Mediator fails to achieve regional cooperation on sewer service, recommends binding arbitration for Rossland, Trail, and Warfield

Andrew Bennett
By Andrew Bennett
March 8th, 2012

Following an attempt last year to achieve a mediated solution to the ongoing sewer dispute between Rossland, Trail, and Warfield, the chair of the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary (RDKB), Larry Gray, wrote Minister Ida Chong on Feb. 8 to ask that  the issue be declared a “prescribed matter suitable for binding arbitration.”

Gray wrote, “We have gone through a service review which was unable to arrive at a consensus resolving the dispute — the fair allocation of costs related to the service between the participants. At the direction of your Ministry, we underwent a mediation process utilizing the services of Community Solutions Incorporated [CSI] and Mr. George Paul. That effort was unsuccessful.”


CSI was hired in June, 2011, “to meet with the municipalities of Rossland, Trail and Warfield with a view to seeking common ground on the structure of financing the continued operation of the main interceptors, pump stations and treatment facility of the Regional District’s east end sewer service.”


CSI president George Paul concluded, “It is a shame that in this instance local government cooperation has disintegrated to such a degree that a third party is needed to determine the future structure of this service, but I see no other solution.”


Council discussed Gray’s letter and Paul’s report briefly at their regular meeting on Feb. 27. 


Coun. Kathy Moore suggested that Rossland send a separate letter to Minister Chong. “We’ve been a bit hammered by the letters that have been sent,” Moore said. “Our position that we’ve been trying to find a resolution hasn’t been communicated to the province.”


Coun. Jill Spearn expressed surprise at “the tone of Larry Gray’s letter,” calling it “harsh,” and agreed that a letter should be sent.


“Maybe it’s because we’re the ones in the stand-off position and haven’t agreed to their wishes,” Spearn suggested, “but it makes it sound like we’re the problem, which I guess in a way we are. But I don’t like the tone of that letter.”


Mayor Greg Granstrom was also confused by the letter, “We don’t know what the mediator said to Trail that they wanted us to agree to. But we agreed to basically what the mediator asked us to do,” he said.


Granstrom had contacted Gray and Paul, and was now “waiting to hear what they think we turned down. Neither one of them have been able to tell me what we turned down.”


Granstrom suggested a letter to Minister Chong should wait until he had heard back from Gray or Paul.


During the mediation, Paul met with the CAOs of the three municipalities and the RDKB, as well as former CAOs of the municipalities and other officers of the RDKB. He assembled data provided from all these sources before attempting to get the parties to agree on a “50/50 formula” based 50 percent on population and 50 per cent on water consumption.


“While this formula is not perfect,” Paul wrote, “it was one which I hoped would gain unanimous support as it had previously been endorsed by all of the parties. Unfortunately, Rossland’s endorsation [sic.] of January 11, 2010 had been reversed on February 22, 2010 at which time they rejected the formula and indicated that they wished to retain the existing cost sharing apportionment.”


All the parties observed, Paul said, “that there was little difference between the strict population formula and the 50/50 formula and that the strict population formula was much simpler to administer.”


So Paul asked the municipalities to consider “a cost sharing based only on population to be updated on an ongoing basis. Trail and Warfield agreed to this compromise. It was rejected by Rossland.”


Paul concluded that  the issue was as much about “trust and respect amongst the participants” as it was about financial issues. “That is not to minimize the financial impact on Rossland and Warfield of any change,” he wrote, “but to illustrate that resolution of this issue is not just about the financial impact upon the parties.”


Paul wrote, “The theme through these discussions was that Trail required a substantial change to the financial structure of the service and Rossland really saw no need to adjust the structure because they felt that nothing had changed since the inception of the service … It is clear to me that the potential solutions perceived by Rossland and Trail are mutually exclusive, whereas Warfield would be comfortable with any reasonable solution.”


Paul assessed the original cost apportionment based on population to be “flawed.”


“The actual population of Trail is less than 44 per cent of the estimate made more than 40 years ago,” he wrote, “while the populations of Warfield and Rossland are between 57 and 65 per cent of the estimates. While it was expected that the population of the service area would grow by 50% over the forty year period, it actually declined by 25%.”


Furthermore, Paul noted, the original formula was “capped” for Rossland at a maximum amount defined by what, at that time in the 1960s, was what it would have cost Rossland to build its own “standalone” treatment services. Some of Warfield’s costs were offloaded on Trail because of certain shared infrastructure.


Overall, Paul argued that Trail pays more than its fair share under the present cost apportionment, and he cautioned against waiting five to ten years before the entire basis for cost sharing is revised once again for the Stage II Liquid Waste Management Plan.


“Fairness alone would indicate this is necessary,” Paul wrote. 


“There are many services in addition to sewage treatment that would benefit from greater cooperation between the east end members of the Regional District,” he added, “and this is a good opportunity for the parties to show a willingness to work together for the better good of all.”


Paul then recommended that the RDKB apply to the Ministry of Community, Sport, and Cultural Development for the matter to be identified as a “prescribed matter” by the Lieutenant Governer, and then to be directed to “binding arbitration” with a Dispute Resolution Officer.


He argued against the other option, to do nothing: “This issue has been festering for a considerable number of years, and while it may remain dormant if not attended to, it will not go away. Inequities exist because of the developments, or lack of development over the past forty years. The issue needs to be addressed, not ignored.”

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