An Alternative Approval Process is being conducted by the Cowichan Valley Regional District until Feb. 10, 2021 for Area G Saltair electors to adopt a bylaw for a Saltair water system service loan authorization of $3.7 million for water treatment upgrades.
CVRD Bylaw No. 4328 will borrow the funds for the estimated costs to carry out provincially-mandated surface water treatment objectives. The loan financing will be over 20 years.
The process was outlined by Brian Dennison, manager of the CVRD’s water management division and engineering services, in a letter to Saltair water system customers on Dec. 1.
“The AAP allows eligible electors within the Saltair water system service area to indicate they are borrowing up to $3.7 million to carry out the necessary upgrades to the system,” he explained in the letter.
“An AAP was chosen as the preferred method to gain elector approval as there is no physical contact between people during the COVID-19 pandemic. The other two methods of gaining elector approval are assent (referendum) or by petition and both methods involve physical contact as part of the process.”
For the AAP, Dennison added, “action is only required if you are against the CVRD adopting with the long-term borrowing bylaw to cover the costs for the upgrade project. If you are in favour of the borrowing bylaw, no action is required.”
The CVRD board will proceed with adopting the borrowing bylaw unless 10 per cent or more of eligible electors sign and submit an elector response form in opposition by the 4:30 p.m. Feb. 10, 2021 deadline.
If approved, the additional cost for taxpayers is an estimated $270 per property per year over the term of the loan. The 20-year loan will spread the repayment over current and future Saltair property owners.
There is a misconception among some residents that working towards the AAP failing will mean taxpayers won’t have to pay for the filtration system.
Not true, says Area G director Lynne Smith.
“Under the Province of B.C. regulations, it is required and must be put in,” she emphasized. “If the AAP fails, most likely Island Health will issue a Drinking Water Protection Order installation of treatment works and the liability will be passed on to the CVRD with the board deciding how the Saltair water system treatment upgrades will be funded by the Saltair water system customers under this order. Under this order, approval of the electors is not required.
“At this point as a community, we can support a 20-year loan authorization or if the AAP fails then 15 CVRD board directors will decide how the Saltair water customers will fund the filtration system. As the Saltair area director, I support moving forward with Bylaw 4328.”
Smith said she’s working towards some options to lessen the loan amount.
The water issue in Saltair has been a passion for her long before becoming a director.
Going back to 2013, Smith explained, Saltair residents had property taxes increased by about $356 per year to undertake the financial responsibility of the Saltair water system’s aging distribution system, costing $4.5 million over 15 years. Breakage repair costs were becoming higher than the tax requisition for the system, causing financial burden for many Saltair taxpayers then and continuing now.
“The Saltair Water Advisory Committee was started in 2015 to create a communication group between the community and the CVRD staff,” Smith indicated.
The committee worked to keep tabs on yearly funding and the project’s funds were spent on the distribution system upgrades. Community presentations were done on the Saltair water system and their taxation dollars.
“The need for a filtration system has been out there for quite a few years as a requirement of Island Health under the Provincial Drinking Water Protection Act,” Smith added.
In late January, the CVRD received a Water Contravention Order from Island Health. Staff had put together a proposed timeline in an early March response to Island Health and then COVID-19 hit.
Smith quickly realized the proposed timeline was no longer possible and asked the CVRD board to write a letter to Island Health to explain the situation. Upon receipt of the letter, Island Health requested teleconference meetings and those meetings with IH staff, CVRD staff, the CVRD chair and Smith resulted in a new contravention order with a timeline that was achievable for CVRD staff and the Saltair community.
Part of the Water Contravention Order is funding the filtration system.
The Saltair community is still waiting for the Province of B.C. and federal government to announce the recipients of a grant applied for in February 2020. Receiving the grant would lessen the financial burden for Saltair taxpayers.
Smith wonders why these filtration systems required for surface water treatment under the Provincial Drinking Water Protection Act do not come with some funding from the provincial and federal governments.
“The Town of Ladysmith, City of Nanaimo, Lake Cowichan and Comox Regional District all received approximately 75 per cent funding for their filtration systems,” she pointed out. “The financial burden is more for taxpayers in a small rural community. We have our fingers crossed.”