Searching for solutions to water system woes in Parksville/Nanoose Bay

Funding issues mean the system may have to be built in phases

With the hope of wished-for funding from senior governments fading, the proposed $37 million Englishman River Water Service project has to re-organize into phases, local politicians said this week.

The provincial ministry of health has mandated that all surface water collected by municipal water systems destined for homes and businesses must be treated by 2016. That has forced communities like Nanoose Bay and Parksville to upgrade their systems. The Englishman River Water Service (ERWS) board, along with Regional District of Nanaimo staff, had developed a plan for a $37 million system, but was expecting what used to be a traditional funding split of one-third each between the municipalities, the province and the federal government.

It became clear at the Union of B.C. Municipalities conference two weeks ago that kind of funding formula wasn’t going to happen.

“There is no way that ($37 million plan) can go ahead without funding,” said Joe Stanhope, the chair of both the RDN’s board of directors and the ERWS board. “Right now, staff is looking at phasing options, but it has to be affordable.”

“There’s no funding right now, but I guess the key words are ‘right now’. I think there will be funding in the future.”

Stanhope is confident the provincial government will come to the table with a funding plan, considering it was that body that changed the rules on treated water.

“I don’t think they will dump that big thing on us without any funding.”

Parksville taxpayers will pay the lion’s share of any new system’s cost — the city was scheduled to pay about $27 million of the $37 million previous plan. The topic produced comments from city councillors at their meeting Monday night.

Coun. Sue Powell said “the reception was very cool” from the province at the UBCM.

“I wasn’t very happy,” she said.

“We’re certainly not going to get the kind of money we need for the $37 million project,” said Coun. Marc Lefebvre, a member of the ERWS board and candidate for mayor in Parksville. “We’re going to have to look at other options.”

They City of Parksville was hoping to have a question on the Nov. 15 ballot, asking taxpayers to approve $9 million in borrowing for its part of the $37 million project. Without funding secured, Stanhope and city politicians are saying the issue will now be one for a new city council and RDN board to wade through in 2015.

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