Saturday, June 22, 2024
June 22, 2024

‘Estuary’ project to proceed without water district 

A commercial project at Fulford now plans to draw and treat its own water after “impossible” requests from the water district there, according to the developer, who said he believed Fulford Water Service (FWS) commissioners had made up their minds on his application to join that service area well before a public meeting. 

FWS commissioners met Friday, May 24 to consider an application from the Ocean Estuary Development — once known as the Vortex — requesting the district expand to include it. The project — a commercial and retail development with 17 planned motel units within eight cottage buildings, a restaurant and accessory retail sales buildings all centred on an outdoor plaza — received approval for a development permit from Salt Spring’s Local Trust Committee in early 2023. 

Commissioners voted unanimously to defer consideration of the proposal, asking that responses to several written questions be provided and discussed in an in-person meeting with proponent David Fullbrook, consultants and the Capital Regional District (CRD) engineer and staff who had recommended the application’s approval.  

They also directed staff to ask Fullbrook to develop estimates of a full build-out, including “demographic changes in the service area and related water demands, in consultation with the Islands Trust” to gauge the potential impact on the district.  

Fullbrook told the Driftwood on Monday the latter request was an “impossible task,” and said he believed there was never any intention to consider the application on its merits. 

“Not only did they tie [proceeding] to an engagement with the Islands Trust — which is entirely dependent upon the Trust wanting to do that, a complete unknown,” said Fullbrook. “Determining a build-out would take hundreds of thousands of dollars, and months and months — and in reality if we were to do that work and come back to that committee, they would go through the same puppet show.” 

At the outset of the May 24 meeting, Fullbrook registered — and later reiterated — an objection to the review process, saying it had come to his attention that commissioners had met “in private” in advance of the public meeting regarding the application. 

Commission chair Carole Eyles said commissioners had indeed gathered, but insisted they had not discussed any determination on the basis of that meeting. 

“We met to work through the 426 pages,” said Eyles, “because we could only get one printout. We were having trouble, so we got together just so that we could all have the same physical documentation.” 

CRD director Gary Holman, who sits on the board, clarified that he did not meet with other commissioners himself, adding that while there had been “some email exchanges” they had been to ask technical questions about the application, not to further any decisions. 

“We had a problem with the download from the internet,” added Eyles. “So it was not possible for us all to have all the information without getting together.”  

As the meeting continued, commissioners repeatedly expressed frustration with the timeframe they had to consider the application — eight days, they said — and Fullbrook for his part agreed somewhat, noting he had asked the CRD to consider moving the meeting to a later date. 

“From my perspective, it was extremely quick,” said Fullbrook, who said he had submitted the relevant reports to the CRD six months ago, but had only days to plan to attend the meeting once it was scheduled — and ultimately did so remotely. “It didn’t give me time to actually make a formal presentation — which I would typically have done. But I don’t have control over that schedule.” 

Ian Sander, senior project manager with Ocean Estuary-retained McElhanney Consulting Services, said with a treatment plant capacity of 4.6 litres per second — and a projected maximum daily demand, including the full build-out of 102 properties in the Fulford district plus Ocean Estuary, of 2.8 litres per second — there would be plenty of treated water.  

“We’re projecting that the maximum daily demand of the plant, no matter which way you look at it, is considerably high,” said Sander. “It was designed very conservatively; there’s a significant amount of flow that can be produced with that plant, way more than you’ll need in any of these events.” 

Commissioners took exception to that full build-out number, however, and expressed concern about future water demand — saying they lacked an authoritative answer to the question of how many taps they might eventually need to service.  

Fulford district water users are not metered, and the district does not charge a per-litre use fee. 

“There do seem to be conflicting numbers,” said Holman, adding it was the responsibility of the district to consider both existing and future demand. “Everybody in the room is aware of North Salt Spring [Waterworks District], which declared a moratorium on new connections because they didn’t come to grips with existing and future demand. If we don’t do our homework, we run the risk of getting into that situation.” 

Fullbrook agreed those numbers were important, but asked why it was “on him” to pay to study the entire district. 

“Why hasn’t this work already been done?” asked Fullbrook at the meeting. “It’s clearly in everyone’s interest to understand the capacity and the long-term viability of the water district. Most of the analysis and data that’s been collected is as a result of our application — we’ve paid for all this work. Why haven’t you implemented procedures to actually understand your own water system?” 

“We’re quite satisfied with our water system the way it is, thank you,” said Eyles.  

“It’s your responsibility to do that work,” said Holman, “because it’s your project that’s creating incremental demand, and we want to make sure that we’re taking into account future growth in the service area. Staff should have made it clear that you have to do that work.” 

Fullbrook said the project — which received its development permit in February 2023 — encompasses land with water licences for both Fulford and Soule Creeks, and would proceed regardless of inclusion in the water district. 

“This decision is not going to stop this project from moving forward,” said Fullbrook, calling events “shameful” and a missed opportunity for the district, given his proposed infrastructure improvements. “We will move forward with our building permit, and we will build the project and house all the water on-site; we have the resources and licences to do that.” 

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