Saturday, May 25, 2024
May 25, 2024

Maxwell plant referendum likely in October

Salt Spring’s largest water provider has a preliminary timeline for a new water treatment plant, according to officials, who have set a goal for completing the project at Maxwell Lake by the end of 2025. 

“It’s an optimistic timeline,” said North Salt Spring Waterworks District (NSSWD) operations manager Ryan Moray. “But it does outline essentially basic timelines, which could be influenced by a few contributing factors — such as the water master plan, or the comprehensive supply study.” 

Island Health has required completion of the new Maxwell Lake Dissolved Air Flotation (DAF) Treatment Plant by the end of next year, part of an effort to remove more of the organic matter that reacts with chlorine treatment to create trihalomethanes (THMs), such as chloroform and bromodichloromethane. While Health Canada has noted the health risks of THMs are far less than those from consuming water that has not been disinfected, they direct utilities — including NSSWD — to make every effort to keep THMs at the lowest levels possible, so long as they do so without compromising the effectiveness of disinfection. 

The Maxwell Lake DAF plant is expected to do just that, although the process toward completion is a long one. One of the larger considerations at the site thus far has been archaeology, according to Moray, who noted as a defined archeological area there was a permitting process required to make any changes. That application was submitted in November, he said, and the province has indicated a processing timeline of about six months. 

“So for the preliminary design phase, our timeline is [finishing that] about mid-May,” said Moray, “with the detailed design phase kind of going on right now in concert with the preliminary design.” 

Moray said there had been some planning made around potential “unknowns” such as unanticipated results of soil testing, or any archaeological discoveries that might necessarily bring delays — and while the consultant they were working with didn’t expect either, due diligence was part of the process.  

“And of course we’ve got our public engagement, and a referendum,” said Moray. “Nothing is going to be moving forward, in terms of construction phases, without having that referendum.” 

The timeline as it currently stands calls for public engagement beginning in June, running concurrent with detailed designs, legal surveys, archaeology and permitting, carrying through to a referendum in October. CAO Mark Boysen pointed out the referendum was a loan authorization process, and while the ratepayers would ultimately be responsible for paying it back, those dollars might not entirely come into district coffers via higher bills to water users. 

“The referendum is an authorization for us, from our ratepayers, to take out a loan,” said Boysen. “There’s other ways of paying off that loan; there’s reserve funds, it could be other one-time funding sources or possibly a continual [payoff] through our surpluses.” 

“The worst-case scenario, we’d have to pull the entire loan out, and the ratepayers would have to pay that over 25 years,” said financial officer Tammy Lannan. “But our hope is that we can pay for it with other funds.” 

Moray agreed, saying while ratepayers are a “big portion of that story” right now, staff would be looking at opportunities to keep direct costs to water users at a minimum. Trustees said they looked forward to hearing regular updates. 

“It will be a bit of a moving target,” said Moray. 

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