If Cumberland voters approve up to $4.4 million in borrowing to bring the village’s treatment plant up to provincial standards, it will help to acquire grants and free up funds for a new fire hall

 

Cumberland voters have an extra and important box to check on their municipal ballots this year. Besides picking a mayor and four councillors, residents will decide if the village can borrow money to upgrade its wastewater treatment plant.

This doesn’t seem like a controversial topic, one that might be expected to get an overwhelming “yes” vote from all but the grumpiest taxpayers.

Consider the benefits:

— An upgraded plant would discharge clean water into Maple Lake Creek and ultimately the Trent River.

— The village’s plan is affordable, less than half as expensive as the previous South Sewer Project proposed by the Comox Valley Regional District.

— The project is scaled for two decades of population growth and designed to meet increased Ministry of Environment standards.

— And, the most compelling argument of all, the village has to do the upgrades regardless of Saturday’s vote. Their wastewater treatment has been out of compliance with provincial standards for more than a decade. If Cumberland doesn’t act soon, it could face million dollar fines on top of the inevitable costs to upgrade.

But the project did become controversial this summer when a group of residents opposed the plan and defeated the village’s Alternate Approval Process, which would have achieved consensus without a referendum on the ballot.

REFERENDUM: Are you in favour of “Wastewater Upgrade Project Loan Authorization Bylaw, No. 1084, 2018” to authorize the Village of Cumberland to borrow up to $4,400,000, including interest, over a period not exceeding 20 years in order to finance the construction of an upgraded lagoon wastewater treatment plant? YES or NO

The opposed residents were supporters of the village’s Fire Department and its quest for a new fire hall. They feared that project would get lost if they supported borrowing for the wastewater plant upgrade.

According to Cumberland Councillor Jesse Ketler those differences have been resolved and she hopes the referendum will pass comfortably on Saturday.

Ketler told Decafnation that a decisive showing of public support in the referendum vote actually makes it more likely the village can obtain grants and other external funding for the upgrades. That would reduce the amount the village had to borrow, and in turn make more funds available for a new fire hall.

The village hopes to pay for the $9 million wastewater project with 73 percent of the funding from grants. The other 27 percent would come from the development cost charges (DCC) the village has accumulated and only $1.2 million from borrowing.

Ketler said it would be a win-win-win for the fire hall, the wastewater treatment plant and the environment if the referendum passes.

Cumberland currently uses lagoon aeration and settling to treat its sewage. The non-disinfected effluent is discharged into Maple Lake Creek, the Trent River and ultimately into Baynes Sound.

The proposed upgrade expands the lagoon aeration capacity, removes phosphorus, uses a “fish friendly” disinfectant and then “polishes” treated water to remove organic contaminants such as pharmaceuticals.

Village staff has estimated a total cost (capital construction and 20-year operating costs) to taxpayers of between $310 per property per year to $49 per property per year. The high figure assumes no grant funding, which Ketler says is unlikely.

The BC Ministry of the Environment sent enforcement notices in 2017 and again in 2018 warning Cumberland that it’s out of compliance with provincial regulations and faces possibly large fines.

“We need to develop an environmentally-sustainable method of treating the liquid waster,” said Mayor Leslie Baird. “This solution is the result of nearly two years of planning by community volunteers, technical experts and agencies and moving it forward will address a significant issue in our community’s infrastructure.”

 

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