Sechelt will build a $22.4-million state-of-the-art wastewater treatment facility that's the first of its kind in North America, the municipality declared Feb. 5.
"It's time to announce the biggest infrastructure project in Sechelt's history. Accordingly it's with great pleasure and pride I announce that the construction of a state-of-the-art wastewater treatment facility in Sechelt will begin immediately," Mayor John Henderson told a group of about 100 gathered for the announcement Tuesday at municipal hall. "We have signed an initial agreement with Maple Reinders, the leaders of a consortium including Urban Systems and Veolia Water."
Henderson said the new facility will provide enough capacity to serve Sechelt for the next 20 years with room to expand. He added the facility will meet the highest provincial standards for water quality, energy efficiency and resource recovery.
"It will be the first of its kind in North America, giving Sechelt opportunities to demonstrate and market to others," Henderson said.
The facility will include a greenhouse that uses the roots of plants to help treat wastewater through a process called Organica.
"This process is like if you put biologists and engineers together and asked them to do a good brainstorming and come back with a very bright idea," said Marie Meunier, director of Veolia Water Solutions & Technology Canada Inc. in Western Canada. "We are combining the ecosystems of the plants with the biological reactors. In fact, what we have here are plants with roots sitting in the wastewater and in the roots of the plants you have all the ecosystems with micro-organisms that will digest a portion of the pollution. By doing that, by providing modern biological reactors with the power of the plants, you maximize the removal of pollutants in the water, and this is what Organica is about."
The idea has been tried and tested in more than 30 communities in Europe and Asia, Meunier noted.
"In places where Organica has been installed, the wastewater treatment plant is now a place to come and visit. Schools come with students to educate people about wastewater treatment. Tourists come and people from different countries come also to visit these plants," Meunier said.
The process fits the innovation target the District set for the project when they issued the request for proposals (RFP) last September.
It also fills council's request for a state-of-the-art facility with the highest standards of any municipality in B.C. for energy efficiency and odour and noise control.
"One of the first things that was key to the whole process was enabling a closed-loop system for water use, and that's exactly what you have here," said Don Nash, Urban Systems partner.
He noted the RFP called for a system that would be a "valued asset for the community," and a place where "people want to go."
"In order to do that obviously you had to have a place that had no odour or noise," Nash said. "So when you get into the details of this, you'll truly see that this facility has been designed to exceed the highest standards around odour and noise and really turn this into a place where people will want to celebrate and actually actively participate on the ground, which has not been done in North America before."
The audience at Tuesday's announcement seemed generally pleased with the plan, but some questioned the placement and cost of it.
Henderson said it will be "located in downtown Sechelt on the site of the existing Ebbtide treatment facility and the parks and public works," before being interrupted by gasps and boos from some gathered.
"I would like to know why there has not been allowed public input into the decision as to the location of this project?" Ebbtide area resident Betty-Anne Pap asked. "We need more public discussion on this before it's implemented. We don't need this rammed down our throats. We do not need it to be put on a date that you have decided. We want public input."
Henderson said the location of the new plant was left up to the proponents and some chose the Dusty Road site, while some chose Ebbtide.
"We left it because if it's noiseless, if it's odourless, if it's green, if it's attractive, it shouldn't matter where it goes," Henderson said, noting a sewage treatment plant already exists at Ebbtide. "If we had it anywhere else we would have a big pump station on that site. We have to because all the pipes from across Sechelt converge on Ebbtide. Also the outflow, so everything has to come back. We can not get away from Ebbtide completely."
Another community member, Rosella Leslie-Alvarez, said residents did have their say about what they wanted the new plant to look like last year.
"We did have lots and lots of public info sessions. I went to every one of them the thing that came out of that public process was that we wanted noise free and odourless and with as little environmental impact as possible," she said, adding the new plant seems to fit that bill but "the proof will be in the pudding."
The $22.4 million cost of the new plant was the other major concern of community members, but Henderson assured the District could pay the bill without raising taxes.
Sechelt has $8 million for the project from the Federal Gas Tax Fund and $3.2 million from the Building Canada Fund.
The remainder of funding, Henderson said, will come from the Sechelt Indian Band and sewer reserves, and "we will then be looking to some borrowing."
"In a project like this you look to the future beneficiaries to pay. So what we will be doing is borrowing probably about five, six maybe $7 million and we will use the future revenues from the sewer reserves, that will accumulate from the sewer reserves. So in other words, we're not looking to any increase in taxes to pay for this facility."
Former councillor Ann Kershaw, who was in the audience, asked if a referendum is needed for a municipality to borrow over $5 million.
"If we want to repay over more than five years then we need, I believe, an alternative approval process or a referendum," Henderson said.
While the Maple Reinders consortium is being paid $22,420,000 to construct the new wastewater treatment plant, a total of $24,155,000 is needed for the project to pay for things like additional engineering costs, site preparation, relocations and on-going contract management, a report from interim chief financial officer Tim Anderson stated.
His report was accepted by council at their regular meeting Feb. 6 where they also amended Sechelt's financial plan to allow for the new multi-million dollar expenditure, but not before two councillors had their say against approving the amendment.
"If it were somewhat closer to the $15 million that was originally projected, I probably would have less of a problem with it, but it's going to tap us extensively, and what will that mean to other projects that we wish to continue with?" Coun. Mike Shanks asked.
Coun. Alice Lutes expressed concern that the surplus and reserves being earmarked for the new treatment plant may be needed in the future to fix or replace aging sewer pipes.
She wanted to make sure that Sechelt was "not digging a hole that we're not going to be able to deal with."
In the end Shanks and Lutes' lone voices against approving the financial plan amendment were not enough to stop it.
Construction on the new plant is expected to start soon with opening slated for September 2014.
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