• Jim Mosher

Dunnottar cracks door on municipal sewer system 2.0; ratepayers group musters early opposition

Updated: Apr 5, 2019

George Thompson, foreground, says village council should beat the bushes for grants to install a municipal sewage collection system. Ed Strauman, president of the Dunnottar Ratepayers Association, back at left, says any attempt to move on the initiative will be voted down, as it was in a referendum vote July 20, 2012.

A municipal sewer system in Dunnottar may be years down the road but village council is convinced it must one day come.

Whispers of the plan has already set the cat amongst the pigeons as a local ratepayers association has ramped up its efforts to ensure the revived effort does not see the light of day.

The village introduced its initial plan to install a low-pressure sewer system in early-2012 but it would be defeated in a referendum later that year during a by-election July 20.

The roadblock then was what were seen by many as expensive on-site costs. Some property owners would have to purchase a new two-cell tank or modify existing single-cell holding tanks, while all would be required to pay for piping from a municipal line to the tank. As well, there was a cost associated with electrical work and installation of appropriately-sized sewage pumps to push effluent into the municipal system.

In all, there were too many unanswered questions for a majority who voted against the project in the July 2012 referendum vote. On the referendum question, 901 of the 1,278 people who voted gave the sewer a thumbs down; the remaining 377 supported council’s plan.

Fast forward seven years — and village council is beginning the process to fund what’s projected to be a $10-million sewer project. There is no allocation to the sewer system in council's five-year capital spending plan.

Long-time village finance chairman David Oberding, speaking at the close of public budget presentation March 27, said a municipal sewage system is going to be examined. It has been, he suggested, the elephant in the room.

“I’ve sure everybody noticed the sewer installation is not in the 2019 budget,” he said. “That is not an oversight. Council has passed a resolution authorizing staff to look for and find the grants [for such a system]. I am sure we will be applying for grants over the next several years. The last time, it took 30 years for Dunnottar to be considered for funding.”

“We don’t expect we will make it to the top of the funding list for several years,” he continued. “As always, we will keep everybody informed. We’re looking at something that’s not going to happen tomorrow or next year — it could be 10 years, it could be 20 years.”

Oberding said the village often fails to get recognized for project funding because it is a resort area and the funding it does get is often based on permanent census population which does not count seasonal residents, most of whom are property owners.

“That means that we’re not a top-of-mind,” he said. “So nobody needs to get really excited because it won’t be happening for a long time.”

George Thompson, chair of the village’s planning commission and a vocal supporter of the low-pressure sewer system in 2012, said during the recent budget hearing that council needs to beat the bushes for grants now if it wants to advance a sewer system again.

“I’m very concerned about this half-million dollars a year that’s being spent on sewer pump-outs,” he said. “What would happen if the contractor doubled the price? That would be a significant hardship for the village.”

While being free of debt now is a good thing, it will become necessary to borrow for larger projects, the sewer among them, he said. “I very strongly support attempting to get grants,” Thompson said. “We are not committed to the sewer system. But it may be thrust upon us. And let’s be prepared for that.”

Following up on Thompson’s comments, Mayor Rick Gamble said: “One of the dilemmas we’re faced with on a daily basis is that we are going to have to deal with climate change.”

“Believe it or not, it’s happening — and we have to deal with it,” the village mayor continued. “And these five sewage trucks when they’re running, almost ninety per cent of our emissions are coming from those five trucks. That is quite a statement. That means that all your other transportation within the community is responsible for 10 to 15 per cent.”

“So we’ve got to take this into consideration. And when you say this may one day be ordered, that may very well happen. We want to be a sustainable community but this keeps dragging us down.”

Ed Strauman, president of the Dunnottar Ratepayers Association, asked the mayor how far the emissions argument goes. “Are you going to stop Eddie’s Gravel or home builders coming in — because they’re bringing in emissions, too?” he said.

“Yes. But not to the same extent,” said Gamble.

Property owners currently pay an annual levy of $506 for contracted pump-out of holding tanks. During the busy summer, that requires near-daily pump-out activity.

Association president Strauman served notice that the system proposed in 2012 still will not fly with members of the largely seasonal Dunnottar community.

"After the 2012 Referendum was held and residents came out by the hundreds and the vote was (NO 901 to YES 377). Now my question is why council is pursuing this low-pressure sewer system again when the majority of residents said ‘no’?” Strauman wrote on the association’s website. “Keep in mind the current truck pump-out system requires no long-term borrowing or maintenance costs.”

This is much the same argumen the association used in 2012.

This time around, however, there is no immediate threat, though for the association the notion of examining the option is provocative enough.

Time will tell.

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