viewed as the domino that triggers build-out capacity, servicing up to 5,000 homes. Enough for all approved developments in Cumberland and Union Bay, as well as possible parts of south Courtenay…With each additional 1,000 connections, the costs are reduced by 25 per cent.”
The 2010 Master Sewer Strategy recommended three systems in the Valley: one in the south, one in Miracle Beach/Saratoga and the existing one on Curtis Road.
“What people have to focus on is the fact that we are addressing an existing environmental threat in Baynes Sound. It’s unsustainable, it’s getting worse, and it’s not going to get any better until we actually deal with it.”
If the referendum fails, Grieve said the Liquid Waste Management Plan will still proceed because the sewage issue still needs to be addressed. The LWMP process concerns solutions for wastewater management that meet or exceed regulatory requirements.
“If they vote this down, it’s going to be a long, long time before they get that kind of funding again, if ever.”
For more information visit comoxvalleyrd.ca/vote