Residents in Sooke are concerned about the imminent tax hikes to pay for the new sewer system.

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Sooke scrambles to bring sewers to community

By Shannon Moneo for the Sooke News Mirror

The District of Sooke is scrambling to salvage at least part of its plans to bring a sewage system to Sooke, after learning it won’t be getting $16 million in federal/provincial cash for its proposed $24 million project.

Sooke’s mayor had a 20-minute meeting on Feb. 7 with George Abbott, Minister of Community, Aboriginal and Women’s Services, the provincial ministry which administers infrastructure grants.

"He indicated to us that the amount we’re looking for is probably greater than they can accommodate," Ed Macgregor said.

The District wanted $16 million in provincial and federal funding for a sewage system that would have serviced the downtown core and the Broom Hill area. The remaining $8 million cost would be collected via property taxes.

"There’s been many communities in B.C. that have put forward compelling reasons why they should get money," Abbott said Feb. 15, of the reason why the Sooke application has been downgraded.

The chairperson of Worried Residents Against Tax Hikes (WRATH) said his group has been right all along.

"Their proposal was too grandiose. They were way off target," said George Butcher. "Council continues to listen to speculators and ignores citizen’s input."

According to the ministry, there were over 600 applications totalling $2.1 billion in requests. Under the five year, Canada-B.C. infrastructure program, there is $800 million available, with $107 million earmarked for Vancouver Island. In December, the program handed out $37 million to 15 B.C. projects; in January, 85 B.C. projects received $300 million.

Abbott, a former Sicamous councillor, regional board chair, and berry-farm owner, suggested that Sooke council may still have a shot at some infrastructure grant money for a sewage system if the project is scaled down to only serve the downtown core.

He couldn’t provide a dollar figure on what funding may be available for such a scheme.

The joint infrastructure committee, made up of two federal, two provincial and two Union of B.C. Municipality representatives, hasn’t picked a date for the next funding announcements, according to Abbott.

He did add that his ministry’s technical staff will continue to work with the District of Sooke to develop an alternative plan.

Abbott also said Sooke faces an additional glitch because it didn’t provide the necessary liquid waste management plan before it applied for funding.

Butcher said it takes years to develop a satisfactory liquid waste management plan, something that should have been done right at the start.

"They continue to be fixated by a quick-fix mentality," Butcher said. "This council will be long gone before anything is in place."

By the end of 2001, the District of Sooke had spent over $75,000 on the sewage proposal, the bulk of that amount going to Victoria’s Stantec Consulting engineering firm to develop sewage system plans, according to Sooke’s Director of Finance, Laurie Wells. The District has also invested many hours of staff and volunteer time over the two years since its sewage project was initiated.

Macgregor admitted the District will have to downgrade its plans.

"We have a serious issue here ... we have to begin to address it," Macgregor said.

He said the District may now look at building a sewage system that only serves the nucleus of Sooke, with add-ons done as money flushes in.

Butcher said he has no faith in what council is attempting.

"Let’s not get carried away by the flimflam from the mayor. Now they’re trying to save face. It’s part of the re-election platform," Butcher said.

Fundamental sewage problems in Sooke need to be fixed first. Butcher pointed to Sooke’s failing septic systems as one example.

Concerns about the sewage system’s infrastructure grant collapsing, caused two Sooke councillors to fly to Ottawa to lobby federal officials, according to Macgregor.

John and Marcus Farmer had to travel to Toronto for business, and the father-son team decided to foot the bill for a side trip to Bytown.

Member of Parliament for Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca, Keith Martin, said he tried to facilitate a meeting between the Farmers and federal Environment Minister David Anderson.

Martin said John Farmer called him, asking for assistance to set up a Feb. 13 or 14 Ottawa meeting with Anderson. Anderson was in Columbia attending an international meeting of environment ministers, but Martin found a substitute.

"Someone on Mr. Anderson’s team would meet with them," Martin said.

The MP was eager to assist because he believes a sewage system is a necessity for Sooke.

The Farmers returned from Ottawa today, according to District staff.

Macgregor said the District will be visiting some Okanagan communities at the end of this month to research sewage installations and see if their technologies could be applied to Sooke.

Butcher said such a trip is a worthless exercise because there are excellent sewage systems right in Sooke (social services office on West Coast Road, Sooke Harbour House and Journey middle school) that could be studied.

"Other people come to Sooke to look at those systems," he said.



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