Should Union Bay join CVRD?

Water district residents will decide in public vote

Photo: The iconic Union Bay Post Office seen from the breakwater

By Alice de Wolff

The Board of Trustees of the Union Bay Improvement District (UBID) will evaluate the pros and cons of joining the Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD). They made the decision at their November board meeting. 

The information that emerges during this process will be made public, and Union Bay landowners will ultimately decide whether to go ahead with the conversion.

“The Improvement District management system is intended for small rural areas.  But the projects UBID needs to take on over the next couple of years are too complex and expensive, and we need to graduate to the next stage,” says Suzanna Kaljur, UBID Trustee. Kaljur moved the motion at November’s meeting.

UBID manages the volunteer fire and rescue, drinking water and street lighting systems for 1,185 residents who live in 560 residences. It faces a number of pressures to upgrade and increase its services. 

The community includes some of the traditional territories of the K’omox First Nation, who are in the final stage of negotiating a treaty. A final treaty could mean a housing development and the need for services on their lands.   

Kensington Island Properties owns another large parcel of land within the community, and has a long-standing proposal to add over 3,000 housing units and a golf course to the district.   

Kaljur’s motion in November was the third time she had put the proposal before the Board. She was following through on a 2016 a petition that was signed by 420 property owners that requested the provincial government to transfer UBID”s governance to the CVRD. The province responded by making it clear that only the UBID Board could initiate this change.

There are several substantial projects ahead for the district.

The most pressing is the first phase of new water treatment plant for existing homes. Island Health requires that UBID complete it within the next year. The second phase requires further filtration installed by 2021. In addition, a new primary reservoir is needed. 

A recent report to the UBID Board points to concerns about how much use Langley Lake can handle, and recommends a comprehensive hydrologic analysis. Langley Lake is the source of Union Bay’s drinking water. The district’s water mains also need to be upgraded and the existing water meters and billing system must be replaced. 

And finally, the fire hall location and equipment are scheduled for replacement and upgrading by 2020. 

While the last two boards have stabilized UBID’s tax revenue in order to handle the major costs of the first phase of the water treatment plant and the fire hall upgrades, the district’s resources are stretched. Improvement Districts are not eligible for the kind of funds that the regional district can access, including municipal and federal infrastructure grants.   

By comparison, three quarters of the cost of CVRD’s proposed new water treatment facility will likely be paid for by other levels of government.

The board’s motion means that it can now apply for a CVRD grant to research the details and costs of transferring responsibilities and administration to the CVRD. The investigation, followed by a public education process and discussion among Union Bay landowners will take many months.

Sandwick Waterworks District is the most recent community to join the CVRD. Their process began in 2103 with a resolution that was similar to the one just passed by UBID. Their conversion was completed in early 2017. 

Sandwick residents now pay an annual flat water rate rather than metered billing, and their water bills are included in their annual property tax notices. In addition, each family home is responsible for $4,902 for new connections to the CVRD water system.

Alice de Wolff is a Union Bay resident and a Citizen Journalist with the Comox Valley Civic Journalism Project. She may be contacted at alicedewolff@gmail.com.

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