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Co-treatment still an option

Budget committee considers liquid waste management plans

Years after it was first proposed as a sewage treatment option, co-treatment continues to be a contentious issue for City of Powell River council.

Referendums promised during the 2011 election year came up as a point of discussion at the city’s budget committee meeting March 17.

Mac Fraser, chief administrative officer, said they are looking at the possibility of using the co-treatment option to provide time to generate funds to build a consolidated facility that the city will own and operate. Co-treatment is a proposal where the city’s sewage would be treated at the Catalyst Paper Corporation Powell River mill. The city is looking to the Building Canada grant to borrow $6.7 million dollars to finance the possible construction of the consolidated waste treatment facility. “However, if we proceed on liquid waste treatment, as a financial plan this is much more prudent and much more sustainable and represents the cheapest money in North America. There is a distinct advantage in putting time in between the two phases of operation.”

Mayor Dave Formosa pointed out that there are questions concerning the security of entering into a co-treatment arrangement. Opponents are concerned with the long-term viability of the mill. Formosa also identified several issues that face council in determining a workable, sustainable solution. “There are three questions that play into making the bylaw that’s before council today,” he said. “The city will need to know whether the service will be provided at the same price that would be in place if we owned our own consolidated facility. We would be the only ones in the system, so we’d need to know that if the mill closes that plant will continue to be operable.” Formosa also said that a right of way would need to be in place so that if it did close, the facility would revert to the city.

“During the last election I signed my name saying that the people of Powell River would have a vote on a referendum whether or not we go phased-consolidated or consolidated,” he said. “If we do not have the key components in place then this is a wasted exercise and we need to get our consolidated plan in order and wait for a construction grant. Why are we not looking at a plan to buy the land where a consolidated plant or a phased-consolidated plant needs to sit? We should be getting that land secure for option A or option B.”

Formosa went on to say there is still an option to go to referendum during the upcoming civic election in November, but it remains whether the question put to the public will seek opinion on the matter, or whether it will be a question of finance.

Fraser echoed Formosa’s comments, saying that key details will need to be addressed to the ministry of environment when a plan is put forward. “The minister will need to know what the plan looks like in terms of long-term treatment, what it looks like in a short-term arrangement, and what will be done if there is immanent closure.”

Fraser pointed out that a referendum could indeed be put to the public in two phases: one being an opinion referendum and the other being a financial question after the results from the first referendum are in. “There are moments of governance where decisions have to be made that are not positive, and they might not even be shared by the majority, but they might be the right thing to do. When you are non-compliant, you must become compliant,” Fraser said in reference to provincial regulation requirements that are driving council to make a workable decision.

During question period, resident Ellen Gould accused council of manufacturing a lack of transparency by delivering an overly complex document she called a “proposal to transfer waste treatment to Catalyst.” Gould commented that she had heard “through the grapevine” that council was going to try and low-ball their numbers and that it was expected by some in attendance that it would not be obvious through statements made what council’s true intention was.

Councillor Debbie Dee assured Gould that the document was not a proposal, but a scenario for discussion in advance of an upcoming waste management steering committee meeting scheduled for March 31. She berated Gould for her accusation, saying, “It’s up to you whether you believe that kind of thing or not, but there is absolutely nothing untoward in what I do for you or for any of the citizens of this city. I was elected by the citizens of this city to take both sides of an issue and to weigh both sides and to do what I thought was best. For six years now, that is what I’ve been doing.”