A group has formed in opposition of Sechelt’s newly announced $22.4 million wastewater treatment facility — a project waiting on final signatures from the District and the consortium hired to build it before they proceed.
Activist Jef Keighley has created the Coalition for Responsible Public Participation in Sechelt’s Wastewater Plan and his group is “calling for public action” with a protest outside council chambers scheduled for March 13 at 12:30 p.m.
The protest is meant to get the attention of council and stop them from finalizing the deal with the Maple Reinders consortium, chosen to build the new sewage treatment plant.
The consortium also includes Veolia Water and Urban Systems.
“We want the mayor and council to engage in an open and transparent public consultation process before moving forward,” Keighley wrote in a press release this week.
A major issue for his group are the months of closed-door discussions leading up to the public announcement of the project on Feb. 5.
Keighley also cited concerns with the location of the new plant (downtown Sechelt on Ebbtide Road), the cost and the involvement of Veolia Water in the consortium.
Veolia is the world’s largest water service provider and Keighley’s group has found many negative articles and reports on-line about Veolia’s past business practices.
Reports that call into question the company’s motives and commitment to the environment as well as its track record in other U.S. cities are being pointed to by the group as reasons to “refrain from signing any binding contracts with the Veolia consortium” until more public consultation can take place.
Sechelt Mayor John Henderson said he’s not concerned about the issues with Veolia.
“I’m sad when I read how people jump to conclusions, make allegations about a company that is a very widely diversified company. It’s like any other sizeable company; there may well have been problems. I don’t know specifically what might have happened somewhere in the United States or in Europe, but we’re dealing with the company that is based out of Montreal,” Henderson said. “They were founded in 1948 and the granddaughter of the founder is still working in the company. We’re very satisfied with the pieces they’re going to be providing in this contract.”
Coast Reporter has been trying to schedule an interview with representatives from Veolia to address concerns; however, Henderson said that meeting can not take place until “after the public open house” scheduled for March 19 from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Seaside Centre.
Henderson said he hopes members of Keighley’s group and others who have voiced concerns will come to that meeting.
“I hope that they will be curious about what we’ve decided and be ready to ask questions, which we will be answering at the open house,” Henderson said.
He noted that throughout the process the District of Sechelt has had a coordinator, Paul Nash, and an owners’ technical consultant, Tetra Tech, to help guide them, as well as a committee of community and council members giving input.
An extensive 123-page request for proposals (RFP) document was released to the public this week, outlining what the District asked of proponents in September of last year. However, it didn’t give any details about the five companies asked to submit ideas or how they stacked up.
The document shows council asked five short-listed companies to provide detailed proposals for an “innovative” plant that would help the District “be a leader” in the area of wastewater treatment. The document noted Sechelt had $11.2 million to spend but no caps on cost were given. In fact, the District noted they would “consider proposals for additional solutions where the costs are in excess of the funds currently available” if the project included innovative, environmental and economic benefits.
The RFP also asked proponents to construct a facility that could handle 4,000 cubic metres of sewage a day, with the ability to expand to handle 8,000 metres per day in the future.
It’s the capacity specifically that concerns Sechelt resident Barry Pruden, who came with a concerned group of residents to talk to Coast Reporter recently.
Currently, the treatment plant at Ebbtide can handle 1,700 cubic metres a day and the Dusty Road site can take 2,200 cubic metres a day — a total of 3,900 cubic metres per day.
“That means the new plant will only increase our capacity by 100 cubic metres a day. We’re paying $22.4 million for that? It’s outrageous,” Pruden told Coast Reporter.
Henderson defended the move, saying the two current plants that serve Sechelt are “very inefficient.” He also said Sechelt residents currently use about 2,200 cubic metres of capacity a day.
“So part of the problem is that, of course, Ebbtide smells, and it’s old. Maintenance costs alone, if we were going to keep it, would be close to $1 million. I don’t know if that’s $1 million every year but it’s a lot of money on an ongoing basis,” Henderson said. “So given that it’s old, given that it smells, given that it’s going to fall apart soon, why put that kind of money into trying to keep it going when we can do something like this that will meet the needs of Sechelt for the next 50 or more years?”
As far as the concerns about public consultation and the location of the new plant, Henderson said he deferred to the “experts.”
“The RFP you can see explicitly said ‘you proponents are experts in your business and we will therefore leave it to you to decide where the project should be located. You’re the people who know what fits and what will work for your recommended solution’ and if it’s noiseless and odourless it won’t matter,” Henderson said. “There’s been opportunities [for input]. We went out with the RFEOI [request for expressions of interest] 15 months ago and people saw what we were about at the time. It was a major issue during the election; people knew what we were doing. And again we’ve done this using the best experts we can find, with a very professional approach, and it’s going to be a great solution for Sechelt.”
To view the recently released RFP documents, see www.sechelt.ca/CityHall/Agendas
Minutes.aspx and open the document titled 2013-03-06 RC Amended Agenda.pdf.