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SCRD will not fund another Dusty Road well study

'Cavalier attitudes to risk is what leads to subdivisions with sinkholes': SCRD Area E Director Donna McMahon commented before voting against a request from Sechelt Area director John Henderson to fund a further study into the Dusty Road well.
Sechelt mayor John Henderson published his personal view that a well needs to be drilled at Dusty Road — immediately. This photo, taken Jan. 13, shows Henderson with the test well.

Sechelt Mayor John Henderson’s ask for $50,000 to move his proposal to add Dusty Road well supplies to the region’s Chapman Creek water system forward was turned down by the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) committee of the whole.

At a Jan. 26 committee meeting, all rural directors voted against a recommendation to have the SCRD pay that amount for an updated hydrogeologist's report to re-confirm the Dusty Road test well’s capacity and to do extensive testing for contaminants of the well’s water.  

In discussion, several directors made reference to professional advice provided in the January 2019 Groundwater Investigation Report prepared for the SCRD on well sites at Dusty, Mahan and Church Roads. That report indicated potential risks with Dusty Road’s water supply given that its aquifer is “non-confined” and “therefore vulnerable to contamination” as landfill and quarry uses are located upstream. The board subsequently endorsed a resolution to abandon plans for development of a production well at Dusty Road. 

Comments from rural directors

Area A Director Leonard Lee stated, “We had a senior hydrogeologist give [the Board] a recommendation." He commented it was “unlikely we will get a different answer” by asking for a second report. “We are expected to uphold the public trust …four experts said do not take the risk,” said Lee.

Area E director Donna McMahon began her comments in opposition with an analogy to Sechelt’s experience with the Seawatch development. “Cavalier attitudes to risk is what leads to subdivisions with sinkholes," she stated.

McMahon went on to state, “When things go bad, those people who get hurt start howling that local government should have protected them… this board does have the power to act boldly and there are times when we should, but when it comes to the water that 25,000 people drink and bathe in every day and that our lives depend on, we have to be cautious.”

For Area D director Kelly Backs, the potential for contamination and associated loss of public confidence in the SCRD’s water system if Dusty Road well was to be brought into the regional supply were sticking points. In agreement with Lee, he said, “The due diligence has already been done.” His suggestion was that the site be looked at as a potential non-potable water source.

Concerns about disrupting staff efforts already in place to enhance water supply such as metering, the Langdale well field and options at Gray Creek to work on the proposal were raised, as were questions about the permits and licensing. Manager of utility services Shane Walkey advised the committee that 18 permits were required for the SCRD’s Church Road well field project. 

Why the ask came to the SCRD

Henderson’s “WATER - The time is now!” document, which was widely circulated through various Coast media channels over the prior two weeks, was included in the meeting agenda. When the item came up for discussion, the mayor delivered a presentation that detailed how the well could be brought online by Canada Day 2023. It included an estimate that $350,000 would be needed to develop the well’s infrastructure.

He stated the same presentation was delivered to Sechelt Council on Jan. 25 and that the consensus of that group was that consideration of funding for the hydrogeologist's report should be directed to the SCRD.

Commenting on the project’s proposed schedule of six months, Area F director Kate Stamford stated, “I am not comfortable going ahead so quickly." She also indicated discomfort in relying on the advice of “unnamed experts” who Henderson indicated had been involved in the development of the plan.

Henderson and Sechelt area director Alton Toth voted, unsuccessfully, in favour of the recommendation. Toth said that while he had “grave reservations about the timeline," he believed asking for a resolution from the committee “was a good first step.” 

As the Town of Gibsons is not part of the regional water supply function, its director and committee chair Silas White did not participate in the vote.