White Rock council Monday night approved an initial amendment to the city’s financial plan to fund a program of water infrastructure upgrades – which will include construction of two plants to treat and reduce the arsenic and manganese content of city water within the next three years.
A motion to adopt the necessary borrowing bylaw was carried without discussion, in spite of comments from members of the public at a meeting – earlier that afternoon – who called into question the city’s competence in both acquiring and administering its water utility.
The special meeting was convened to provide public input on the program of financial-plan amendments, which financial services director Sandra Kurylo said is required to start the process of long-term borrowing for the projects – now projected at more than $14 million, and expected to be complete in 2019.
Of this, just over $9 million is expected to be paid from grants, including the federal New Building Canada Fund.
Residents, however, expressed distrust of the city’s handling of water matters, including water safety, whether or not options of connecting to other sources – including the City of Surrey and Metro Vancouver systems – had been fully explored, and whether the city had fully understood deficiencies in the current infrastructure when it entered into negotiations to buy the utility from Epcor last year.
Dorothy Bower said that city fire hydrants are not sufficient for ‘fire flows’ and queried deferring the upgrading of water mains on Marine Drive until 2017, noting that the need had been identified in 2013 and that taxpayers had already been paying for the work.
“The water mains on Marine Drive have ruptured a number of times,” she said.
“You’re exposing the city to liability,” she added, saying that fire-flow estimates are predicated on a city that had once consisted of individual cottages – not the larger homes that are prevalent today.
Engineering manager Greg St. Louis responded that the mains are in the 2014-17 master plan, and that pushing the upgrade back to 2017 still falls within the parameters of the plan.
Bower also questioned the safety of White Rock wells from contamination since they are only buffered by gravel and sand.
Scott Kristjanson said the timing of the 4 p.m. meeting had in impact on the community’s opportunity to ask questions.
He said that waiting for treatment of arsenic and manganese content until 2019 was “an unacceptable delay.”
“Instead of spending $14 million, why aren’t we turning on the taps to Surrey?” he asked.
He said that discussions he has had with Fraser Health officials indicated a preference for White Rock to be connected to the Metro Vancouver system.
“We need to budget to get out of the situation immediately.”
Fiona MacDermid also expressed concern on the health of the water, noting the Walkerton, Ont. E. coli outbreak of 2000.
“We need something done quickly – let’s not wait for a disaster to strike our water system in White Rock.”
Mike Burda wondered why citizens had not been informed years ago that there was arsenic and manganese content in the water.
Roderick Louis expressed doubts about St. Louis’ estimates that connecting to Metro Vancouver water through Surrey would require twinning of pipes and a new pumping station, asking that the city study the actual costs.
Dennis Lypka questioned fluctuations in city estimates for the cost of the infrastructure upgrades.
“Is council satisfied that this $14.2 million number is now pinned down and won’t runaway higher yet again due to various delays, cost over-runs, misestimates and other matters of that sort?”