Handful of west-side homes to get sewer service 

Public consultation to begin for larger project

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Michael Blaxland has rallied five homeowners on Alta Lake Road to hook up to the sewer line in advance of the potential $2.3 million project for the rest of the road.

"It's going to take some time to work through the political process of consultation (for the larger project) and time is something I don't have," explained Blaxland this week as the municipality's latest numbers for the long-awaited project were released to council.

Blaxland and his girlfriend Bea Searle are building a home on the lake and rather than pay $30,000 for a septic holding tank, as well as $200-300 per month to flush it out, they would prefer to pay to hook into the municipal system. There are 37 homes on the west side of Alta Lake without sewer connection — the only ones in the valley without it.

"It would still be cheaper than the septic tank," he said.

Council has agreed to advance the five-home project at the southern end of the road, sharing the costs 50/50 with the homeowners, as it begins public consultation with the latest numbers for the rest of the road. Staff will be drafting a servicing agreement for the sub-project and will return to council for approval.

The larger project will take more time.

Staff is recommending the cheapest option for the larger project — it comes with a $2.3 million capital cost.

To help pay for it, the 37 homeowners on Alta Lake Road would foot a $1 million bill, which translates to about $1,800 a year each for 20 years or a $28,000 per household cost. That's down 35 per cent from the previous estimated numbers, as the municipality worked to reduce expenditures, removing the cost of hooking up the hostel site and Rainbow Park from the portion to be split with the homeowners. It also removed more than $300,000 in paving costs.

As expected, reaction on the road this week was mixed.

"(Municipal staff) has gone to great lengths to reduce costs to individual homeowners by paying for the hostel and Rainbow Park sites separately, but they of course do not show these public costs," said Paul Mathews. "Still a very expensive proposition in my opinion."

Mathews, whose home is just 15 years old, has a fully functioning septic field.

"I don't see the smoking gun," he added, questioning why the project has to go ahead.

Studies of Alta Lake have not produced evidence that the septic fields are leaking sewage and causing lake damage.

Sheila Sherkat, who is part of the sub-project, said she was interested in the latest project numbers.

Even though her septic system is fully operational, she questions its long-term viability.

"As the system gets older, you don't know," she said.

"We're waiting to find out more about the costs... We don't want to pay a lot of money."

Municipal general manager of infrastructure services Joe Paul wasn't sure of the exact costs per household for the sub-project, but said it would be comparable the cost per homeowner for the larger project.

"We really don't have... bulletproof estimates," he said.

Paul explained that the project has been on the municipal radar screen for some time. There were several applications over the years for senior levels of government funding, to no avail.

The latest figures come at council's behest. Staff looked at seven options, ranging from business as usual to building the sewer line by the CN Rail right of way. The preferred option follows the road itself.

"It's because the alignment is simplified," explained Paul. "Putting a sewer in a roadway is cheap."It also eliminates CN negotiations.

The 20-year cost of ownership of the project for the preferred road option comes in at $4.1 million. The 20-year cost for providing holding tanks to all residents is $5.1 million.

Councillor Duane Jackson praised staff at the council meeting for looking at the total cost approach, saying it was a smart way of looking at the costs over time.

Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said Whistler has been "dithering," waiting for senior levels of government to come to the table.

"It seems to me that this really is the right thing to do," she said, of the preferred option.

She asked Paul about next steps and learned that there could be an initial open house to kick off the public consultation in November. Residents are also able to file a counter-petition, which says the borrowing bylaw cannot move ahead if the petition is signed by five per cent of the electors in the area.

The last project like this was for the Emerald sewer, which was completed in 2004. Like that project, the municipality is proposing to pay for any lift stations that are needed on properties.

"We need to get on with this," said the mayor.

"It would be great to see this done in my lifetime."



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