The Village of Canal Flats and its Eagle’s Nest subdivision both have an infrastructure dilemma, and teamwork has been proposed as the ideal solution.
To avoid heavy penalties from Interior Health for providing a sub-standard quality of water, the councillors of the Village of Canal Flats are seeking public approval on a significant loan to upgrade their water system.
The upgrade is in response to the Drinking Water Protection Act, passed in 2006, which set minimum standards of water quality for all B.C. municipalities that must be abided to by January 2015.
Canal Flats and the nearby subdivision of Eagle’s Nest will both be subject to the penalties if their water quality and pressure for fire safety are not to par. By taking care of the issue before the deadline, the longterm costs of a new water system can be diluted through aid from provincial funding.
If Canal Flats and/or Eagle’s Nest fail to adequately upgrade their water infrastructure by 2015, Interior Health will have the authority to commandeer council and build a system they see fit. Should it reach that point, Canal Flats will lose significant funding from the Towns for Tomorrow grant, and no public consultation will be required.
As a proposed solution, the village councillors have suggested replacing one water system and building a two-kilometre pipeline that would serve both communities. In doing so, the village will be able to double dip into funding from Towns for Tomorrow, as both communities can separately take advantage of the program.
There is the other option of upgrading the infrastructure separately, and not merging the two water system areas.
By not merging the two systems, Canal Flats residents will shoulder significant annual increases onto Eagle’s Nest property owners, and Canal Flats will forgo the support from Towns for Tomorrow to which Eagle’s Nest is entitled.
“The Towns for Tomorrow grant was given to us conditionally to provide potable water to Eagle’s Nest,” said Canal Flats Mayor Ute Juras. “If we stick to the standalone system, only half will be applied to the new system.”
In 2012, Eagle’s Nest property owners paid $300 in water user fees, slightly greater than $285 being paid by their Canal Flats counterparts.
In 2013, a $274 increase for Eagle’s Nest required these owners to pay $574 annually, while the fees in Canal Flats remained the same.
Under the proposed merged system, both communities will have their annual fees raised to $578 by 2015. Over two years, that will be a $293 annual increase for Canal Flats property owners and only a $4 increase for Eagle’s Nest owners.
If the water systems are built separately, Eagle’s Nest owners would see a $1,242 annual increase between 2013 and 2015, for a total of $1,816, while Canal Flats would only experience a $99 increase.
However, with one system, both communities would save thousands of dollars in annual costs for quality testing, the Towns for Tomorrow grant can legitimately be double dipped, and the likelihood of future development in the Eagle’s Nest community will be far greater.
A public hearing was held on Saturday, June 8th at the community centre in Canal Flats to inform residents about the proposals, and to allow questions and input for the community members.
While the proposal of a merged system resonated well at the hearing, some members of the public would have favoured a different balance sheet as to how much of an annual increase each community will swallow through the funding formula.
Reducing the cost increases for Canal Flats property owners would be “more palatable for everybody,” said Sean Doherty, who attended the meeting, “because to propose raising taxes by $98 opposed to $300, the average taxpayer is going to vote for the $98 bill and get what they need for their own homes.”
Questions were asked as to how the village can inform voters, as many of the benefits of a merged system could easily be overlooked because of the cost increases. In addition voicing their concern about maintaining affordable standard living costs, many villagers, including Mayor Juras, commented they would also like to unite the two communities with a merged water system.
“Referring to comments that were made at the meeting about the sense of community — there’s always been ‘Us and them,’ and to me it should just be ‘Us,’ ” Juras said. “We’re all one community. Eagle’s Nest is a subdivision of the village of Canal Flats; it’s not its own entity.”
Canal Flats council members will decide on whether or not to merge the two water systems after considering the community feedback voiced at the public meeting. Following the decision to merge or not, any monies borrowed will require consent from the voters, which will be asked for in one of three ways.
One method is a counter petition, where an ad in the local paper will ask if owners are in favour of the village borrowing the funds.
“If property owners representing more than 50 per cent of the total assessment speak against it (in writing) the petition fails,” Juras told The Valley Echo. “This is what happened last year at Eagle’s Nest. All property owners, including non-B.C. residents, can participate in this option.”
The second option is an alternative approval process, in which only B.C. residents can take part.
“A notice would be sent to each user asking the same question,” she said. “If more than 10 per cent of voters speak out against it this fails too.”
The final option is to take it to vote referendum-style. Only residents of the province will be allowed to vote on a yes-or-no question on whether or not they are in favour of the village borrowing the money, which a majority will decide.