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

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Prospective Contractors Will Question Populace [About Sewers in Sooke]

by Robin Wark for the Sooke News Mirror, July 9, 2002.

The District of Sooke is alerting residents not to be alarmed if someone poses questions to them about sewers this summer.

The municipality is expecting the three companies submitting bids for the proposed sewer system to be digging up all the information they can as the request for proposal deadline of July 29 draws near.

"They might be asking funny questions, but they are trying to learn what they can about Sooke," said Gary Smirfitt, Sooke’s municipal engineer.

EPCOR Water Services Inc., bcgServices and American Water Services Canada Corp. are all working on proposals to build and operate the system for 20 years.

"We have three top companies working on this," said Coun. Marcus Farmer. "It is going to be hard to pick out the final partner."

Earth Tech Canada had been one of the three finalists selected by Sooke, but the company decided to withdraw and BCG Services was chosen to take its place. Counc. John Farmer, who chairs the municipality’s sewer committee, said the company was concerned about financing for the project not being in place. An official comment could not be obtained from Earth Tech representatives.

Pursuing grant

The district is currently re-working its application for a Canada-B.C. Infrastructure Program grant. Sooke had applied for a $16 million grant for a proposed $24 million project to service the core and Broomhill. However, the municipality was advised earlier this year by provincial Ministry of Community, Aboriginal and Women’s Services staffers the amount asked for was too high.

Instead of deciding where to make cutbacks, council opted to make a request for proposals and let the companies decide how best to serve the community at a lower cost. Farmer said communication with ministry officials has been positive. The plan is to have the grant application resubmitted by Labour Day weekend.

Mayor Ed Macgregor and others have a meeting with George Abbott, Minister of Community, Aboriginal and Women’s Services, shortly after that date.

"I expect us to be in a position to say, ‘We have done everything you’ve asked for ... We now want your blessing to get on with it,’" Macgregor said.

When asked about what would happen if the grant didn’t come, the mayor declined to speculate."We really feel we have a good chance in succeeding in this endeavour," he said.

But Macgregor did note the companies could possibly be even more creative, if they had to.

Tom Day, Sooke’s administrator, said the companies have been told if the capital costs are $15 million or less they can expect about two-thirds to be covered by a grant, which is the amount council feels is acceptable to ask for. If the capital costs are more than $15 million, Day said it would likely all have to be covered by parcel taxes. Also, companies have been told the system would have to serve at least 90 per cent of the core area.

Third round missed

The third round of grants was announced June 25, and Sooke was not among those chosen.

District staff was not surprised it was not included in this go-around as the application is being re-submitted.

"We are eligible, but we didn’t expect to get approval at this stage," said Smirfitt, who also noted the ministry is well aware of what Sooke is doing.

Twenty-four project with a combined value of $97 million received funding in this round.

Educating partners

For now, the district is waiting for proposals and then will be working on the grant application.

John Farmer emphasized because of the importance of the project and what it could do for Sooke’s future, council has taken steps to educate itself and to get to know it’s partners. If successful, the system would put Sooke in partnership with one of the companies for 20 years, with some mechanisms in place for the district to end the partnership.

John Farmer said that is why council’s trips over the past year to educate itself and meet those involved were important. In June, Macgregor, John Farmer, Marcus Farmer and Smirfitt took a two-day trip to Seattle to see a plant operated by American Water Services. Though it was a water plant and not a sewage facility, Macgregor said it gave the councillors and staff a chance to meet the players involved.

"It was important for us to see and get a feel for them," the mayor said.

WRATH Commentary: Mayor and Council first need to develop a Liquid Waste Management Plan, BEFORE pursuing a major sewer collection, treatment, and disposal facility for Sooke.



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