(Westerly file photo)

Tofino still pumping raw sewage into ocean, hopes to have treatment plan soon

Greater Victoria’s facility leaves Tofino as Vancouver Island’s last town discharging raw sewage.

With Greater Victoria’s new $775 million sewage plant officially coming online last month, Tofino now carries the unfortunate distinction of being the only community on Vancouver Island to discharge raw sewage into the ocean.

Tofino hopes that can change soon.

The West Coast resort destination plans to break ground on a wastewater treatment plant this fall, though what the facility will look like and how much it will cost are still being flushed out.

Both Tofino and Victoria were given a deadline of Dec. 31, 2020, to treat their sewage. Tofino’s CAO Bob MacPherson said the arrival of Victoria’s facility doesn’t make Tofino’s pursuit any more urgent.

“This is urgent regardless of what’s happening down-Island. This is a priority for council to get done in a responsible way and that’s what we’re working toward,” MacPherson told the Westerly News. “One positive thing about Victoria being up and operating now is some of the expertise that was committed to making the Victoria project happen may have a little bit of time available to work with Tofino and help us find a way through this project.”

READ MORE: Victoria no longer flushes raw sewage into ocean after area opens treatment plant

READ MORE: Tofino will fail to meet five-year sewage treatment deadline

Tofino seemed to have a solid path towards starting construction back in 2019 when it received $40 million in funding from the provincial and federal governments. The district’s consultants had estimated that the facility Tofino had mapped out would cost $54 million and the town’s municipal council approved borrowing the remaining $14 million to cover the cost.

That cost estimate proved woefully inaccurate however as the two bids the district received to build the project came in over $84 million, forcing Tofino back to the drawing board to see if more funding could be found, or a cheaper facility could be built.

MacPherson said the district brought in a procurement advisor who specializes in challenging capital projects and has expertise in finding realistic and significant savings.

“We weren’t talking about, ‘Can we trim a million dollars off?’ It’s, ‘Can we trim ten or tens of millions of dollars off the project,’” MacPherson said. “The feedback that we got through that process was, ‘Yes we can.’”

Trusting that procurement advisor’s advice to get through a situation muddied by a significantly undervalued cost estimate presented by another consultant could raise local eyebrows, but MacPherson said the district needs to continue to put trust in available expertise.

“I don’t want to throw shade on any consultants at all. I think everyone has given this their absolute best effort and have provided us with good advice,” he said. “While the advice and feedback that we get has been imperfect, I think we need to take the lessons that we’ve all learned, consultants and (district) staff, and take that information and try to fold it into the decisions that we’re making in the future quite skillfully.”

He said the district reached out to the provincial government prior to October’s election to suggest that Tofino would likely still need more funding for the project, but wanted to see how far it could bring the project’s cost down before making that ask.

“We said to the province, ‘We’re going to need more money. We don’t know how much more, but we want to hit the pause button on how much more funding we need and we want to do what we think is responsible for the universal taxpayer and see if there’s a way that we could deliver the same results through different methods,’” he said.

He said the procurement advisor’s work has largely wrapped up and the district is now working with engineers and construction companies to hammer out the sweet spot between the right project and the right price, adding the district needs to avoid cutting so much of the cost that it winds up with a lemon.

“You can buy a really cheap car, but if you’re doing lots of maintenance on it every month and it’s really inefficient with fuel, you didn’t really save any money on buying a cheap car,” he said. “It would be really easy to knock all kinds of stuff off the bottom from this project that would result in a higher operating cost that the district would have to endure for the next 60 years.”

He suggested the operating costs need to be kept in check because while the district is still holding $40 million in grant funding, the operating costs will be brunted by local taxpayers. He said a cost estimate for the revised project is not yet known, noting the town’s council has approved borrowing up to $16 million for the project and is unwilling to go any higher.

“Even if it was lawful to borrow, it’s just not something that Tofino would be able to afford. It would be a tremendous burden on taxpayers in this little municipality,” he said.

