Residents in Sooke are concerned about the imminent tax hikes to pay for the new sewer system.
Some Fume over Sooke Sewers
by Bill Cleverley, Times Colonist April 1, 2001
A $24-rnillion proposal to sewer part of Sooke is drawing the wrath of some citizens as costly overtaxation
But Mayor Ed Macgregor defends the plan as necessary infrastructure if his community is to grow without sprawl and address an ongoing problem of failing septic systems and pollution of the harbour.
"In the core area particularly, and west of that, the soil conditions are not really amenable for long-term use for ground disposal. There's hardpan close to the surface, the water table's relatively high and we do have migration through breakouts - if fields fail - of septage going into the harbour basin," Macgregor said.
Fecal coliform counts are "pretty astounding, particularly in the winter- time". Sewers are also necessary to increase density and commercial activity in the core, he said. "We can't even have a laundromat. Nobody wants to put in a packaged treatment plant for laundry. People send their dry cleaning out. They send their laundry out, If you're camping at French Beach you take your dirty clothes home with you."
A Group calling itself WRATH (Worried Residents Against Tax Hikes) is lobbying Sooke council to hold a referendum on local sewering plans. The group has established a Web site and is challenging the council to hold what it calls an accountability session for taxpayers.
"WRATH is a coalition of people who have varying concerns," spokesman George Butcher said. "Some are concerned about the tax load. Others are more concerned about the environmental effects. But I would say everybody is concerned and offended by the process that the council has followed in that they're being denied a say on this by referendum."
Macgregor said that during an open house last fall he was asked if there would be a referendum before sewers were installed. "I said for those property owners that are going to be affected, yes, there will be a referendum. That was a gaffe on my part."
But, in effect, property owners in the sewer area will have an opportunity to say whether or not they favour the plan, he said. "We're going to have a specified area. We're going to tell people in that specified area what it's going to cost them and they have an opportunity to say no."
Macgregor said that council decided to provide each property owner with information tailored to their parcel and give them a 30-day opportunity to say 'No, I don't want this to happen.'
"If they do want it to happen they don't have to do anything. So it's still a public-consent program, it's just different from a referendum."
Butcher said science has neither proven there is sufficient pollution in the harbour to warrant treatment no that pollution is being caused by failing septic systems.
"The scientific evidence isn't there that the Sooke Harbour and Basin is being polluted to a crisis level by faulty septic systems. There's a lot of other sources besides human septages of fecal coliforms in the harbour basin. There's a fleet of fishing boats, recreational boats and liveaboards that are known to discharge raw sewage, yet the council isn't taking steps there."
The only way Sooke could possibly afford sewers, Macgregor said, would be through the federal/provincial infrastructure grant program whereby senior governments pay two-thirds of the cost. The remaining one-third would be paid by affected property owners.
Butcher said the council has stepped back from having the entire community subsidize the work to a specified area, "but in order to pay for the downtown core they've expanded the capture area."
Macgregor suspects people opposed to the initiative are anti-growth.
"It's really curious...that the principals that are involved in (WRATH) aren't even going to be served by the sewer so aren't going to pay anything," he said.
Butcher acknowledges that he doesn't live in the specified area.
WRATH Commentary about the new Sooke Budget: