Water on the Brain
Ron Bolin: June 30, 2011
Water, water everywhere, but nary a drop is safe. It seems that wherever we look in Nanaimo these days there are expensive water problems which are in dire and imminent need of expensive fixing. First we had the sewers needed to take the bad water away from various pockets of the city at a cost of up to $19 million. Then there came the water filtration system to get safe water for them, the rest of us now living here and those tens of thousands assumed to be coming here in the next 25 years. This tab comes up to an estimated $65 million with $50 million to come from current Nanaimo taxpayers. Then there is the $16 million for a new city hall annex to house the management of these troubled waters. All these figures are estimates and we still remember the estimate originally given for the conference centre.
In only one of these matters was the public to be adequately consulted –and that was quickly quashed. The very expensive water filtration system was budgeted to require $22.5 million in long term borrowing and thus required a referendum. At a meeting on June 13, with Councillors Holdom and Johnston absent, Council voted to hold a referendum. Upon their return Holdom demanded a revote and, mocking democracy as a process, led a revolt leading to the reintroduction of the “Alternate Approval” process originally recommended by Staff. This system puts the onus of defense on citizen activists via an opting-out process; a practice which is not legal in ordinary commerce for obvious reasons. Council on the 27th, however, acceded to Mr. Holdom, rescinded the referendum, and put the alternate process in its place. They even passed third reading at the Council meeting on June 27 to ensure that there would be little more discussion of the subject in public. Councillors Sherry, Bestwick and Kipp voted against this action to no avail.
This scintillating story of water in Nanaimo carries within it all the elements of high political drama: democratic rights; big public money; decision do-overs, and vote reneging. Could it get any more intriguing? Let’s hear your opinion on these stories and see if we can prise out any lasting lessons from this experience before the election in November and our descent into poverty. Can we learn anything or are we fated to repeat our previous follies?
This work was sent in by Mr. Fred Taylor and is the document which he presented to Council on this subject at the June 27 Council meeting. My apology for taking some time to get it in on the blog.
Mayor Ruttan & Council Members:
I speak in favour and support Councillor Holdom’s request for reconsideration of the June 13, 2011 direction of the Council to hold a referendum regarding the borrowing of funds for a Water Treatment Plant.
I believe there are a few important questions and considerations before we continue.
Yes, we must have and maintain an independent authority to govern the quality of water provided to the public by any supplier.
I believe the priority of the independent authority is to have the ability/power to place demand on any, in fact all suppliers to provide a quality of drinking water for the protection of the public.
I remain of the opinion any demand by the independent authority to govern any treatment process as an ‘acceptable process’ places the authority into a questionable position if any ‘acceptable process’ fails.
Without knowledge, I raise question to any demand of the independent authority which may indicate any ‘number’ of treatment processes required (Nanaimo and Comox 2(two)) which may be insufficient to accomplish a good water quality.
Compare the demands placed upon Nanaimo Water Works and Comox Valley Regional District Water System.
Both require two (2) treatment processes.
Keep in mind Nanaimo’s water is from what one may call ‘a protected source’ where Comox from an ‘unprotected source’ .
I understand Comox’s main source for water is Comox Lake where many public activities continue, not to mention swimming, boating etcetera. Comox now about to lower their intake pipe in the Lake in order to reduce contamination.
Demand has been placed on Nanaimo for a very expensive treatment process while it appears such a treatment process for Comox depends on water source protection (remember Nanaimo is protected) and quality of water testing approximately two (2) years from now.
Both systems apparently use a chlorination process, but Comox is adding an ultraviolet light disinfection with the potential to defer filtration treatment.
I believe at any time the water system in Nanaimo or in fact for anywhere else has a potential of contamination by water line breakage etcetera regardless of treatment at the source.
Funding for any improvements requires a more careful consideration of the taxpayers pocketbook.
Nanaimo has approximately $88 million in reserve accounts.
Before I hear any comments about the status of this $88 million, may I refer you to a report to the Council dated April 11, 2011 where “part of the sewer fund used for Port of Nanaimo Centre/Vancouver Island Conference Centre was repaid from the 2010 surplus.”
This clearly indicates the ability to use reserve funds for other purposes at the desire of Staff, the recommendation supported by the Council.
The April 2011 report also states for the last 5 years there has been a range of 1.2 to 4.6 million surplus.
I would suggest within 5 years we could have sufficient funds from surplus for whatever water treatment or zero tax increases, all depends on Council gaining control.
Mr. Fred Taylor has sent along the following letter received by the city from the province and sent to him by Mr Kenning. It is instructive to read the wording carefully.
Click to access ministry-letter.pdf
A couple of comments after reading this letter……..
1. it would seem that Mr. Kenning was trying as far back as last Feb. was trying to keep taxpayers from having any say in this matter……big surprise!
It also says that VIHA does not consider there is an imminent threat to the Nanaimo water supply and therefore there is no need to issue an order.
It also says that such an order would not be issued unless there were an event to warrant it. So, what kind of a threat would requre them to issue an order requiring we actually build a plant???
Does the newspaper here, or radio stations report on these types of letters that are shown here. This allows the public to see what is happening? If not why?
Lynn: I have never seen a reference to posts or comments on the blog in the mainstream media. Some of these issues are covered in the “Letters to the Editor” section of the paper, but newspapers do not lend themselves to debate. I have not heard anything on the radio on these issues and our Councillors do not appear to break ranks to discuss matters with the media. They are enamored of the Phalanx position which ignores debate and demands conformity.
You might wish to raise these and other issues with our media which seem to be sticking with yesterdays formats and letting our political representative off the hook.
Just curious because you will see these types of letters printed in newspaper when something of this nature is happening in larger cities. I wouldn’t neccesarily think the newspapers would get into a debate but it can draw attention to what is happening. I would think if the newpaper is doing it’s job they would want his information and print it. This letter is part of the facts of what is going on withthis treatment plant. The Water Treatment system is a very large expense to this city or for any other for that matter and the journalists at the newspaper I would have thought would be very interested in this. It is part of their job to report all information that is happening.