A focus on ground sources for water supply, landfill issues and staffing and benefits for volunteer fire departments appeared as high-impact items in the first round of the 2021 SCRD budget debate. These discussions were completed on Feb. 8, after five hour plus meetings that day and on Feb. 1 and 2.
Area E Director Donna McMahon stated she was “delighted to cancel the development of the ferry bathtub” as the committee endorsed moving the next steps in planning for a potential regional raw water reservoir to 2022. The ”bathtub” reference relates to a visual presented to the SCRD in 2019, showing the scale of the proposed 1.2 million cubic meter reservoir and a BC Ferries vessel. Planning for construction of such a reservoir, which had rough cost estimates in the $50 million range, is being delayed as groundwater sources show potential to address the region’s potable water supply deficit.
Sechelt Area Director Mayor Darnelda Siegers cautioned the committee against shelving the reservoir initiative. She noted that funds have been invested to bring project planning to the existing point. Siegers said that those would be wasted if the plan was abandoned. She pointed to multiple opportunities that local governments have to secure grant funding to construct infrastructure projects as long as they can be brought quickly to the “shovel ready” stage.
The SCRD is looking to invest over $3 million in groundwater supply projects in 2021, pending consideration of those proposals by its Water Supply Advisory Committee. Projects include a million-dollar spend to produce on-demand chlorine supplies at its Chapman Creek water treatment plant. This upgrade will eliminate the need to store large supplies of the potentially dangerous gas at the site, which is close to residential areas. Continued groundwater investigations, focusing on the potential for wells in the Gray Creek and Maryanne West Park areas, valued at $1.377 million, is being proposed. A $225,000 feasibility study of other long-term surface water supply sources and a $350,000 well drilling project for the Eastbourne water system on Keats Island received endorsement in the 2021 budget’s first-round debate.
Projects related to solid waste that progressed to the next round of the 2021 budget considerations include preparations for the closure of the Sechelt landfill. In discussions, Manager of Infrastructure Services Remko Rosenboom said that the $2.5 million budget figure for this work remains an estimate and includes a 20 percent contingency. He said the costs and the spending timeframe will be updated when the report on the state of the landfill as of the end of 2020 and its remaining lifespan comes forward in the coming months. The most recent estimates indicate the landfill will be full in 2026.
Gibsons Area Director Mayor Bill Beamish stated that in other communities, the Province had allowed landfill closure work and the costs related to it to be spread out over a longer period of time. Rosenboom noted that the SCRD had not approached the Province regarding timing for the landfill closure work at this point.
In addition to landfill closure planning, the SCRD plans to survey at its landfill to ensure as much capacity as possible is being utilized. Studies on future garbage disposal and waste composition, as well as a solid waste plan update, costing $350,000, also received round one approval.
In 2021, benefits for volunteer firefighters in the four regionally funded volunteer fire departments on the Coast is to be funded by the SCRD. It will cost about $186,000 per year to provide extended medical, dental and other insurance benefits to those who volunteer with the Gibsons, Roberts Creek, Halfmoon Bay and Egmont departments. In addition, funding for paid staffing is to be increased by the equivalent of about one-half of a full-time position in each area.
Almost every proposal that came forward from staff and SCRD program partners at round one budget debate received referral to the second round slated to begin March 4. The SCRD anticipates finalizing its 2021 budget by mid-April.
Consulting firm Integrated Sustainability’s representation of a BC Ferry afloat in the proposed SCRD Chapman Creek Raw Water Reservoir, as presented to the board in November 2019, shows the scale of the proposed reservoir. In the 2021 budget debate, further planning for this project was put on hold until 2022, given the SCRDs recent success in locating groundwater to offset the region’s potable water supply issues. Integrated Sustainability Consultants photo