A call for more options for Parksville’s water treatment plant

The public gallery was packed with people for last week's Parksville city council meeting

Parksville residents want their city council to seek less expensive options to the water treatment and storage proposal currently on the table.

That demand was made clear last week when the gallery was packed for a council meeting with people in support of a presentation by Qualicum Beach resident Trevor Wicks.

Later in the meeting, Coun. Leanne Salter proposed an unclear, rambling motion that asked for council to support a request demanding the Englishman River Water Service (ERWS) come up with more options than the current, $37 million plan.

“Let’s get plan B, C and D going,” Salter said as part of her motion, which was eventually defeated 6-1. “We need to investigate and we need to come up with other options.”

“A number of things brought up by Mr. Wicks tonight were considered,” said Mayor Marc Lefebvre, a member of the ERWS board for the past three years. “All alternatives have been looked at. These things take a long time.”

Salter made reference to the standing-room-only crowd at the meeting, suggesting the public is facing “stonewalling” from council, staff and/or the ERWS.

“This is not the leadership they are expecting,” said Salter. “I don’t think dismissing what they have to say is a way to go.”

Late last year in one of this council’s first meetings after the civic election, Coun. Kirk Oates successfully pitched a motion for the city to have a town-hall-style meeting about the situation. Oates made the motion but it was something most all candidates pitched during the election campaign. The mayor cancelled that meeting when the Department of Fisheries and Oceans expressed concerns about the intake location in the ERWS plans, and when answers about grants from senior governments were not forthcoming.

At its meeting last week, council officially rescinded the motion for the town-hall meeting and set a date (May 25) for another town-hall meeting.

Wicks’ presentation explored the use of storage ponds at elevation above the city, taking advantage of the natural overflow of the Englishman River at certain times of the year. Wells dug near the ponds could supply the city with the water it needs, with gravity propelling the water through pipes to the community.

“There’s no cost to moving the water to the community,” he said.

When questioned about his credentials by Coun. Al Greir, Wicks said he had a “masters in practicality and PHD in common sense.” He also said he had 60 years of interest and experience with water systems.

Wicks also raised the alarm about the city’s Springwood-area acquifer, where he said groundwater levels have dropped 30 feet in the last 20 years.

Wicks said his goal was to get people thinking about options other than what the ERWS is proposing and he didn’t believe his was necessarily the definitive option.

“I hope there are many more concepts that come out,” he said. “All I’m doing is throwing out a concept to start the discussion.”

Oates asked Wicks if he believed his concept would pass muster with the DFO and governmental environment guidelines and asked how Wicks could claim his concept would not harm the environment if experts haven’t investigated it yet.

“I find your question a little bit insulting,” said Wicks. “I’m just opening the door to discussion.”

There were also questions and comments from the gallery and council table about the cost and effectiveness of the ERWS. Staff could not provide the public or council with an exact figure related to what the ERWS has already spent in taxpayers dollars in its five-year existence, but the $5 million figure was tossed about often and went unchallenged.

“I think the ERWS should be considered history,” said Wicks.

Coun. Sue Powell disagreed.

“To say we have spent five years and $5 million and came up with nothing is an unfair comment,” said Powell. “You make it sound like we have not done our due diligence and we have done it behind closed doors.”

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