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Meeting hijacked by sewer critics

By Robin Wark for the Sooke News Mirror, February 12, 2003

What was slated as a public meeting on Sookeís liquid waste management plan last Thursday night turned into an at times heated debate on the districtís proposed community sewer system.

Critics of the sewer system took advantage of the meeting, and the presence of a Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection member, to lobby against the plan and the process the district has used. The about half dozen opponents present in the council chambers Thursday night once again questioned why a liquid waste management plan hadnít been completed previous to the sewer plan and stated their opposition to a variety of other issues, including the projectís price tag of about $17.5 million.

"I say to you what we are looking at here is a charade," said George Butcher, spokesperson for Worried Residents Against Rate Hikes in Sooke, expressing his belief the process is phoney as various documents for the sewer system have already been submitted.

This put Mayor Ed Macgregor, other district representatives and supporters on the defensive. At times debates broke out within the audience with members arguing about the information being presented. About 50 people attended the three hour long meeting, which was preceded by an hour long open house.

"If you want a no-growth (community) really push against sewers. If you want something positive to happen to the community support sewers," Macgregor said to applause.

Some members of the audience pushed for a district-wide referendum on the sewer plan.

Municipal engineer Gary Smirfitt warned the audience not to get bogged down at the meeting in arguing over political questions in regard to the sewer system. The engineer pointed out that the liquid waste management plan and application for a grant for the sewer system are separate processes. The sewer system is proposed for only the core area of Sooke and the management plan is designed to deal with the entire district. The plan, according to consultant Dave Forgie of Associated Engineering, will suggest options for dealing with sewage and stormwater in the areas not served by sewers.

Forgie came looking for public input and he certainly got an earful last week, though the majority of comments didnít deal directly with the liquid waste management plan.
"We have to have feedback. ... I probably donít know the answers without being able to get input from you," Forgie said.

Earlier in the meeting the engineer said "Iím coming at it with fresh eyes ... and to listen."

According to a pamphlet provided at the meeting, while no work has been done under a liquid waste management plan, the district has already accomplished the equivalent of the three stage plan for the core area. Its work regarding the areas outside the core is equivalent to stage one, and the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection has decided the municipality can move into stage two for the entire district.

"Enough work has been done that it would be a waste of your money to go all the way back to stage one," Forgie said.

However, not all audience members accepted this conclusion.

"I do not accept a stage one/stage two combo. ... This is a process that is leading us into real trouble," said Diane Bernard, a former regional director.

A stage one of a typical management plan includes identifying plan boundaries, identifying the current sewage and stormwater treatment methods and developing a list of potential wastewater options. Stage two, which Sooke is currently working on, involves such steps as development of district-wide wastewater management scenarios, reviewing the need for expanding the sewer service area beyond the core area, and completing an economic comparison of the options. The final stage of the process is the financing and scheduling of the selected options.

Butcher feels the process should go back to stage one. He feels the citizens should be the ones driving the process and choosing what end results the community wants.

Macgregor explained that Sookeís first council tackled the issue of sewering the core area without a liquid waste management plan as money was available in the Canada-B.C. Infrastructure program, which had a deadline for applications of March 14, 2001. The initial grant application was for the three levels of government to share in the $24 million project. However, Sooke was informed early last year the price was too steep. Instead of attempting to pare the costs down itself, the district called for proposals for a private-public partnership. EPCOR Water Services Inc. was chosen as Sookeís partner and a grant application was resubmitted in September. The mayor said the district expects to hear an answer regarding its application in April.



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