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Voter assent not required

City officials can borrow money without going to a vote

One by one, City of Powell River officials are checking off issues connected to a proposed liquid waste management plan (LWMP).

The LWMP steering committee met on Thursday, April 25, for three hours. City staff reported on a number of issues, based on a draft stage three LWMP prepared by Opus Dayton and Knight, potentially the draft that will be submitted to the ministry of environment for approval this year. The plan calls for phased consolidated treatment, which 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.

During the meeting, it emerged that the city does not have to obtain voter approval to borrow money to implement the LWMP once it is approved by the minister of environment.

Mayor Dave Formosa, who is now a member of the committee after council appointed him to it, reminded some councillors that before the November 2011 local government election, they promised to hold a referendum on co-treatment. “I made that commitment and I would like to somehow see that that commitment happens,” he said.

Mac Fraser, the city’s chief administrative officer, said the completion of the LWMP right up to ministerial approval does not commit council to go forward. “Nothing about completing this LWMP with a proposed approach precludes you then subsequently asking respectfully a question of the taxpayer,” he said.

Councillor Jim Palm said a referendum should not be held prematurely. “Until we have all the facts on the table, we should not take it forward, so we can educate our citizens as to what the plan is in total, before we ask the question of them for acceptance,” he said.

Another topic of the meeting was a presentation by George Orchiston, a Powell River resident, at the previous meeting, detailing how Catalyst’s effluent treatment system worked. He raised a number of points, including odour associated with sludge, disinfection of the city’s wastewater, strategy for treating the city’s wastewater during short-term and long-term shutdowns at the mill, health concerns for mill staff and regulatory issues. His concerns were addressed in a letter from Al Gibb, of Opus Dayton and Knight, which the committee reviewed.

In particular, Orchiston said Gibb’s plan for treating the city’s sewage when the mill was shut down wouldn’t work. However, Gibb disagreed. Orchiston recommended that Paul Klopping, an expert in industrial treatment systems, should review Gibb’s strategy. Gibb said he would welcome Klopping’s review.

Committee members also discussed the possibility of including Tla’amin (Sliammon) First Nation and Wildwood in the system. City officials reported Tla’amin is having difficulty with its treatment plant and is interested in exploring connecting to the city’s system.

Formosa questioned why Wildwood wasn’t included in the plan. “I think that leaving Wildwood out is nuts,” he said. “If you have to go for monies, why would you leave that whole portion of the community out, when it’s downhill to the system?”

After the discussion, the committee directed staff to provide a report about incremental costs for including Wildwood and Tla’amin.

Tor Birtig, director of infrastructure, reported on a meeting with ministry officials. He said what they would like to see is a memorandum that describes the procedures for handling the city’s wastewater during various mill shutdowns and maintenance. The other requirement is, at minimum, terms of reference between the city and Catalyst.

Birtig also projected a spreadsheet on a screen that compared costs for co-treatment and a stand-alone plant, as well as annual operating and maintenance costs and additional costs for asset management. The figures indicate the total cost for a co-treatment facility is about $5 million and for a stand-alone consolidated plant $13.2 million. The figures assume two-thirds funding from other levels of government and a 25-year amortization.

As well, the spreadsheet shows the annual deficit, which includes the operation and maintenance deficit. With co-treatment, the annual deficit is $581,439. With a consolidated plant, it is $844,255.

Over time, the annual deficit for a phased consolidated approach decreases, from $769,450 in five years, to $683,990 in 10 years and $598,531 in 15 years.

Formosa said he wanted some comfort that if the city proceeded with the project without a grant, the money it spent initially for the pre-treatment facility could be used as its contribution if a grant was obtained for the stand-alone consolidated plant.

Fraser said he could research that. “I’ve been in four major national-provincial grant programs and each of them are very clear upfront that they will not include in the grant any previous expenses, anything incurred,” he said. “It’s an excellent question and I would have to do some research on it.”

Fraser outlined a possible timeframe for completing the process, which included holding a public meeting in September and sending the draft plan to the minister after that.

Councillor Russell Brewer provided a list of all council resolutions about the LWMP since March 2011, which shows the inconsistency in how council has consulted the public. “There has been lots of discussion about how to engage and get people to participate more,” he said. “I think we need to make a concerted effort to do that, through communication and encouraging participation, to avoid the cynicism that’s happened here.”

If you would like more information, click here for Orchiston's presentation and subsequent letter.