On March 19, residents had their first opportunity to query proponents of a new $22.4 million wastewater treatment project slated for Ebbtide Street, which was announced by the District of Sechelt on Feb. 5.
Despite that announcement last month, Mayor John Henderson told Coast Reporter this week the final contract has yet to be signed by the District and Maple Reinders Inc. (MRI), the consortium hired to build the new plant. The MRI consortium includes Urban Systems and Veolia Water Solutions & Technologies Canada.
Henderson would not say when the build contract might be finalized, only that the two parties are "working on it."
At Tuesday's open house, project coordinator Paul Nash gave a brief overview of the process to date, which he said started with clear direction from council to the steering committee to come up with something "innovative, noiseless and odourless."
The innovative design was a must, he explained, to be able to access $8 million in federal gas tax funding that was previously earmarked for a biosolids handling facility. That project was slated for what's known as Lot L, accessed off Dusty Road, but the plan was abandoned when the new council came into office in November 2011.
The funding is still available but it can only be used for a project that demonstrates innovation, Nash said.
"If it's innovative enough we get the money, but the flip side of that, no innovation, no money," he said.
The innovative part of the project is the Organica process by Veolia, Andrew Ambrozy of MRI said, explaining his company will build the majority of the treatment plant with standard technology.
"The typical design is just called a sequencing batch reactor, SBR for short, that is very common technology for British Columbia and Canada. The basis of the plant is that design. It's aeration, it's settling, it's decanting clean water off the top," Ambrozy said. "The innovation comes in the plants."
Marie Muenier of Veolia gave a basic explanation of the Organica process.
"We use the roots of the plants as a support to biological activity. So what we call a biofilm would be small microorganisms that will be fixed to the roots of the plants and they will live there because we put air in the system so they have air to live and they will feed on the pollution that's in the water," Muenier said. "You also have a lot of microorganisms that are in suspension in the water plus the action of the ones that are on the roots. You have a process that is optimized and a lot more efficient so it can be smaller."
It was the need for more compact technology that caused MRI to partner with Veolia, Ambrozy explained. He said his company "zeroed in" on the Ebbtide site because "all the infrastructure leads there" but the company's original technology didn't fit.
"The plants basically allow us to downsize the footprint of the building by about 20 per cent, so that's what the Organica component did for us," he said.
Some were critical of Veolia's involvement in the project, saying the Organica technology has never been tried in our climate, and calling into question the company's environmental track record in other parts of the world.
Muenier separated herself from the larger Veolia company, saying the Canadian firm she belongs to was started by her grandfather in 1948 in Montreal.
She stated her company has a good track record and that being a part of the larger Veolia group allows them access to technologies like Organica.
Some in the audience were critical of MRI's claim they alone selected the Ebbtide site for the new treatment plant, implying other factors influenced the decision. Two speakers brought up the fact Henderson lives near Lot L on Sechelt Inlet Road.
In response, Henderson said, "What that has to do with anything is beyond me."
"Folks, you've got to realize that this decision is made by the project steering committee, that has spent all the time that we've talked about earlier. This is a group of independent professionals and experts and staff and all the rest and they gave a unanimous recommendation to council, and council is seven votes and council has to make that decision."
Some questioned the District's measurements of flow, saying the new plant should be much bigger to handle Sechelt's sewage, but Nash defended their readings saying numbers were confirmed by a manual measurement.
Another flow question came up regarding the end product of the wastewater. Proponents said the "water coming out the end of the pipe" would be clean enough to be used for irrigation and other purposes, but provided no plan for that water to get to places like the golf course, where it might be utilized.
When asked how the District would pay for the new pipes and pumping needed to transport the water, Nash replied, "It really depends upon what will be done and where as to how it will be funded. There are actually various funding options available for pursuing these projects if they're innovative in their own way, too."
If the water cannot be transported somewhere for use, eventually the District's sewage outfall will have to be upgraded at a cost of $3 to $4 million.
The new plant comes with room to expand, but Henderson made it clear that areas like Tuwanek and Davis Bay, which are not currently on sewer, will not be serviced by the new $22.4-million plant.
"The likelihood of some parts like Sandy Hook, Tuwanek, Davis Bay, Wilson Creek are unlikely in my personal view to ever be connected to the Ebbtide treatment plant," Henderson said, noting it was more likely satellite treatment stations would be set up to service those areas.
When the open house ended some residents still had questions that were not fully answered. All were encouraged to submit further questions to the District for a response.
Proponents want to start building the new plant by the middle of next month.
© Coast Reporter