Questions swirl around Q.C. sewage plans

Council to host town-hall meeting this Thursday about the proposed sewage treatment plan

Sewage is a hot topic in Queen Charlotte.

One question people want answered before the Feb. 24 referendum on the village treatment plan is how can council be sure it has a good cost estimate for building a treatment plant at 4603 Martynuik Road, given that engineers never looked at that specific property and the plant would go high on a hill?

As one reader pointed out after the Observer listed the estimated cost of $8.6 million to build a plant on the hillside site, the Village of Queen Charlotte never got a feasibility study, a geotechnical study, nor a road-building assessment for that site.

Lori Wiedeman, chief administrative officer for the village, said it’s true the estimates are rough.

“Until you have a location selected, you can’t get super accurate estimates,” Wiedeman said.

“One of the challenges for the village is that it’s really difficult to get grant funding to do studies on property that you don’t own, or at least lease.”

READ MORE: Queen Charlotte to vote on future sewage treatment site

Queen Charlotte is the only village on Haida Gwaii that continues to pump raw sewage into the ocean, and it’s under Environment Canada orders to get started on a treatment plan.

On Feb. 24, the village will hold a referendum on council’s preferred plan — buying the large, $625,000 property on Martynuik Road and subdividing the lower part of it to help offset some of the very high cost for sewage treatment.

Based on general engineering reports done in 2010 and 2013, the village now estimates it would cost about $6.8 million to build a plant in the Smith Point area, $7.6 million in central Queen Charlotte, $9.4 million in Skidegate Landing East, or $8.6 million in Skidegate Landing West (the area that includes the 4603 Martynuik Road site council is proposing ). Connecting to the Skidegate sewage system is estimated to cost $14.1 million.

Such large infrastructure projects are typically co-funded by federal, provincial, and municipal governments, with each covering a third of the cost.

Wiedeman noted that staff bumped up all the treatment-plant estimates by 20 per cent, partly because they’re based on seven- and four-year old studies, but also to account for the fact that large infrastructure projects so often go over the original estimates.

But while the estimates may be ballpark, Wiedeman said the fact the proposed plant site is actually higher up a steep hill than the Skidegate Landing West area engineers previously considered isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker.

“We pump sewage uphill in town already,” she said. “It gets pumped all the time.”

Ben Greenough, superintendent of public works, estimated that a 10- to 15-horsepower pump could handle the height difference at 4603 Martynuik, though engineers would determine the exact size.

Building such a pump station with a backup generator would likely cost $350,000 to $400,000, Greenough found. While most pumps have a 25-year lifespan, Greenough noted that the village has several working pumps that are over 30 years old, thanks to its regular maintenance program.

Queen Charlotte council will host a town-hall style question and answer session from 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 23 in the Eric Ross Room at the community hall. Residents are invited to hear more about the proposal, voice concerns, and share ideas.

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