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LETTER: Does the $6M bill for infrastructure upgrade benefit developers? Will it ruin The Mountain Kingdom?

Dear editor,

At a City of Rossland financial planning meeting late last year, I asked questions about the justification for the Columbia/Washington infrastructure upgrade project. After a few vague and unqualified answers about the need to replace 100-year-old infrastructure, further discussion was cut off on the grounds that there would be a public meeting to discuss this project. I accepted this and refrained from further questions.

Subsequently the public was given notice about borrowing the $6 million dollars for this project with a deadline for petitioning against the borrowing.

The City process is flawed since the public meeting has not happened and the public has not had the benefit of hearing the City’s justification for the project. How could the public make an informed opinion when there has been no discussion? No wonder only 19 people registered their objection! The public meetings held last year were about “streetscaping” and not about the need or otherwise to replace the below ground infrastructure.

The anecdotal comments about “100 year old infrastructure” have also proven to be unfounded. Recent documents refer to 50 to 60 year old infrastructure. I exchanged e-mails in mid-January with four ouncillors asking questions about the justification of this project. My conclusion from the exchange was that councillors had not seen any reports dealing with the history of failures, their frequency, repair cost, and downtime. Councillors had not seen inspection reports dealing with the condition of the existing underground infrastructure and engineers reports on the expected remaining life.

In other words, the project had not been properly justified and appeared to be based on anecdotal opinions and not engineering facts.

The grant application for the Columbia / Washington project says  “(the Washington sewer) conveys sanitary discharge from 350 dwelling units in Rossland old town and from all of the existing 250 dwelling units at the base of Red Mountain, servicing a total of some 600 dwelling units. The City’s infill policy, along with the potential build-out of 1500 more dwelling units at the Red Mountain base area, demands an upgrade/expansion of the existing line to meet both existing and future flow rates.”  It goes on to say that the project will facilitate development of the Red Mountain base area and the Mid -Town Transition area.

This would suggest that there is a large development component to this project. My question to councillors about allocation of cost between taxpayers (the maintenance portion) and developers (the upgrading portion) could also not be answered. It is not unreasonable to suggest that the developers of those future 1500 dwelling units should help pay the costs. This is what DCCs are for. The 2007 DCC report includes $836,000 for Columbia/ Washington sewer replacement projects, 100% attributable to DCCs so why should it all now be paid for by taxpayers? After more than two years in office, this Council has still not dealt with the DCC issue.

An agenda item for Monday Feb 14 Council meeting authorized the City manager to spend up to $250,000 towards the first phase of the engineering and design for the Columbia and Washington Street corridor.

It would appear that City staff is proceeding with engineering design for a project that has not been properly justified, either to Council or the taxpayers. This situation is analogous to the Ophir Creek Reservoir project when Rossland had no professionally qualified engineering staff and blundered into a project that ended up costing more than double the estimated cost.

Documents handed out at the Financial Planning meeting indicated that the $6 million Columbia/Washington project could cost residential taxpayers $250/year for 15 years. With a further estimate of the need for about $60 million of infrastructure projects, this project is just the tip of the iceberg. Do the math! Just like the Titanic, this iceberg could sink Rossland as an unsustainable community.

The taxpayers of Rossland should wake up and start asking questions and not just let this project just sail by.

Ken Holmes

Rossland