We asked Revelstoke council candidates about debt financing for the smelly Southside sewage treatment plant

What do Revelstoke city council candidates plan to do about the Southside sewage treatment plant smell?

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The City of Revelstoke sewage lagoon in the industrial park area in Southside. Photo: file

The Revelstoke Mountaineer’s question and answer series with city council candidates covers a wide-variety of issues that are likely to be central to the upcoming municipal election on Oct. 20, 2018. The series features verbatim answers written by the candidates themselves.

 The questions were created by the Mountaineer’s civic affairs reporter Melissa Jameson and former Revelstoke Review editor Alex Cooper.

 In this sixth edition of the Mountaineer’s question and answer series with city council candidates we asked council candidates to consider the following:

The biggest infrastructure expense the city is facing are upgrades to the current wastewater treatment facility. Do you think a new wastewater treatment facility is worth putting the city $35 million in debt? Given that at some point the sewer system will need to be replaced what other solutions do you see?

The following are the responses from the candidates who got back to us prior to our publication deadline.

 Tony Morabito (candidate for council)

Tony Morabito is running for a spot on Revelstoke city council. Photo: Tony Morabito.

I would not have a problem with the $35 million debt if the DCC had been approved and certainly given the odour emanating during the hot months from the lagoon having a detrimental effect to the health and well being of residents in close proximity to the sewage lagoon, a solution to the problem is of upmost importance in my mind. And given that capacity is an issue and the discharge pipe requires to be extended to discharge into the Columbia River at a cost of $1 million I would favour saving the million and relocating the facility to a place that would better service Arrow heights and the South Areas to the Ski hill in the future. Alternately we could end up with a fragmented system involving two or three different locations if one was to put the Big Eddy on a waste water system which needs to be planned for in the future.

Tim Palmer (candidate for council)

Tim Palmer is running for a seat on Revelstoke city council.

As long as we have lagoons we will have sewer smell. Adding more and more short-term fixes such as aeration, mechanical systems, chemicals and the like are only treating symptoms. We need to fix the disease. This will take resources.

We need to stop wasting money on band-aids and get serious on resolving the wastewater issues.  We have a regular stench from the lagoons in Southside.  We have sewage leaking into turtle creek.  Arrow heights and the Big Eddy has numerous aging and failing septic systems. RMR has holding systems that are undersized and stresses the system with batch dumping.  Meanwhile there is more and more development adding to our sewage volume.   It is time to get serious, engage the public and make sound decisions for short and long-term solutions.   The wastewater problem is not going away and will only get worse if we don’t get serious.  I am committed to pushing Council to address this issue, listen to the public and developers and then make balanced and timely decisions to solve the wastewater issues.

Steven Cross (candidate for council)

Steve Cross is running for a seat on Revelstoke city council. Photo: Steve Cross.

As citizens we expect a certain basic level of services and I think the proper treatment of wastewater is one of those so this expense may be impossible to avoid. For me the issue is not “can we avoid this?”, but rather how do we allocate the bill in order to be fair?

The contributors to wastewater are industry, commerce, homes, and visitors. Metering water flow into a building could help and I would like to explore that idea for its merits and pitfalls for our town.

There may be other ways to mitigate the cost – new environmental technologies, changing people behaviour etc. I think that all costs, even essential ones, need to be carefully looked at for savings and reasonableness and fair allocation across users.

Steve Kent

Steve Kent is running for a seat on Revelstoke city council. Photo: Keri Knapp.

My understanding is that the current plant was designed to accommodate a population of 19,000.  For the last 20 years, there has been blame apportioned, studies completed and a new “band-aid’ applied to the problem every few years. And yet, although we have invested many hundreds of thousands of dollars, it still stinks.

I consider the Southside sewage lagoon to be the most important infrastructure issue in Revelstoke.  It is not reasonable to expect Southside residents to put up with the strong smell of sewage night after hot, summer night.  If we have to go into debt to address this, then that’s what we have to do. However, I feel it would be more palatable to put other projects on hold until the lagoon is odour free, and to focus our resources almost exclusively on this issue.  Also, there is a federal election coming up.  If we have to write grant proposals for the entire campaign, then we should be prepared to do that.

“If you have to eat a frog, eat it first thing in the morning.  If you have to eat two frogs, eat the big one first.”  The wastewater treatment facility is our biggest frog.

Rob Elliot (candidate for council)

Rob Elliot is running for a spot on Revelstoke city council. Photo: Rob Elliot.

The dialogue regarding the wastewater plant has become so convoluted. $35,000,000 offset with a possible $10,000,000 grant?  Partial fixes vs complete overhaul?  Settling pond alternatives? Debt vs DCCs?  At its limit or not? New vs old problem?

The truth: when weather conditions conspire, central south side Revelstoke suffers an unbearable stench.

