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Questions remain on the topic of sewage

Legality of adopting co-treatment without public vote in question

At both a recent City of Powell River council meeting and a committee-of-the-whole meeting residents of Powell River came forward with concerns and questions over the city’s preferred choice of phased consolidated treatment for its liquid waste management plan.

On June 27 council approved phased consolidated treatment as the preferred option. This option would combine co-treatment, a proposal to treat the city’s sewage at Catalyst Paper Corporation’s Powell River mill, with a future stand-alone consolidated plant. The choice is subject to a long list of conditions that are to be met before the plan can go ahead.

At a special council meeting on July 15, and later followed up by a letter, resident George Orchiston asked the councillors and acting Mayor Dave Formosa whether there were any plans for a public referendum over co-treatment. He backed his question with questions over a possible legal responsibility to put the issue to a public vote.

Orchiston’s concern stems from Section 22 of the Community Charter which reads that “a council may, by bylaw adopted with the approval of the electors, enter into an agreement that grants an exclusive or limited franchise for...sewage disposal through a sewage system.”

Should the city go through with its agreement in principle of a 10-year agreement with Catalyst at a cost of $500,000 per year, Orchiston is concerned that this would not be legal without the approval of the electors through a referendum.

“Given all of the above and the lack of any approval by the electors of what is known as co-treatment,” wrote Orchiston, “I have concluded that council does not have the authority to commit the municipality to financial obligations associated with that option.”

City Clerk Marie Claxton responded to Orchiston’s letter on July 19 by pointing out that the agreement with Catalyst has not yet been approved and that the city has only adopted a resolution to enter into the plan with a “number of subject to clauses.” Claxton assured that the city’s legal counsel will be involved in the preparation of an agreement for council’s consideration and that all legislative requirements will be met.

“Depending on the nature of the agreement with Catalyst, it may or may not require approval from the public,” said Claxton at the special council meeting. “But until we have a draft service agreement in front of council we can’t really comment at this time what that contract looks like.”

At the council meeting on July 21 Councillor Formosa again addressed Orchiston’s concerns. He noted Orchiston’s request for a second legal opinion on the proposal and the potential need for a vote from the electorate. Formosa asked that the issue be put on the agenda for discussion at the next council meeting.

Judy Watts, Powell River Water Watch Coalition, also spoke at the committee-of-the-whole meeting. She questioned, among other things, the need to tear down the Westview sewage treatment plant given new membrane technology is now available since the

decision seven years ago to close the facility. Because of the fact that the plant is only 12 years old and has still not been fully paid for, Watts expressed that she and Water Watch feel the option of upgrading that facility should be revisited.

Formosa told Watts he agrees with her “100 per cent” in that he would have liked to see the facility upgraded and used, but he was told there was no way to accomplish this. Formosa would like to see more money spent to look at the option of upgrading the existing facility and other options.

“I would hope that we could find some money for an independent look, if not just to put people’s concerns and wonders at ease,” said Formosa. “Did we do everything we needed to do before we abandoned that plant?”

Councillor Maggie Hathaway agreed that upgrading the Westview facility needs to be further investigated. Councillor Debbie Dee said she agrees that membrane manufacturers should be invited to come investigate the plant and assess the possibility of an upgrade. In the meantime many councillors, in particular councillors Jim Palm and Chris McNaughton, expressed the need to continue moving ahead with the current process.

It is anticipated that the subject to clauses will be removed at the September 15 council meeting, after which the amended phased consolidated treatment proposal will go to a town hall meeting. Adoption of the proposal is scheduled for the October 6 council meeting.