The B.C. Ministry of Environment issued the Village of Cumberland another non-compliance notice for its sewage treatment issues on Feb. 21.
It marks the third time the provincial government has notified Cumberland in recent years that the village is still not up to date with the province’s wastewater treatment regulations.
This time, however, the ministry included a referral for an administrative penalty, meaning Cumberland could potentially face fines if it continues its non-compliance.
Village chief administrative officer Sundance Topham said the most recent notice from the province “reinforces the fact that this is a serious issue.”
“Having the province start to look at fining us — I think that makes it more real to those people who thought we could keep doing this,” he said.
The project coordinator for Cumberland’s development of a Liquid Waste Management Plan, Paul Nash, said it’s too early to speculate on the amount or probability of a fine. However, his report to council on the issue suggested that administrative penalties “can range up to $40,000 or higher” depending on the specific contraventions and their severity.
“All we know is that it’s been put into that process,” he said. “In the meantime, we’ll make our efforts to get going with our treatment improvements, which we’ve been wanting to do for quite some time.
“That’s the best defence against enforcement action — to actually get going on implementing the stuff we’re supposed to have already,” he added.
Sewage in Cumberland is currently treated at a lagoon before the effluent is released into Maple Creek. It then flows into the Trent River, which in turn flows into the Baynes Sound.
According to Nash, Cumberland has been non-compliant with certain requirements of its wastewater discharge permit for several years. Specifically, he mentioned amendments to the permit in 1997 that brought requirements for phosphorus removal and disinfection. Further amendments to the permit came last year.
The Village has tried to develop a Liquid Waste Management Plan (LWMP) since the late 1990s to address its sewage issues, but the process has become repeatedly disrupted.
The development of an LWMP re-started in 2016 following Cumberland’s withdrawal from the Comox Valley Regional District’s proposed South Sewer Project, which eventually failed in a referendum.
After its withdrawal from the SSP, Cumberland struck a Wastewater Advisory Committee in 2016 to develop the multi-phase LWMP. The committee’s recommendations on how to move forward with wastewater treatment upgrades will come to Cumberland council’s April 9 meeting.
Before then, Nash will meet with Ministry of Environment staff on April 3 to discuss the most recent non-compliance notice and the Village’s plans moving forward for meeting its permit requirements.
“We hope to get more information on enforcement action, but the reality is that it’s a slow process and we don’t really have any control over it,” he said. “It’s not like we’re going to get the ‘speeding ticket’ next month. It’s more like we’ve got a speeding notification and the rest is to be determined.
“In the meantime, we need to work out how to not speed in the future.”