A sign regarding White Rock's boil-water advisory greets Johnston Road motorists in 2010.

A sign regarding White Rock's boil-water advisory greets Johnston Road motorists in 2010.

More questions than answers: Fathers

White Rock gets set to hear from water supplier Epcor about a proposed upgrade to the city's supply system.

An application by Epcor for approval of an $11-12 million water-quality management project for White Rock – with costs reclaimed by an increase in water rates – has at least one resident up in arms.

In a letter to the water utility, Mayor Wayne Baldwin and the office of the Deputy BC Comptroller of Water Rights – which will ultimately rule on the application – Anna Paton outlines “grave concerns” about the project’s slate of infrastructure upgrades, particularly with regard to a planned chemical building at High Street.

In the letter – published by Peace Arch News Jan. 3 – Paton says she believes construction of such a plant on a small site overlooking Duprez Ravine poses a risk to the environment.

While Epcor officials say “all reasonable, industry-proven precautions” to protect the area will be taken, Paton avers it would be impossible to ensure safety of the chemical building.

Last week, Baldwin reserved comment on the project – and Paton’s concerns – “until we find out more information on it.” He noted Epcor will make a presentation to council on Jan. 14.

“We’re certainly going to be doing our own research on it,” he said, adding that, so far, the only feedback he has received from residents has been Paton’s letter and one phone call.

Coun. Helen Fathers told PAN that Epcor’s announcement Dec. 27 came as “somewhat of a surprise,” and had not been the subject of prior discussion by council.

“I hope the public becomes fully engaged. At this point we’re left with a lot more questions than answers.”

Fathers said she intends to question Epcor representatives thoroughly, particularly on the environmental aspects of the project, noting that White Rock has not had a dedicated environmental officer for at least two years.

“As gatekeepers of Boundary Bay, I don’t think we’re doing the best job,” she said. “The city needs to step it up.”

In Paton’s letter, she notes a leak of chlorine could be devastating to wildlife in the area.

“How are they going to protect us from a chemical spill into a ravine, which then goes into the sea? It’s ludicrous.”

In the Epcor statement, spokesman Tim le Riche said the company takes “the safety of people and the community as the top concern.”

Precautions, he states, would include “consideration of the design of the storage containers and installation of secondary containment to capture any spilled product before it can leave the facility.”

Monitoring of tank levels and spill containment would also be in place, “to allow for automatic shutdowns and immediate implementation of dechlorination procedures.”

Le Riche adds that all project sites will use chlorine in solution (dissolved in water), which is much less hazardous than using chlorine gas.

Baldwin has previously told PAN he sees Epcor’s water-quality management project as a necessary part of ensuring safety of the water supply.

Paton suggested a chemical spill, or even simply the presence of the chemical building in close proximity to highly-assessed residential properties, could have an impact on land values.

“People who are building multi-million dollar homes aren’t going to be pleased with a chemical plant right around the corner,” she predicted. “And Mayor Baldwin isn’t going to be pleased when he’s facing a revolt because people aren’t paying taxes to live beside a chemical plant.”

Fraser Health has given Epcor a deadline of March 31, 2016 for full chlorination of the system, after contamination discovered in 2010 led to a boil-water advisory.

Epcor has said meeting Fraser Health’s deadline is driving the overall project. If approved, costs will be reclaimed by a rise in water rates (estimated at about $4 per month for the average residential customer) over three years.

While Paton suggested the city connect to Metro Vancouver’s water supply system instead, le Riche said a design report has determined that is not feasible. The necessary agreements have no precedent and would likely involve a lengthy and costly process to achieve, he said.

And, “(White Rock) would still require many of the other system upgrades that are part of the total water quality management project.”

Epcor will host an open house Jan. 17 (1:30-4 p.m., 6-8 p.m.) at White Rock Community Centre, 15154 Russell Ave.

Stakeholders who wish to participate in the application process may register as intervenors by Jan. 25 (for more details, visit www.epcor.com)