Misinformation has appeared prior to the Windermere water vote, which is taking place June 25. There is confusion regarding the Windermere water situation, which carried over to an article printed in The Valley Echo last week, June 15.
The Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) has proposed to purchase treated bulk water from Parr Utilities. The capital cost for the project is $5,038,400 which includes $2,607,500 for capital contribution fees that would be paid to Parr ($3,500 per lot). According to the RDEK May 2011 Information Package, the RDEK has been approved a total of $1,858,049 through the Building Canada Fund and Community Works Fund for this project. This is being combined with $950,000 in surplus and reserve funds, bringing the estimated total to be borrowed down to $2,230,351.
The RDEK would adopt a bylaw to borrow the funds on behalf of the community and an annual parcel tax would be assessed on each property for 25 years to make the debt payments.
The RDEK estimates a monthly residential water user fee of $60. Of this $60, based on their approved rate today, $39 would be paid to Parr for operation and maintenance of their treatment plant, and the remainder would be paid to the RDEK.
“It is going to the Regional District, and it is being used to maintain the distribution system that the Regional District will continue to own within the community,” said Wendy Booth, Electoral Area F Director.
“Whether we’re supplying water or whether the RDEK is doing it themselves, the RDEK has the ability to move the rates. Every part of the financial aspect is regulated for us,” explained Paul Partlo, president and chief financial officer at Windermere Water & Sewer Company Inc. and Parr Utilities Ltd., in response to this.
“We cannot change any financial aspect without approval. The Comptroller of Water Rights has a whole process. Every piece of correspondence between Parr and the Comptroller is public.”
“That $39 is approved by the Comptroller. The Regional District could [raise] our portion of the user fees or we could lower our portion without going to the Comptroller for approval. Private utilities are regulated by them, the public utilities are not. Not that we would, but we have that ability,” added Booth.
A committee appeared with a proposed alternative to this plan, and presented the proposal at a June 11 meeting. The committee’s proposed plant would be a public utility, operated out of the bottom floor of the old Windermere fire hall, and would cost an estimated $6,422,155.
While this is more than the Parr Utilities proposal, the committee feels that the community debt would be paid off sooner without units paying capital contributions to Parr.
“New homes would have to pay it, and that money would go to Parr, whereas if they connected to our system, it would go to pay off the capital debt. That would make our debt finish before Parr’s,” said Doug Anakin, who is a part of this new committee.
Having a public utility also makes the committee feel that they will have more control over their rates, whereas they would not if they went the Parr route.
The committee proposal did not highlight what would be done with the backwash water pumped out of the public utility.
“The excess water in the backwash could be disposed of by a second filter. Solid residue could be trucked away to a landfill, or it it could be piped under the fields as water for crops,” explained Anakin, who claims this information was assured by Steve Lackey, who had volunteered his time to research and put the new proposal together.
Unfortunately, Interior Health considers backwash water as waste, and whether or not these methods would be compliant to their guidelines is doubtful, according to Booth.
“That’s making huge assumptions. It’s really Interior Health that would have to sign off on that, and I can’t see them doing that, because they’re the ones who are mandating that we have treated water. Part of that is having proper discharge for the sewage water,” said Booth.
Building and operating the proposed public utility out of the bottom floor of the old fire hall in Windermere, located directly beside the new fire hall, is also an uncertain prospect, as the building is owned by the RDEK, and both floors are in use.
“Well there are lots of assumptions in this proposal, no guarantees of anything,” said Booth of the new committee proposal. “To start off with, you have the fire hall that doesn’t belong to the community, it belongs to the Regional District, with leases in place. The Board has to decide if they want to terminate those leases and move them somewhere else.
“Will Interior Health allow a water treatment facility next to a fire hall with chlorine? How will the neighbours directly across the street feel about having a water treatment facility across the street from them, will Interior Health allow that? There are so many assumptions in this proposal.
“I think that this self-appointed committee took it upon themselves and made a lot of assumptions in this proposal without communicating to me or the Regional District,” added Booth.
“It’s unfortunate that it’s happened, however I can’t control the situation or make everyone call me to get the facts. If they want to call me, they can, but I can’t make them call me or communicate with me.
“If I was invited to that meeting, I would have come. There is no question in my mind that I would have been there, and perhaps, given the opportunity, I would have been able to clarify the unknowns out there, but I wasn’t invited.”
The meeting for the public utility proposal had been advertised though, according to Anakin. There had not been, however, any special invitations to anyone – it had been a general invitation to anyone interested.
“Anyone interested in the water situation in Windermere were welcome to come. Government officials, residents and home-owners…so, it was an open meeting. We didn’t make phone calls to anybody, not even a neighbour,” explained Anakin.
As for all the misinformation and confusion, and how to stay with the correct facts, Booth had this to say:
“There is a ton of misinformation. I think you have to go back to the proposal that the RDEK has put forward to purchase bulk water from Parr Utilities as a guarantee. We know those costs, we’ve been working on them for years. The grant funding is in place, that is a guarantee. There is nothing else in [the committee’s] proposal that is a guarantee, it’s all based on assumptions.
“One thing to know is that the grant money is not necessarily transferable to any other project, it is specifically for this project, and the RDEK can’t just transfer it, and that’s a fact.”
Those planning to vote on June 25 are urged to visit www.rdek.bc.ca and follow the Windermere Water and Proposed Water Upgrade links for more information.