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Scope of Parksville water treatment plan questioned

Mayor Chris Burger believes the deadline for submitting a referendum question for the November elections will come and go before the City of Parksville learns what it needs to borrow for its part of a new $37 million water supply and storage system.

Meanwhile, a local residents' group, through the opinions of an experienced civil engineer, is questioning the scope and focus of the entire project.

Burger said this week the city has sent a request for funding to various government ministries, but he reiterated his position that there are no official paths available to apply for this type of infrastructure funding.

"There is nothing to apply for right now," said Burger. "We sent something to the ministries — they are calling it a 'pre-application'. Every indication is we are going to be receiving funding. It's just a matter of when and I don't expect we will get word prior to that deadline."

Municipalities that want to include referendum questions on the November civic elections ballot must submit the questions to the province by Tuesday. Without details regarding how much senior-government funding it will receive, the City of Parksville doesn't know how much it will have to borrow. That's the figure it would ask electors through a referendum for permission to borrow.

Burger also said he continues to work with both Island Health and MLA Michelle Stilwell on this file.

"Everyone at the provincial level is aware of our predicament," said the mayor.

While the city's focus seems to be on funding, the Parksville Residents Association is questioning the logic of the new plant's systems.

In a news release issued Monday, the association presented the concerns of local resident Alex Kobelak, a retired professional engineer who practised civil engineering for 43 years in North America, Asia and the United Kingdom, working primarily on infrastructure projects.

"Someone decided that a water recharge system (ASR) is better than the conventional approach," Kobelak wrote, "but it was and is a crapshoot whether a suitable aquifer is available to salvage the program."

Kobelak went on to explain some of the science behind the process of storing water (you can read Kobelak's report in its entirety at www.pqbnews.com).

"Normal practice for a community is to have about 2-3 days water supply for emergency purposes, primarily for fire protection and potable water use," Kobelak wrote. "This is what every major community in Canada does as a prudent provider of service."

“The ERWS Management Board appears to have deviated from the conventional approach for some notoriety to differentiate the community from all others. But at what cost? Instead of reaping the potential benefits of having secure storage (in the aquifer) they are imposing user risks and costs which include higher pumping costs, double treatment of water and exposure to detrimental sub-soil chemicals. Is this a rational approach? Why not remain with a time tested process of water treatment and conventional storage of our potable water?”

The city’s water licence was amended by Island Health in 2009 requiring construction of a new intake and water treatment facility to meet future water needs and ensure a long-term potable water supply.

In the city’s letter to various ministers, Burger stated: “It is not fiscally responsible for the city to undertake a project of this magnitude on its own, however not undertaking the project also has the potential for serious capacity, financial, legal and compliance issues which otherwise cannot be resolved. A delay in meeting the requirement for Englishman River surface water treatment will result in severe water restrictions or a boil water advisory in order to protect water consumers and make the City compliant with Drinking Water Protection Act regulations.”

Letters were sent to Terry Lake, B.C. Minister of Health, with copies to Premier Christy Clark, Minister Todd Stone, Minister Coralee Oakes and MLA Michelle Stilwell, and to Rona Ambrose, Minister of Health for Canada, with copies to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and MP James Lunney.

The Parksville and District Chamber of Commerce also sent letters to the federal and provincial governments citing support is crucial to ensure DCCs, water rates and taxes remain competitive to allow them to continue the work they are doing to attract new business and the expansion of existing businesses.

ERWS project components include:

• River water supply intake located and designed to protect aquatic habitat.

• Water treatment plant and distribution system to meet Island Health’s drinking water quality standards.

• New aquifer storage and recovery system to enable seasonal water supply demand to be balanced and river water extraction to be reduced through use of storage aquifer.

• Phased design and construction to meet local needs and to achieve affordability.

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