He said the district hopes to break ground this fall, noting the facility is expected to take roughly two years to complete.

Despite the district blowing past its Dec. 31, 2020, deadline to treat its sewage, MacPherson said the district has been in fluid conversations with the provincial and federal governments and believes there will be no penalties as long as work is ongoing.

“What we are given to believe is that as long as we are working to advance the ball on this, there will be understanding,” he said. “If we had decided that we’re not doing this and we’re not advancing the ball, I think we’d be hearing a different response than we’ve heard.”

For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.



andrew.bailey@westerlynews.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Tofino,

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

(File photo)
PQB crime report: Thieves pilfer trailer, camera, tools, cigarettes and cleaning supplies

Parksville, Nanoose Bay feature prominently among 226 complaints to Oceanside RCMP

Mary Ellen Campbell, president of the Parksville Museum, visits the PQB News/VI Free Daily studio. (Peter McCully photo)
PQBeat: A chat with Parksville Museum president Mary Ellen Campbell

Podcast: Talk includes plans for 2021, dealing with COVID-19 and more

Eaglecrest Golf Club plans to operate as a nine-hole course starting April 1. (Eaglecrest Facebook photo)
Eaglecrest Golf Club in Qualicum Beach still plans to have course layout reduced to 9 holes

Town council continues to negotiate lease for 18-hole operation

A rendering of a proposed housing development located across from the beachfront in Qualicum Beach. (Submitted photo)
Multi-residential development planned across from Qualicum Beach waterfront

Residents raise variety of concerns about project

Proprietor of Sweet Truck, Morgan Ray, as she hands off her baked goods to a customer. (Photo courtesy of Avrinder Dhillon Photography)
COVID-19: Qualicum Beach baker eyes move back from food truck to bricks and mortar

Storefront offers more stability amid growth in sales: Ray

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. The federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, start with the vaccination of police officers in internal police vaccination centers. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
B.C. officials to unveil new details of COVID vaccination plan Monday

Seniors and health-care workers who haven’t gotten their shot are next on the list

A cross-country skier glides along the banks of the Ottawa River in Ottawa on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. Canadians across the country can look forward to a mild spring peppered with the odd winter flashback throughout the first part of the season, according to predictions from one prominent national forecaster. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Mild spring with some wintry blasts predicted for most of Canada: Weather Network

Weather Network is forecasting a slower than average start to spring in British Columbia

AstraZeneca’s vaccines are ready for use at the vaccination center in Apolda, Germany, Sunday, Feb.28, 2021. (Michael Reichel/dpa via AP)
Feds hoping for AstraZeneca shots this week as Pfizer-BioNTech prepare next delivery

The first of those doses could start to arrive in Canada as early as Wednesday

A boat caught fire in Ladysmith Harbour on Saturday morning. (Photo submitted)
Search underway for missing woman after boat catches fire in Ladysmith harbour

A large boat caught fire on the morning of Saturday, Feb. 27

An investigation is underway after a man was shot and killed by Tofino RCMP in Opitsaht. (Black Press Media file photo)
Man shot and killed by RCMP near Tofino, police watchdog investigating

Investigation underway by Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia.

Lone orca from a pod that made its way north from Georgia Strait and into Discovery Passage on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. Photo by Ella Smiley/<a href="https://www.facebook.com/Comoxvalleywildlifesightings/?ref=page_internal" target="_blank">Comox Valley Wildlife Sightings </a>
Island wildlife viewers thrilled by close view of passing Orca pod

Group gives wildlife photographers a classic opportunity to view them off Campbell River shoreline

B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Tuesday December 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s compromise on in-person worship at three churches called ‘absolutely unacceptable’

Would allow outdoor services of 25 or less by Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack churches

Baldy Mountain Resort was shut down on Saturday after a fatal workplace accident. (Baldy Mountain picture)

Most Read