Well over 100 protesters packed Sechelt council chambers during Wednesday's committee of the whole meeting to demand more public consultation before Sechelt signs the final contract to build a $22.4 million wastewater treatment plant on Ebbtide Street.
An initial agreement has already been signed by the District, and the company has been chosen to build the new plant- — Maple Reinders Inc., a consortium that includes Veolia Water and Urban Systems.
The consortium plans to build a facility that incorporates a greenhouse and uses plant roots to clean sewage. The entire process has yet to be explained, and it would be a first for North America.
The build contract comes with a $21.3 million price tag, and PST will up the cost to $22.4 million.
Protesters gathered outside District offices March 13 to share concerns about the proposed plant and the process council followed to select Maple Reinders Inc. before entering the committee meeting to “demand answers.”
Concerns about discrepancies in waste volume measurements, the placement of the new treatment plant, the cost, council's closed-door discussions about the project and the involvement of Veolia Water were raised.
Protester Jef Keighley of the Coalition for Responsible Public Participation in Sechelt's Wastewater Plan laid out issues he found in online articles and reports about Veolia's past practices in other municipalities and worried aloud about the possible problems for Sechelt.
He encouraged protestors to attend the committee meeting scheduled moments after the protest concluded to press council for answers on an array of unanswered questions.
He said the public needed an open discussion about Maple Reinders' proposal and that all questions should be answered before any contract is signed.
“We've got to give council credit — they may be right. This may be just Jim Dandy technology. If it is, it should stand up to public scrutiny, and that's what we're asking for,” Keighley told the crowd. “They should go ahead, continue the discussions, but sign no further contracts whatsoever until such time as they've had full public disclosure, and a public open house arranged after they sign the contract is not disclosure.”
Many feared that the final contract with Maple Reinders would be signed before the March 19 open house where Mayor John Henderson has assured questions will be answered.
Once protesters entered the committee meeting, they heard two delegations on the wastewater issue. One was from Ebbtide Street resident Betty Anne Pap who raised several concerns and asked council to “stop signing contracts without public approval.” Another was from Clark Hamilton on behalf of the Coast Community Builders' Association, commending council on their decision to move forward.
Following the delegations that drew both cheers and jeers from those gathered, Henderson chose to address the over-capacity crowd.
“I guess I just remind everybody, when you elect people, you elect, in this case, council to make decisions,” Henderson said.
One woman asked exactly how much the District is going to borrow to build the new plant and what the limit is that triggers a referendum.
“If we're going to repay a loan over five years it requires a referendum. If we can repay it within five years it does not require a referendum or what's called an alternate approval process,” Henderson said. “I believe we could borrow up to $5 million but we're not contemplating that.”
In response, the crowd called for facts from council, rather than “beliefs.”
“I encourage you to come to the open house on Tuesday where we will be discussing everything. There will be two sessions for questions. There will also be an opportunity to talk to the proponents, Maple Reinders and the rest,” Henderson noted.
To that suggestion the crowd started chanting “too late, too late.”
Henderson then stopped the discussion and moved on in the committee agenda, which caused the vast majority of protestors to leave.
Most did not stay for the public question period at the end of the meeting, where they would have been afforded another opportunity to address council.
The open house about the new treatment plant will be held at the Seaside Centre on Tuesday, March 19, from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. All are welcome to attend.