By David F. Rooney
City Council has known since last December 20 that the Big Eddy Waterworks’ deficiencies and problems are serious but chose to keep them secret rather than reveal them publicly.
Mayor David Raven and Chief Administrative Officer Tim Palmer said Tuesday that a letter from Rob Fleming, Interior Health’s Environmental Health Officer to Chris Selvig in the City’s Engineering and Development Services department was discussed during a closed in-camera Council session but refused to even say when that discussion was held. Council is entitled under the Community Charter to discuss certain issues in confidence.
Because the letter was the subject of an in-camera session nothing about it can be discussed even though its existence has now been revealed.
A copy of the letter was sent to The Revelstoke Current and was publicly revealed during Council’s regular meeting on Tuesday, September 9, by Councillor Tony Scarcella. Please click here to read the complete letter.
Fleming’s letter says:
“There are concerns with the long term sustainability of Big Eddy Waterworks. There is insufficient information on the current infrastructure assets and capacity in regards to peak daily demands and maximum production. The infrastructure is aging and the two production wells are over 33 years old with no long term plan for replacing this vital infrastructure. In addition, Big Eddy Waterworks has conducted unapproved upgrades and repairs of the distribution system in the past. This has forced Interior Health to take an enforcement stance and seek records-purpose-only information for all works conducted without permits.
“The current governance structure for the Improvement District is challenged to provide adequate financial capacity and long term sustainability. Based on available information the utility appears to be in a poor financial position to fund upgrades, replacements, or to respond to emergency breakdowns. The current water rates do not align with those charged by similar sized water utilities elsewhere in Canada. Further, the Utility does not have a Renewal Reserve Fund, a critical tool for systems to undertake and implement long term planning and remain compliant with the DWPA&R.
“The source wells for the Utility may be at risk with the aquifer directly influenced by surface water during freshet. If this is the case the system will need to provide additional primary treatment to meet provincial treatment objectives. As discussed above, it is not clear that the Utility has the financial capacity to undertake such improvements.”
That the 65-year-old, autonomous utility has problems is no secret. There have long been concerns about water pressure at its hydrants and it has, over the years, periodically issued boil-water advisories because of bacterial contamination. The BEW board of trustees wrote to Council on August 18 asking it to consider merging it with the regular City water utility. Please click here to read that story.
As revealed in a Revelstoke Current story last week, commercial developments — but not residential ones — have been stalled in the Big Eddy.
In an interview on Wednesday, September 3, Mike Thomas, City director for Engineering and Development Services, said that so far this year there have been 12 Building Permit applications since January 1, 2014, in the Big Eddy:
- 3 of these are Commercial, (2 restoration projects, the other being the new ~10,000 sqf commercial primary building);
- 1 Demolition Permit for a residence;
- 3 new Residential Accessory Buildings, (one of these required a permit for siting the garage);
- 1 Residential Addition; and
- 4 building permit renewals, (under free permit renewal program).
He said 11 permits have been granted or are being processed. The 10,000 sqf project is, for now, stalled, because of concerns about fire protection. Fire hydrants are a little scarce in the Big Eddy. The closest to this project are 150 and 250 metres away from the project site.
Thomas stressed that the BEW’s problems are not insoluble.
“I believe there is an engineering solution to this problem,” he said. “The real question is money.”
Some people believe money is not the only thing that needs to be brought to bear on this issue.
Business owners Chuck Ferguson, George Buhler and Vince Sessa (who owns the 10,000-sqf project that is currently stalled) are forming a six-member committee to push for action from Council. A memo that Ferguson sent to The Current says Big Eddy property owners pay the same taxes as other Revelstoke property owners but clearly don’t enjoy the same benefits and protection.
It claims “a moratorium on building permits” will decrease property values and says the issue should be a major issue in November’s civic election.
Buhler said the three men contacted City hall last week in a bid to appear as a delegation before City Council but were turned down without explanation.
You can watch all discussion about this issue on The Current’s City Council video. The relevant discussions run from the 13-minute to the 20-minute mark and during Council’s regular news media Q&A at the 50:14 minutes.