The Big Eddy Water Works takeover petition is short of the 50 per cent threshold on Monday, though a city official was hopeful it would pass.
“There’s definitely been a change in attitude towards the city helping the Big Eddy because they realize this hasn’t been forced on people, but the Big Eddy water board is asking for the city to help,” said Dawn Levesque, the city’s director of corporate administration.
As of Monday morning, 41 per cent of property owners representing 47 per cent of assessed property value brought their signed petition to city hall. The deadline for the petition is this Friday, Feb. 5. Both thresholds must pass 50 per cent for it to be successful.
If the petition fails, it means the city will lose out on almost $4 million in grant funding and the Big Eddy Water Board will be forced to raise rates significantly in order to generate the cash to perform the upgrades.
If the petition succeeds, the city will move forward on borrowing the Big Eddy’s share of the costs and start detailed design work this spring.
For Don Hall, one of three directors with the Big Eddy Water Board, the choice is obvious – sign the petition.
“Everybody figures if they don’t vote this in, they don’t have to pay for it,” he told the Review. “If the city doesn’t get that grant, we’ll be paying $6 million on our own. Their water will be about three times what the city taxes are if it doesn’t go through.”
There are two issues with the system for the Big Eddy. One is that Interior Health says the system doesn’t meet water quality standards set by the B.C. Drinking Water Protection Act. The second is that there isn’t sufficient water flow to meet firefighting requirements for commercial and industrial properties.
The city commissioned a report by the MMM Group, an engineering firm, which said $5.7 million worth of infrastructure upgrades was needed to meet the quality and quantity requirements.
The city successfully applied for a grant to cover two-thirds of that, while the Big Eddy will be on the hook for the rest. The amount is $11.50 per metre of street frontage. The funding is contingent on a successful petition.
The city and the water board have been pushing for Big Eddy property owners to sign the petition. Last month, the city published an extensive Q&A on the issue. It was followed by a press release encouraging people to sign.
On Thursday, Hall, director Brian Dyck, and city engineer Mike Thomas were on EZRock to answer more questions from host Shaun Aquiline.
They presented three options:
1. People sign the petition and the city takes over the system. The city gets to work on the $5.7 million in upgrades and two-thirds of the cost is covered by the federal and provincial governments.
2. They don’t sign the petition and the Big Eddy Water Board has to find a way to pay for the upgrades themselves. Property owners see a huge spike in their water bills while the board raises cash to pay for the upgrades, which are mandated by Interior Health.
3. The Big Eddy does nothing, in which case Interior Health orders either the city or province to take over the system and make the required upgrades. Under this scenario, the Big Eddy would still wind up paying.
“If this doesn’t go through, I have no idea where to go next because it’s pretty hard to ask the residents to pay huge water bills,” said Hall, adding they could top $1,500. “I can’t see how anybody can afford that.”
Peter Humphreys, the owner of Big Eddy Fuel Services and several other lots in the Big Eddy is one of several property owners that hasn’t signed the petition. “I think there’s some savings to be had because I think it’s overspent,” he said.
He said he didn’t think the system needed to be upgraded to meet the 225 litres-per-second required for industrial fire flow. Upgrading to a lower flow requirement would significantly lower the costs of the project.
“If we specify it to where it should be, then the numbers completely change and we can either save that money or do something else with that money,” he said. “Nobody’s looked at it with a critical eye to see if it’s reasonable.”
Humphreys said he felt the city went out to maximize its grant funding, but that the property owners will also have to pay more because of that.
Mike Thomas, the city’s director of engineering, said the project could be scaled back if it was determined that some aspects weren’t needed. Notably, he said it is possible they don’t build a second reservoir if it’s determined at a later point that it’s not needed.
He said the report by the MMM Group was “preliminary” and was for the “purposes of seeking a grant.”
“A number of people have questioned the need for a reservoir,” he said. “That’s something we’re going to look at fairly soon when we get into the design process.”
Thomas said the fire flow standards are based on the Fire Underwriter Survey guidelines.
“If we can reduce the costs or if there’s another way of meeting the requirements that’s cheaper, we’ll do that,” he said.
Any changes would have to be discussed with the province. “If it still meets the intent of the grant application, which is to improve the water quality and quantity in the Big Eddy, I don’t think there would be any problems from the province.”
If the project were scaled back, the city would still receive two-thirds funding, but it would get less from senior levels of government. Residents would pay the same additional water rates to cover the costs, but it would be over a shorter time period than the proposed 20 years.
Levesque said that people were calling up the city one-by-one to have their questions answered. People were signing their petitions after being re-assured about the whole process.
“It’s a 20 year commitment and it’s a big cost so people are being very cautious,” she said.