LETTER: Tracing back the roots of the sewer debate

Ken Holmes
By Ken Holmes
November 30th, 2010

Re. your story about the ‘near record-setting disagreement’ over the Regional sewage system. You say that the Liquid Waste Management Plan has been stalled at Phase 1 since the service review was called by Trail over a year ago.    If a record is to be claimed I think that it’s important to get the facts right. The process has been stalled for three years since the Phase 1 report was issued for public consultation in November 2007. A letter from the City of Trail to RDKB dated December 3rd 2007 raises the issue of a service review because Trail did not believe that the current apportionment of costs was appropriate. So we will soon be able to ‘celebrate’ the third anniversary of the origins of this ridiculous conflict. (Or should it be a wake?)    I don’t believe that the apportionment of operating costs is the real issue. It is certainly a very reasonable proposal to pay operating costs on the basis of a combination of population and flow. Flow by itself is not a basis for several reasons. One is that sewage flow meters are notoriously unreliable. Another is that operating costs are not solely flow related but are influenced by the amount of sh…… (solids). Flow can be higher seasonally due to inflow and infiltration (I & I) but that just adds relatively clean water to the system that does not require the same treatment as solids. The system capacity was originally designed for 24,500 people and currently serves around 14,000.    Although I & I in this Regional System can be higher than many BC municipalities because of spring snowmelt and run-off, it does not dictate the sizing of the system. According to the Phase 1 report, the peaking is within the factor decreed by the Provincial regulations. The size of the system and hence it’s cost is determined by population.    I believe that the root of this current conflict can be traced back to the grossly optimistic population numbers put forward by Rossland as a basis for the Phase 1 study. Rossland was going through a period of intense hype as a result of development plans that included 2000 units at Red Mountain and 400 units at Redstone. These optimistic plans resulted in a predicted Rossland population of nearly 18,000 being used in the study.   Since the cost of a sewage treatment plant is directly related to the size of the population it has to serve, these optimistic predictions resulted in estimates of capital costs that predictably were a cause of major concern. The cost of different options varied from about $30 million to $44 million (excluding Fruitvale and Montrose) and as high as $53 million if Fruitvale and Montrose are included.   What probably caught the eye of Trail politicians was probably a $9 million item in the capital cost estimates to upgrade the whole Rossland interceptor sewer that conveys sewage from Rossland through Warfield to the trunk sewers passing through Trail. In addition to suggesting a service review, this also resulted in a suggestion from Trail that costs associated with local growth and upsizing should be funded by the benefiting jurisdiction.    This naturally penalizes communities at the extremities of the system. I’m sure that if this concept prevailed when the concept of a Regional Sewage system was first proposed in the ‘60’s, we would not have a Regional System but several separate municipal systems with subsequently higher capital and operating costs than a single system. Rossland and Warfield at the time helped to fund the trunk sewer system through Trail with several pumping stations. Even though having their own plants fed by gravity might have been cheaper to build, they combined resources to build a Regional system. Similarly the people of Trail helped to fund the sewer line from Rossland and Warfield. That’s what Regional collaboration is all about! Working together.    The way forward should be to stop this political wrangling and re-assess the capital and operating cost on the basis of more realistic population numbers. The cost of upgrading the existing system to secondary treatment based using the original design population of about 24,500 could be a basis for estimating. If Fruitvale and Montrose are included the area population is about 15,770 according to BC Stats. This would allow for a Regional growth of about 8,000.     More realistic predictions of population from Rossland would probably cause the $9 million to replace the whole Rossland interceptor to disappear from the estimate. Perhaps only a few bottlenecks would have to be dealt with. Estimates of costs to upgrade the interceptor at bottlenecks, as and when need by growth or overflows, would present a more realistic basis for discussion between the municipalities.   Similarly, the additional costs to connect Fruitvale and Montrose to the system should be broken out so that their citizens can clearly see the cost of amalgamating sewage systems.    The option of building a new plant on a new site was included in the original study. This additional cost should also be estimated separately. The prime beneficiary of this option would be Trail due to obtaining development land where the plant is currently located. The citizens of Trail should clearly understand the cost.    Finally, capital and operating costs of each municipality going it’s own way should be estimated, if only to demonstrate to politicians that this is the wrong way to go.   A common sense approach such as this could have been agreed to a long time ago instead of wasting three years…… but where is the common sense in municipal and regional politics? Sadly lacking!    Ken Holmes Rossland     

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