The federal and provincial governments announced Monday they will contribute $3 million each in taxpayer money to the $24 million plan to upgrade the Englishman River Water Service.
Residents of Parksville will be asked in a referendum to support approximately $5.5 million in borrowing for that city’s part of the bill and construction on the river intake — the first step of the process — will likely not start until May or June of next year.
“The first phase of this project will provide a safe and adequate supply of water and ensure a high quality of life and economic growth while sustaining a healthy river system and enhancements to the environment,” Parksville Mayor Marc Lefebvre said Monday morning at a city hall news conference.
“Through the New Building Canada Plan’s Small Communities Fund, we are investing in priority infrastructure projects that have a positive and lasting impact on the quality of life of British Columbia’s residents while helping create jobs and economic growth,” said John Duncan, Minister of State and MP for Vancouver Island North.
“The much-loved Englishmen River flows through the heart and soul of this community and that will continue with the significant design considerations to maintain the joy it brings to residents’ and visitors’ and to protect its aquatic habitat,” said Parksville-Qualicum MLA Michelle Stilwell.
“This intake and treatment plant project will allow us to protect and enhance our water while improving fish habitat and domestic water supply,” said Regional District of Nanaimo Chair Joe Stanhope.
After the senior government contributions, the $18 million needed to complete the first phase of the upgrades will be split 75-25 by Parksville and the RDN (Nanoose Bay), respectively.
It wasn’t too long ago most projects like this were funded in a one-third-one-third-one third formula, with taxpayer money coming from the federal, provincial and local governments.
“We developed a backup plan anticipating that kind of eventuality,” said Lefebvre. “It is what it is.”
“The demands across the country for infrastructure renewal are just humongous,” said Duncan. “The federal contribution in 2003 was $571 million across the country, this year it will be $5 billion.”
Duncan also hinted the water project here could see more grant money from the federal government.
“There may be future commitments,” he said. “I wouldn’t write it off.”
“We have to be happy with what we have,” said Stanhope. “But let’s not rule out future grants. We will keep pushing for access to grants.”
Lefebvre made note of the current water restrictions in the region and the need both now and in the future for water. It’s been one of the driest years on record in Parksville Qualicum Beach and the forecast is calling for more dry conditions and temperatures hovering around 30 degrees.
“Let’s look at the weather today,” said Lefebvre. “It (the pressure on water systems) is going to increase even as we speak. There are days when I don’t sleep very well.”
Stanhope spoke about how the 1999 constriction of the Arrowsmith Dam, the key part of any water system involving the Englishman River, has been a boon to fish stocks by regulating and improving the flow of the river.
“In the 1940s when I was a kid, you could walk across the Englishman River in the summer time,” said Stanhope.
According to a federal government news release, of the 21 projects approved for funding in British Columbia so far through the federal government’s Small Communities Fund, 11 are drinking water projects, nine are wastewater projects and one is a brownfield remediation project.
The release also said additional projects are under review and could also soon be approved.