COUNCIL LEFT WITH DIFFICULT DECISION ON WHERE TO DUMP EXCESS EFFLUENT FOLLOWING PUBLIC MEETING
Members of town council continue to look at numerous options and haven’t made any permanent decision to dump excess effluent from the town’s main lagoons into a sandpit area adjacent to the Desert Park racetrack, says Mayor Stu Wells.
“There are a lot of people out there who think this is a done deal, but I can tell you it’s not a done deal,” said Wells, following a meeting last week where more than 100 residents gathered at the Osoyoos Golf and Country Club for a public presentation sponsored by Town of Osoyoos staff.
Many in attendance weren’t pleased with the format of the meeting – many had expected a town hall-style hearing where they could hear presentations and ask questions.
However, everyone in attendance had the opportunity to talk to Wells, town councillors (except Sue McKortoff who was out of town and couldn’t attend) the town’s chief engineer Terry Underwood, chief administrative officer Barry Romanko and Ron Doucette, the town’s director of operational services.
Doucette told members of town council in September that the town’s two large storage lagoons were over capacity and large amounts of effluent (reclaimed water) were going to have to be dumped elsewhere.
There would be major problems this coming spring if there was an abundance of rain and/or spring runoff, so a temporary solution had to be found as quickly as possible to get rid of the excess effluent in what Doucette called an “emergency situation.”
Members of town council then received a recommendation from Underwood, who works for True Consulting and has been doing contract work for the Town of Osoyoos for more than 30 years, the best temporary solution would be to expand the sandpit site near Desert Park and pump excess effluent there.
A tender contract to install new piping and infrastructure from the town’s lagoons at the community landfill was cancelled by members of town council three weeks ago after numerous residents from the Dividend Ridge subdivision protested plans to dump 165,000 cubic metres of excess effluent in a sandpit located on the south side of Desert Park.
Craig Nairn, who owns a home located directly above the proposed site, made two presentations to council voicing his concerns as well as those of numerous neighbours. Nairn and his wife Pat are on vacation in Mexico and did not attend last week’s meeting.
Brian Rothwell, who also lives on Pebble Beach Drive several houses down from the Nairn’s, is now acting as the spokesperson for the group of neighbours in the Dividend Ridge subdivision.
After attending last week’s meeting and gathering information over the past month, Rothwell said he and the more than 100 residents who have signed a petition, still believe there are better sites to dump the excess effluent.
The only way they will ever be in favour of this site is if the effluent is buried underground, said Rothwell.
“It would have to be out of sight and out of mind … without any visual reminders and obviously no smell coming from the site,” he said. “If it were buried in a concrete septic facility and could then be drained every few months and trucked away without leaving any bad odours, that could obviously work.”
But that option is probably not affordable and he doubts will be offered as a stopgap measure, said Rothwell.
It’s the responsibility of town council to make finding a permanent solution to water and sewer capacity a major priority moving forward, said Rothwell.
“It’s time to take a serious look at how these capacity issues are having a negative effect on the long-term growth of this community and coming up with a real plan, instead of stop-gap measures like the one we’re dealing with now,” he said. “We need to know what we’re doing for long-term waste disposal in this town. It has become a huge issue.”
Wells said the town has a five-year capital plan to expand water and sewage capacity issues in the town, with most of the discussion around extending piping out towards the Osoyoos Airport and developing 80 hectares of Crown land located near the landfill to dump excess effluent.
While a permanent solution may be found in the next year or two, the reality remains council must find a way to lower the capacity of the lagoons in the short term, said Wells.
Underwood is in the process of finalizing detailed plans that would cost out options of bringing the excess effluent to the airport, burying it at the Desert Park sandpit site or in large bladder bags located between the golf course and Osoyoos Secondary School and all three options will be discussed at the next meeting of council next Monday, said Wells.
“There will be a thorough discussion by all members of council before any final decision is made,” said Wells. “The reality is the lagoons are still running high and we need relief.
“The thing that is important right now is we have what we have … and we need an emergency blow off area for this extra effluent.We don’t have one now and we have to find one.”
Suggestions by some residents that the town’s long-term plan includes continued expansion of the sandpit site near Desert Park into a much larger lagoon is simply unfounded, said Wells.
“It won’t happen, I can guarantee that,” he said.
Rothwell said all residents of Dividend Ridge and many who live outside town limits remain opposed to the sandpit site in the short and long term.
Rothwell will be speaking to members of town council during Monday’s committee of the whole meeting to again voice the concerns of neighbours and oppose plans to dump effluent at the sandpit site.
Most of the people who attended last week’s meeting weren’t very pleased with the format as they expected members of council and staff to make presentations and then answer some tough questions, said Rothwell.
“Most would have preferred a town hall-style setting where we could all ask questions and get answers as a group, but we were informed only the day before that this would be the format, so many people were surprised when they walked in and saw all these displays and charts.”
To their credit, all members of council who were in attendance as well as Underwood and senior adminstration stayed until the very end of the meeting and were willing to meet every person who wanted more information and certain questions asked, he said.
“I do have to thank the mayor and members of council and staff for coming out and answering all of the questions that were presented to them,” he said. “This is a very controversial issue that has a lot of people upset, but they all showed up and I have to respect that.”
Rothwell said he’s looking forward to presenting a final petition and reiterating his opposition to the Desert Park sandpit site for effluent dumping when he appears before members of council on Monday morning.