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Politicians stand by referendum promise

City awaits word on grant application

by Laura Walz editor@prpeak.com Newly elected City of Powell River council members are prepared to fulfill their commitment to hold a referendum on co-treatment.

In June, city council voted to enter into a phased-in co-treatment consolidated liquid waste management plan (LWMP), subject to a long list of conditions. The option combines co-treatment, a proposal to treat the city’s sewage at Catalyst Paper Corporation’s Powell River mill, with a stand-alone consolidated plant to be built sometime in the future.

The city has applied for a $7.2-million grant to the UBCM (Union of BC Municipalities) Innovations Fund to build the infrastructure for co-treatment. If its grant application is successful, there are two outstanding issues that will have to be finalized, an agreement with Catalyst and acquisition of land around the existing Townsite sewage treatment facility, which would be large enough for the stand-alone facility.

Dave Formosa, mayor-elect, and councillors Jim Palm, Debbie Dee and Maggie Hathaway attended Catalyst’s community stakeholders committee meeting on November 23. During the campaign leading up to the November 19 election, they, along with Councillor Chris McNaughton, promised to hold a referendum on the co-treatment issue.

Palm provided a brief update on co-treatment, then Paul Schachter, who is the facilitator for the group, asked about the timing of a referendum.

Formosa said once all the information is together, then council will vote on a referendum. “The question will be asked, are you willing to go to referendum?” he said. “My hand will go up because I’ve already said publicly that I would.”

If the majority of council says yes, Formosa added, “then off we go.” The city would also have to provide information so both council and the public can make an informed decision, he said.

Schachter asked if this would happen before the city sends its LWMP to the minister of environment for approval.

Formosa said yes.

Another issue is whether the city would choose “oxidation ditches,” Formosa said, for the stand-alone treatment facility. The grant application includes funds to prepare plans for the stand-alone facility, he explained. “We have to actually decide what we’re going to build,” he said. “I don’t think council has made that decision. I think others may have in engineering, but I don’t think council has.”

Dee said a public education initiative would precede a referendum. She also reiterated the point that if the city doesn’t receive the $7.2-million grant, co-treatment is “dead.”

Palm said the city doesn’t have to hold a referendum to make the minister of environment happy. “But we have to take it to a referendum if that’s what the people want,” he said.

Dee also said councillors committed to a binding referendum. “I’ll stand by the binding,” she said.

Formosa agreed. “Binding, not concept. People vote one way, binding. They vote the other way, binding. And we’ll do it.”

Hathaway said while they were waiting for the money, she would like to pursue obtaining more information about retrofitting the Westview wastewater treatment plant with upgraded membranes. “That might be a very viable solution,” she said.