Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden wants to get sewage service to Alta Lake Road residents whether the province provides funding or not, a move that goes against previous council decisions.
“We need to find a way to get this done. It’s been put off for too long,” said Wilhelm-Morden during Tuesday’s (Dec. 18) council meeting. “I don’t necessarily agree with previous councils’ decisions that if there is no senior levels of government funding, the project’s not going ahead.”
Area residents, who own some of the community’s oldest houses near Alta Lake, have been lobbying to be included in the town’s sewer line for years. Past councils would only support the estimated $3.54-million project if it received external funding. The municipality has applied for federal or provincial funding for the project five times, dating back to 1994, to no avail and can expect a decision on its most recent provincial funding request for the project in early 2013, according to Wilhelm-Morden.
Following a directive from council in September, municipal staff prepared the report presented Tuesday on water and soil quality near Alta Lake Road after public concerns were raised that private septic systems in the area had failed. The report also considered different funding and technical options for connecting the 39 Alta Lake properties to the municipal sewer line.
Recent municipal findings showed no signs of abnormal levels of coliform, an intestinal bacteria, in Alta Lake. This was consistent with a study conducted by consulting company NovTech in 2006.
“This lake had the same average total coliforms as the other Whistler lakes … In fact, the peak coliform levels measured in Alpha and Lost Lake were substantially higher than the peaks measured in Alta Lake,” said the RMOW’s manager of environmental operations Michael Day.
The same 2006 study did find, however, that coliform levels were high in some soil that was adjacent to private septic tanks on Alta Lake Road. Provincial law mandates that property owners are responsible for their own private septic systems, although municipalities don’t have the jurisdiction to enforce such regulations.
The provincial Ministry of Environment released its own report this year that looked at the chemistry of Whistler’s lakes from 2009 to 2011. Their findings showed that Alta Lake had low nutrient levels, common for bodies of water in mountainous regions, and that by all water quality indicators, the lake was safe.
Coun. Duane Jackson said that the sewer project should still go forward even though the scientific findings were positive.
“Looking at the science as a reason that this (project) isn’t a high priority seems to be the wrong reason to defer, because it’s not about the 39 property owners, it’s about the crown jewel of the Whistler summer,” he said in reference to Alta Lake, a popular summer recreation spot. “We’re a resort, we’re a modern community so everybody should be on the sewer line.”
Since 1986, the RMOW has split the costs of major water and sewage projects with residents regardless of the level of external funding. Assuming the same arrangement, the 39 Alta Lake properties would have to cover $1.77 million, half the project’s cost. Amortized over 20 years, as past projects have been, this would cost property owners $3,100 annually, with refinancing occurring after 10 years. With the support of the BC Municipal Finance Authority, the amortization period could be extended to 30 years, resulting in an annual cost of $2,700 for property owners assuming the 50:50 split.
Regardless of the cost-sharing arrangement, once the sewer is installed, residents who have not already paid would have to cover a one-time works and services charge of up to $3,781 and would be subject to an annual sewer parcel tax and usage fee of $427.
The report also looked at the potential cost of connecting Rainbow Park to the municipal sewer line. It would require the installation of a sewer pumping station and a long pipe, a costly option that would be completely covered by the RMOW.
A report looking more closely at this and other potential technical solutions to Alta Lake’s sewage problem is expected to be presented to council in early 2013. This report will provide an updated analysis of several sewage options that have been proposed in the past, including a more costly sewer line that would be installed along property owned by CN Rail.
The lands in question will transfer to CN from BC Rail in 2013, and municipal staff is looking at what costs will be associated with the change.
Other long-term cost-saving options being considered are the installation of multiple small pumping stations rather than one large one, having sewage run down slope on private properties and supporting the conversion by residents to holding tanks with some kind of municipal sewage collection service.
Following the report to council in early 2013, the RMOW will consult extensively with the 39 Alta Lake property owners awaiting sewage service.