Last Friday the Star/Journal interviewed District of Barriere Mayor Virginia Smith for an update on construction of the new wastewater system.
S/J: Who originally approved the sewer system project for Barriere?
Mayor: Council approved and submitted a grant application for this project under the Green Innovative Fund which is a 100 per cent project funded grant. We were successful with the application and were granted $6.7 million to complete the project. We did this because we were very aware that there are places in the municipality that have difficulties with their septic fields, and under Interior Health regulations they cannot expand their current system enough to be approved. Any septic system that fails today has to be replaced by a two tank system that requires much more space. Septic fields cannot have density of population; for instance, a townhouse requires sewer. Without sewer the growth of a community is restricted.
S/J: Why was the decision to do this project not taken to the citizens for approval?
Mayor: Because it was a grant, and the District didn’t have to borrow money for the project. When we sent the wastewater project out to tender it came back a lot more expensive than we had initially expected, so we had to modify the scope to stay within the grant.
When we did go to referendum it was to borrow the funds to replace water lines down Barriere Town Road as we were putting sewer lines in at the same time. With the sewer lines on the west side and water lines on the across the road we would have had to cut across 30 some odd times. It made sense to do the water lines while the roads were dug up for the sewer installation. When the referendum failed, council decided not to install the sewer lines down Barriere Town Road to avoid any problems with the aging water pipes in that area. We expanded the sewer lines to some other areas instead. It is a great disappointment to me that Barriere Town Road did not get done due to just concerns about the aging water pipes.
S/J: We understand that the district added additional areas after the project was started?
Mayor: The district took the opportunity while some areas were dug up to address water lines that needed to be repaired. For instance, a surging problem in a water line was repaired and has recently been confirmed as fixed after hydrant testing.
S/J: Who makes the on-site decisions for the project.
Mayor: We have an engineer that we hired from TRUE Engineering. They engineered the piping, lift stations, etc. They are the ones who drew up the drawings for the contractor which is LNB. LNB was the low bidder when it went out to tender.
S/J: Many tax payers are concerned that the wastewater system project cannot possibly still be on budget now that it has been three years under construction and still not completed. Why has the project taken so long?
Mayor: The shut down for over three months due to the finding of a lithic chip in one of the areas being excavated created standby charges of $140,000 from LNB.
S/J: So how can you not be over budget?
Mayor: As of today the money we have spent over the $6.7 million grant is $120,511.39 which is due to having to pay the $140,000 to LNB because of the lithic chip shutdown for over three months.
Without that cost we would actually be under the grant budget.
To cover the extra, we pulled out a few projects and paid the overrun from Roads and Water.
In addition, but not included in the $6.7 million grant was an extra $130,000 of additional costs because of the lithic chip, but this was not related to the grant. For instance, it cost $60,000 for an archeologist to be on site, then digging, etc. We paid the $130,000 out of the district Gas Tax account.
S/J: Some citizens are under the impression that the district has recently borrowed money from the Thompson Nicola Regional District (TNRD) to pay the interest on money already borrowed. Is this true?
Mayor: Absolutely not! However, the TNRD did put some money into the septage receiving plant because the TNRD septage pits closed with their landfills.
The TNRD have contributed to the cost of the septage receiving station as some septage, such as from pumped septic tanks, will be coming from outside the district of Barriere.
S/J: The wastewater treatment plant is still not completed. Why?
Mayor: There have been so many glitches. The treatment plant is called a design construct. There is no set of blue prints to follow. You have a basic outline and a fixed price on the project, but it is designed as you go because this is new technology. Eco Tech is our contractor for this.
We did have huge issues with a sub-contractor to complete his contract. We ended up with that part of the job shut down for a period of time.
Now the Eco Tech people are doing it themselves and they have hired welders and fabricators who are working directly under Eco Tech to finish it.
I do have to say that what you see from the outside hides all of the things that are taking place on the inside. It may look like nothing is happening but things are progressing. Some of these things are very technical and complex and take time.
The glazing is underway [glass is going on the greenhouse] now, but the septage receiving plant can’t go online until the wastewater treatment plant is ready.
S/J: What about the homeowners along the new sewer lines, do they have to connect or can they continue to use their septic systems?
Mayor: If people have an existing septic system that meets the Criteria For Exemption From Mandatory Connection (which can be found on the District of Barriere’s website or can be picked up at the office) they do not have to hook up. But they do have to have it inspected every five years to be found in good working order. If a septic system fails, the connection to the municipal system immediately becomes mandatory.
S/J: What are the charges for homeowners to connect to the sewer system?
Mayor: All permits and inspections for hook up are at no charge from the district. We have provided four telephone numbers of local contractors that people can contact for estimates on the costs involved. The contractors all know the requirements. People can choose their own contractor, local or from out of the area. They can even do it themselves.
S/J: Can a homeowner do the whole job from house to hooking up into the sewer line?
Mayor: Yes they can. They can dig their own trench, lay the pipe, and hook up into the sewer line so long as they meet the plumbing code and requirements. However, they must notify the district that they are going to do this, they will need the correct information, and they will have to have their connection to the sewer line inspected by the district at time of hook up.
S/J: We understand that those hooking into the sewer line will have the added cost of deactivating their septic tanks?
Mayor: Yes, the homeowner is responsible for deactivation of their septic tank. Old septic tanks can leak into the ground water of the area. Before the septic tank is filled in though they must call the district office. I’m sure it would be cheaper to do the septic tank deactivation at the same time as the homeowner is hooking up to the sewer line when a contractor or equipment is already on site.
S/J: Once homes are hooked into the sewer line is their a fee for usage?
Mayor: Yes, a monthly fee will be charged once sewer is up and running. It will be a monthly utility fee just like water, garbage, lights. For example, the Riverwalk subdivision sewer system charges homeowners $70 per month. Sewer does increase the value of a home.
S/J: The new restaurant in the downtown core has their septic system pumped regularly, does the district cover this cost?
Mayor: No we do not.
S/J: Some homeowners in the areas where the wastewater system excavation took place have said they experienced warped flooring, plaster cracks and even broken pipes. Are you aware of this?
Mayor: I am not aware of that. If people have concerns they should call the district office and speak to Colleen Hannigan our CAO.
S/J: We’ve heard other homeowners complain that their water meters are leaking. Is not the contractor who installed them or the district responsible for the quality of workmanship on the installations?
Mayor: If people are having issues about their water meters they should call the district and speak with our CAO.
The district welcomes people coming in and asking questions or attending our council meetings. We look forward to being able to work with our citizens.
As the mayor I have an open office every Tuesday, and there is no judgement. If people don’t voice their concerns, how can we take care of them?
Members of the public are welcome to attend our next council meeting on Monday, Nov. 2, at 7 p.m.