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Bowser residents protest marine sewage outfall plan

Veenhof and staff endures harsh criticisms at public information meeting
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Michael Briones photo Angry residents at the public information meeting at the Lighthouse Community Centre May 16 express their disappointment to the Regional District of Nanaimo board chair Bill Veenhof and staff on the marine outfall option of the Bowser Sewage Project.

More than 100 people showed up at the public information meeting on the proposed rezoning of two properties in Electoral Area H to permit construction of a wastewater treatment facility.

The Regional District of Nanaimo hosted the meeting at the Lighthouse Community Centre May 16 to collect input and feedback from residents about rezoning properties on Pitt Road and Shaughnessy Drive to allow a wastewater treatment plant, one of the three components of the $10.7-million Bowser Sewage Project. The other two are a sewer collection system and marine outfall for treated effluent.

However, a majority of the residents whose properties are not going to be hooking up to the Bowser sanitary sewer area used the occasion to protest the RDN’s plan to discharge treated wastewater into the Strait of Georgia. Some armed with signs and placards, they overwhelmingly told RDN chair and Area H director Bill Veenhof, “we don’t want you dumping sewage into the bay.”

Veenhof and staff faced a barrage of difficult questions and harsh criticisms during the question-and-answer period. One by one, residents conveyed disappointment and anger over the marine outfall option that they said would impact those who are not going to be involve in the sewage service. Only 107 parcels from the Bowser village centre will benefit from it. The property owners in the service area were the only ones consulted and took part in the petition process. Of those, 67 per cent voted in favour of the project.

The irate residents demanded the RDN explore a land disposal solution. Only one person that spoke at the meeting favoured the marine outfall and would not support effluent to be discharged on land as it would threaten the aquifer and region’s drinking water. Veenhof said there just not any suitable land available for ground disposal.

The wastewater treatment plant will be designed to eliminate the hazards to human health and the environment. It will be a secondary treatment facility with ultraviolet disinfection. Veenhof said the treatment plant effluent will be cleaner than provincial and federal regulatory standards. The pipe length of the outfall was also extended and will be 400 metres longer than the orginal length of 2,700 metres.

Area H Residents Association executive director Bryan Holyk told Veenhof he represents hundreds of his constituents “that you are not listening to.” Holyk called the RDN’s idea of a consultation process a “sham.”

“They know it. They designed it that way,” said Holyk. “They showed us a type of arrogance that shows they’ve lost sight of one important fact. We are the constituents and they work for us. I, for one, am tired of being ignored by the people we elected to work for us. What we’re seeing here tonight is a collective outrage of a community that realizes it has been misled, manipulated and duped by an out-of-touch local government which its intent to fast-track a sewage infrastructure project that will make Bowser yet another RDN sewage hub. It has serious, long-term consequences to ocean ecology and our reputation here as responsible citizens.”

Holyk said he and hundreds of his members are against the rezoning.

Joyce McLelland said she is not opposed to the project but is against the marine outfall. She asked who gets to vote on the rezoning. Veenhof replied the RDN board does.

“So the answer is we don’t get to vote on the rezoning,” McLelland asked. “So being here is just for show.”

Veenhof said that he understands that they don’t agree with the marine outfall but stated there are those who are in favour of it. Residents asked where they were and why they were not in the meeting.

The project was awarded $7.6 million from the Clean Water and Wastewater fund in March, 2017, with the condition that the sewer system be in place by March 31, 2019.

The balance of the cost will be paid for by four developers through advance development cost charges totalling $2.6 million for future projects. The rest would be shouldered by residents in the service area through taxation.

Veenhof said all the input and feedback they’ve received will be presented to the RDN board, which will then vote on the rezoning. He indicated that the chosen properties were the only ones they found suitable on which to build a wastewater treatment plant.

Send story tips to: michael.briones@pqbnews.com

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Michael Briones photo Residents carried posters and signs at the public information meeting at the Lighthouse Community Centre May 16 protesting the Regional District of Nanaimo’s marine outfall option of the Bowser Sewage Project.
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Michael Briones

About the Author: Michael Briones

I rejoined the PQB News team in April 2017 from the Comox Valley Echo, having previously covered sports for The NEWS in 1997.
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