A $52-million regional infrastructure upgrade for sewer treatment failed to generate much in-person interest. But it is starting to garner some attention online.
Turnout was low, six people or less, at each of the public consultations held in Warfield, Trail, and Rossland last week. The events were meant to be a conversation-starter regarding improvements in the works for the Columbia Pollution Control Centre.
Nominal attendance didn’t come as too much of a surprise to organizers, however, even though this project will impact taxpayers living in the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary (RKBD) sewer service for years to come.
“People just want to flush their toilet,” says regional spokesperson Frances Maika. “If their services are working fine, they don’t want to think about it.”
That said, almost 100 people have signed up to be part of the discussion through a new feature offered on the RDKB website.
Called “Join the Conversation,” the link brings the viewer to a full-scale background on the plan, and it will provide updates as the project rolls through various stages, including funding options.
Residents can leave immediate feedback in a comment section, and have the option of subscribing for project updates via email.
“We are the first regional district in the east, west and boundary to get on board with this online tool,” explained Maika. “It’s a way to reach people other than face-to-face and early in, participation is good.”
Finding new ways to engage affected taxpayers on major investments is critical. In this particular case, the new system will be designed to expand the service population from 13,500 to 20,000+.
“The whole purpose of this upgrade is to ensure that those services people rely on everyday are working well,” said Maika. “And continue to work well into the future even with increased demand on those services.”
Trail Coun. Robert Cacchioni has been the city’s representative on regional sewer issues for many years, and currently sits on the committee.
“The plan, which started seven years ago at about $40 million, has now moved to $52 million,” he explained.
The impact to regional taxpayers will be significant given the rising costs and the fact that last year the federal government cut infrastructure cost-sharing from 50 per cent to 40 per cent. That leaves local taxpayers on the hook for the multi-million dollar balance.
“(This) adds about $5.2 million to the partners in the service,” Cacchioni said.
“The City of Trail is responsible for about 70 per cent of this $5.2 million, and quite a substantial tax rate increase is needed to fund this particular project.”
He says the region’s MP Richard Cannings (South Okanagan-West Kootenay) has been asked to find out if the federal contribution can be bumped back up to 50 per cent.
“It wasn’t until June after all the planning that the cut from 50 per cent to 40 per cent was made,” Cacchioni clarified.
“We are also reaching out to our MLA (Minister Katrine Conroy, Kootenay West) to see if the province’s 33 per cent share can be increased to offset this $5.2 million for the project.”
Trickled down to the individual taxpayer, over 20 years, this project will add about $100 per house on an average-priced home.
“Thus it is a major hit to our citizens,” he concluded. “We have spent already $1.5 million on planning over the last five years and the project is ready to be tendered. It does not require elector approval to move forward and so that’s why we’ve had these open houses in all the areas.”
The Columbia Pollution Control Centre was built in the 1970s. The system was not designed to meet today’s far more stringent environmental regulations, so the plant is in need of extensive upgrades to ensure the long-term sustainability of sewage management in the region.
The draft plan – known formally as a Liquid Waste Management Plan (LWMP) – is now at the final stage, where a decision has been made on how to upgrade the infrastructure to meet the new environmental standards.
The upgrade will meet provincial and federal regulations to protect the Columbia River and increase capacity of the plant by over 50 per cent. The new buildings will be heated using waste effluent heat, which will help reduce natural gas consumption and lower heating bills. Treated wastewater will be reclaimed for non-potable uses at the plant, thereby reducing potable water consumption by up to 200,000 litres per day.
The new design also factors in the odour that sometimes permeates from the facility, which is located east from Trail on Highway 3B. Odour control systems will be installed to minimize impacts on residential areas.