Residents in Sooke are concerned about the imminent tax hikes to pay for the new sewer system.
Sooke Council Fast Tracks Sewer System Process to be First in Line for Infrastructure Grants
Sooke council is foregoing the most sound way of assessing the community's need and various sewage system options to meet that need, so it won't miss out on a chance to grab $11-million in joint federal and provincial funding.
B.C. Environment's regional Waste manager David Brown said Liquid Waste Management Plans are the preferred way for municipalities to investigate the pros and cons of sewage systems and their components, whether they are planning new systems or expanding existing infra- structure.
"It seems onerous if all they want to do is get in and put pipe in the ground, but it's the recommended way to go," Brown said of the comprehensive plan which takes about two to three years to develop and provides a 22 to 50 year planning forecast. "What you put in on the front end, you more than save on the back end."
However, Sooke Mayor Ed Macgregor, while acknowledging a liquid Waste Management Plan would have been the best way for Sooke to proceed, said council hasn't time to conduct such a plan if it is going to meet a March 15 deadline to submit its application for two-thirds funding of the estimated $16.4 million project.
Macgregor said council wants to be among those first in line to benefit from a $800 million Canada-B.C. Infrastructure Grant program.
"Our information is that the Grant program will be oversubscribed, so if we are not in on the first round we may not get another chance," Macgregor said.
Under the grant program, infrastructure Projects will be considered until June 30, 2005 and must be completed no later than March 31,2006.
Ministry of Municipal Affairs spokesperson Nancy Pearson said although March 15 is the deadline for the first round, a second round of grants is expected to be doled out next year. Pearson did not know how much money will remain after the projects approved in the first round are funded.
Brown said he has witnessed a number of communities rush ahead with plans to install a sewer system only to lose a referendum in the end due to lack of community support.
"No one ever supported it when it came around to a vote," he said of hastily made plans.
Brown said with a Liquid Waste Management Plan a referendum is not needed because the community is educated as it is developed. "People buy into the plan," Brown said.
He said under the plan, the community is assured they are being provided with technical objective information and given the best options.
"There are too many scientists out there who have pet ways in which they get things done."
Brown said a liquid Waste Management Plan also helps secure infrastructure grants.
"The plan carries a lot of weight in the grant selection process. Let's put it this way - if you were a member of the selection panel and you had an application with a long-term reliable plan before you and another plan with less detail which would you chose for funding?"
However, Macgregor said he believes the Sooke application will have a strong chance of being selected in the March 15 round.
The infrastructure grant program's purpose is to improve urban and rural local government infrastructure, and its objectives include improving quality of life through investments that enhance the quality of the environment; support long-term economic growth; improve community infrastructure; and build 21st century infrastructure through encouraging the use of the best technologies, new approaches and best practices.
The main priority of the program is in vestment in green local government infrastructure, such as: water and wastewater systems; water management; and capital expenditures to improve the energy efficiency of buildings and facilities owned by local governments.
The rush to meet the March 15 deadline has also fast tracked what little public process council had designed for public discussion and debate, when compared with a liquid Waste Management Plan.
Macgregor had stressed from almost the first day of the sewage system debate, which began with a call for a consultant for a sewerage study in May 2000, that at least two public workshops would be held before any components of a sewage system are selected, including a controversial outfall into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
"The public is going to have a say in what method of sewage disposal is chosen," Macgregor said in June 2000.
However, last Monday council unanimously approved including a $2.2-million sewage outfall into the strait, an $8.2 million collection system, and a $5 million secondary treatment plant near Sooke Bay and the T'Sou-Ke Reserve on its infrastructure grant application. Macgregor said the components were chosen for the sake of meeting the grant application, but said they were based on the findings of the consultants report.
He said should the grant be forthcoming, and some of the components have to be changed or altered at additional costs, a decision would have to be made to either cut costs elsewhere or go back to taxpayers in the specified area for more money.WRATH Commentary: