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District expands area to be serviced by sewers
by Bryan Drielich, Sooke News Mirror, March 14, 2001
An additional 900 property owners can look forward to a tax hike if Sooke council’s proposed sewer system becomes a reality.
Council has now decided to hook up homes in the Broom Hill and Maple Avenue subdivisions into the first phase of the sewer system.
The decision means 1,530 property owners will share the cost of a $23.9 million project. Two weeks ago council had said 610 property owners would pay for a $16.4-million sewage system.
Sooke mayor Ed Macgregor said expanding the area to be serviced by sewers will lower the cost to each property owner. Macgregor said the original proposal, with 610 properties, would have resulted in "quite significant" tax hikes. However, he would not elaborate on the tax difference. He said the district has not yet finalized the tax formula which will be applied to individual properties.
However, council has said the cost of building, operating and maintaining the sewage system will be borne, for the most part, by property owners within the service area. Ratepayers outside the service area will only pay for "expanded capacity components" which will enable future growth of the system.
Sooke council’s sewage initiative has given rise to a ratepayers’ lobby group.
WRATH (Worried Residents Against Tax Hikes) formed after Sooke mayor Ed Macgregor reneged on a promise to hold a referendum to get public consent for the nearly $24-million project.
Macgregor had promised at an October public meeting that there would be a vote amongst property owners before the infrastructure project proceeded. Instead, Sooke council has declared the project a "council initiative" and will proceed with the sewage system unless a majority of property owners holding over 50 per cent of the assessed value of the land within the service area formally petition the municipality.
WRATH spokesperson George Butcher said the group’s members are attacking council and its proposed sewer system from all sides. Butcher said the membership is being drawn from concerned citizens whose views range all over the political spectrum.
"They normally wouldn’t come together on issues, but they’ve come together on this one," he said.
"Our objective is to see a different proposal for the sewers than the outfall we have before us. We’re not anti-development. We’re anti-process for how [Mayor Ed Macgregor] has conducted himself," Butcher said.
A recently released $40,000 sewerage study, prepared by Stantec Consulting Ltd., was criticized by Butcher for being narrowly opinionated.
"[Council] is far too hasty. There is not a variety of scientific opinion," he said. "Other alternatives were dismissed, so we’re asking that council has a more careful approach. Many slow steps need to be taken."
Council fast-tracked the process — by selecting the proposed system’s collection, treatment and disposal components without obtaining the public input they had originally promised to seek — to meet a March 15 deadline for the first round of a provincial/federal infrastructure grant program which will dole out $800-million over five years. The municipality hopes to obtain a grant to cover two-thirds of the almost $24-million price tag.
Macgregor defends the decision and the process.
"Every meeting we’ve had has been open to the public," he said.
However, the municipality has only had one public open house in October, where opposition to a sewage outfall, the method of effluent disposal chosen by council, was stiff.
A second open house is scheduled for tonight (March 14) but it comes after the components have already been chosen and just a day before the grant application deadline.
WRATH is now calling upon council to participate in a public accountability meeting in April to listen to concerns expressed by the public and WRATH.
Butcher said some councillors with certain business interests could be in a conflict of interest.
"Their decisions may promote their self-interests," he said.
Environmental scientist Judith Burke, a WRATH member, said her interest in a possible sewer system is highly environmental.
"I’m concerned with the cumulative effect of a sewage outfall," she said.
George Obriain, who originally ran for council but fell short of votes, said council needs to slow down its quest for a sewer system.
"People are concerned. There’s not enough dialogue in the community," he said.
Obriain pointed out that if the municipality did receive a Canada-B.C. infrastructure grant, the work would have to be completed by 2006.
"Things are happening too fast. The build up of surplus would be shot and a tax increase would have to be paid," he said.
Obriain said the point of WRATH was to both inform citizens of Sooke, and to question council’s tactics.
"We’re raising questions and trying to find the truth," said Obriain. He said membership in the group continues to grow.
"The first meeting I attended had seven people. The last meeting had 20 people," he said. "As concern grows, so will our membership."
The biggest concerns held by the group, according to Obriain, are the cost of a sewage system, the unexplored methods of sewage disposal, and the speed in which the process is being completed.
"We don’t have to hit this grant. Others will be available. We should take a slow look at these things," he said.
WRATH member Glen Dickie, who lives in the proposed area for the first phase of the sewer system, said he was frightened of what could happen if council gets its wish for a rushed sewer system.
"As a resident of Sooke, I’m disappointed in Sooke council’s decision not to have a referendum. It doesn’t surprise me though. Sooke council, up to this point, haven’t heard what Sooke wants. They’ve been listening to the developers," he said.
- Sooke Mayor and Council, has almost doubled the size of the area and costs, which have risen to $24 million.
- Council will not tell the public how the tax increases will be structured or what they will be based on.
- Council won't get estimate costs for taxpayers from neighbouring communities, but we were told by an engineer that it would be at least $15 to $18 thousand per household as an average cost to hook up.
- For an additional $2 million dollars, the treatment plant could be upgraded to tertiary treatment, which is the system used in Port Renfrew.
More articles to come. If you know of a relevant article, please contact WRATH and we will post it on this website.