Dry Gulch’s pass could be Wilmer’s gain

About $1.8 million in water upgrade funding originally earmarked for Dry Gulch could be used to fund projects in Wilmer and Spur Valley.

About $1.8 million in water upgrade funding originally earmarked for Dry Gulch could be used to fund projects in Wilmer and Spur Valley if the provincial Ministry of Sport and Cultural Development agrees to a reallocation request from the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK).

The request comes after Dry Gulch residents turned down a water system plan that would have seen the RDEK form a public-private partnership with the Kinbasket Water and Sewer Company. It’s the second plan to bring potable water to the community that Dry Gulch residents have rejected since the regional district secured funding for the project in 2006.

The BC Community Water Improvement Program grant that would have covered much of the project’s capital costs will expire in March 2012 if no project is moving forward.

“We have a deadline on the funding and two other Area G communities who have expressed an interest in upgrading their water systems,” says Area G director Gerry Wilkie. “I felt it was important to see if we could make the funding available for these potential projects, rather than losing the money all together.”

Wilkie says Wilmer has expressed interest in having the RDEK take over its water system for some time, but there are still a few hurdles to clear if the government does agree to let the community use a portion of the improvement grant. As in Dry Gulch, the community will have to sign off on the system upgrades.

“So we’ll put a package together for them and they’ll have to vote on it,” Wilkie says.

Currently, the regional district is asking for permission to spent $1,298,000 of the $1.8 million on the Wilmer system.

The Dry Gulch plan would have drawn on the existing $1.8 million grant, funding from the federal government’s public-private partnership fund and gas tax cash. That would have left a borrowing cost for the community of about $300,000.

“They were getting a water system with no capital costs — virtually no capital costs —  $300,000 was what they as a community were being asked to pay over 25 years, and a full stand alone system would be close to $4 or 5 million,” says Wilkie.

Water costs under new system would would have been about $60 per month.

According to an information packet prepared by the RDEK, the new fees and taxes to cover the project would have cost a resident on a property valued at $100,000 about $1,011 a year.

Wilkie thinks the added costs — he estimates Dry Gulch residents are paying about $20 per month for water at the moment — may have led to the plan’s rejection.

“I just think people had their minds made up. It was going to be, in their minds, too expensive,” he says.

Though he’s disappointed, Wilkie says he has to respect the community’s position. The fate of the project was decided through petition, and at least 75 per cent of the community held back their ballots, indicating a ‘no’ vote.

“About halfway through I began to be concerned because there were virtually no responses,” Wilkie says. At his behest, the approval period was held open an extra month, but community support didn’t materialize.

“It wasn’t even close,” he adds.