As incongruous as it might seem, a water treatment facility is an asset. Conversation should start with an understanding that a treatment plant will generate tax revenue for years to come.  Factors such lifespan, capability, durability, volume and cost need to be evaluated in conjunction with an end game.  The end game would determine our choices.

Peter Humphreys (candidate for council)

Peter Humprheys is running for a spot on Revelstoke city council. Photo: Peter Humphreys.

The City will need to start planning for a new waste treatment plant but not at $35 million. If we reduce spending and start putting money in reserves then we will be ready when the Federal Government gets into election spending mode. This will significantly lower the cost to taxpayers. Once the swimming pool debt has been paid, we may be able to consider additional debt without increasing taxes. In the meantime, we must continue to research ways to eliminate the smell of the existing operation.

 

 

 

Nicole Cherlet (candidate for council)

Nicole Cherlet is running for a seat on Revelstoke city council. Photo: Nicole Cherlet.

Debt is a reality during rapid growth or tough times. Certainly not the ideal case, but we borrow when we need to. That’s why borrowing exists. City borrowing is a completely different process than personal or business credit, and I have a lot to learn on the topic before I can comment more on that point.

People that live in Southside will tell you that we currently have a problem; stopping additional growth will not reduce the need to address our facility that is at capacity.

Water meters would help to provide insight on usage rates per home, allowing us to charge users appropriately, based on their impact on the system. With awareness comes opportunities for conservation; we can measure our efforts and set goals.

The high volume of travelers coming through our city are taxpayers, but not to our community’s core infrastructure. The numbers we’ll soon receive from Telus Insights will help us gauge their impact on our systems, and give us some data to bring to senior levels of government as well as our own Tourism Infrastructure Committee.

Gary Sulz (candidate for mayor)

Gary Sulz is running for mayor in the upcoming Oct. 20 election. Photo: Gary Sulz.

The water treatment plan includes an upgrade or complete replacement of the sewage treatment facility.  We have almost reached capacity with our outflow license, so upgrades or replacement will be mandatory.  The 30+ million-dollar figure is a realistic estimate for upgrades or complete replacement in today’s dollars.  With the waste water plan in place, we can now apply for grant funding, and if successful, these grants may reduce that total dollar amount.  Development Cost Charges, Ratepayers Fees and Taxation Reserves along with grant funding and possible borrowing, appear to be the only way to fund this project.

 

Jackie Rhind (candidate for council)

Jackie Rhind is running for a spot on Revestoke city council. Photo: Jackie Rhind

Upgrading the wastewater treatment facility is a priority. If we are going to continue spending large amounts on band-aid fixes (which are still leaving Southside with awful odours), then it’s worth evaluating our entire sewer system, since eventually Revelstoke will exceed the capacity of the existing lagoons. It would be interesting to see what our different options are and to compare them, perhaps through an independent assessment that also provides budget numbers from contractors on the cost to implement each. I’m sure the experts would have more valuable input than me on this topic but some of the alternatives I would be curious to investigate include: having septic areas tie into the city sewer to help add to the sewage tax base, expanding the existing facility, and building an enclosed structure around the existing lagoons.

Cody Younker (candidate for council)

Cody Younker is running for a spot on Revelstoke city council. Photo: Cody Younker.

This is a great question and one that has the town so divided. If a Wastewater plant is to be built, I believe it would be one of the the largest if not the largest infrastructure undertaking in the cities history. The question of how we want to pay for something this massive needs to be put out to the public. We need to hold some public consultations and look at having a referendum once we come up with the few different options. Whether that is building a new treatment plant, building an additional lagoon and spending many more millions to combat the smell or making a new plant/lagoons somewhere else in town. These are all ideas that are out there and all are ultimately going to cost a lot of money. I believe we need to present these options with their costs and payment options (Property tax increase, borrowing, DCC funds) to the public and make a decision once we see what the majority of the population thinks. We need to remember that the money we spend belongs to the citizens of Revelstoke. Our citizens must be properly consulted and listened too, which they haven’t been for some time.

Mike Brooks-Hill (candidate for council)

Michael Brooks-Hill is running for a seat on Revelstoke city council. Photo: Michael Brooks-Hill.

I don’t see this issue being as black and white as the question makes it out to be.  Replacing/upgrading the sewer system is certainly a priority issue, but one that will happen over a period of time. Framing this as a new wastewater plant and $35 million dollars of debt or no new wastewater plant is not particularly useful.  Raising DCCs would be a major component of mitigating the required debt-load, as would patiently waiting for grant funding before proceeding.  There are a number of other initiatives that could be undertaken to extend the life and viability (i.e. eliminate the odour) of our existing infrastructure.  Limiting storm water entering the system (much of the commercial downtown’s rainwater goes in the sewer.) is just one example .

People in South Side are long overdue for open windows in the summer time.  We can fix this problem and not go $35 million dollars into debt.

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