Multi-million dollar sewer project for Whistler homes 'smells bad' 

Municipality moving ahead without senior government funding

click to enlarge ALTA LAKE Road resident Paul Mathews stands on the provincially approved septic field behind his house.
  • ALTA LAKE Road resident Paul Mathews stands on the provincially approved septic field behind his house.

The municipality's $3.5-million sewer project on Alta Lake Road to hook up the last 32 homes to the sewer system doesn't pass the "sniff test," according to homeowner Paul Mathews.

"This has really got a bad smell to it," said Mathews, all puns intended. "I thought we had killed it. I thought we had killed this damn thing."

"This damn thing" is the relentless push for more than a decade to hook up the west-side homes in Whistler to the municipal sewer system. They are the last remaining homes in the valley not on the public sewer system.

The municipality's latest plan is an abrupt departure from previous municipal plans, which have always called on other levels of government to come to the table with a good chunk of the infrastructure funding, much like the Emerald Estates sewer project.

Despite repeated attempts to get funding from senior levels of government over the years, the money has never panned out.

And so, the latest plan on the table, presented to council Tuesday night, Aug.11, calls on the municipality to move ahead alone with the "shallow road" alignment — the cheapest way to link in to the system. The portion to connect the homes is $2.4 million. But when the infrastructure at Rainbow Park and the municipally owned old hostel site, The Point is added in, as well as the repaving, the total project cost rises to $3.5 million.

Homeowners will each be asked to kick in $12,000 for a total contribution of $384,000. That amount is greatly reduced from past proposals, some of which have been as high as $60,000 per home owner, and is closer to the $8,000 fee Emerald owners were asked to pay to connect.

The municipality sees the reduced cost sharing "as an incentive to obtain complete support for this project."

But it's not that easy.

"If I was keen to spent $12,000 I'd just go buy a Lotto ticket," said resident Roger McCarthy, who only finished building a house on the road in recent years complete with a new holding tank.

"My system works just fine... So do I want to go spend $12,000 just for the sake of it? No."

But, having been on council last term, he knows well the challenges of this project.

In addition to the $12,000 fee, there is also a $3,700 connection fee and owners are also responsible for work on their own property. And therein lies another challenge. Some lots could be very expensive.

"It would vary very widely depending on which property," said Michael Day, municipal utilities group manager.

The ones with holding tanks close to the railway will be much more expensive than those tanks closer to the road.

That's one of the reasons why the municipality is considering a two-year deadline for homeowners to connect, giving them time to organize financing, and potentially engineering as well.

And what about those homeowners who can't afford the extra $12,000, and more?

There are pensioners who live on the road, said Mathews.

"None of it makes any sense at all," he added bluntly, saying that by his calculations most of the homes on the road have working septic tanks and fields, save perhaps two, and nothing is causing damage to Alta Lake.

"They've been testing for 15 years and they've found nothing," he said. "Quite probably, the reason they never get the grant is that there's no problem."

Municipal staff recognizes there is little firm evidence of environmental damage to the lake but "these systems may fail in the future potentially causing damage to the Alta Lake system at that future time," stated the staff report to council.

And there is the principle of the matter too.

The report states: "It is nonetheless important to proceed with this project, and provide modern sanitary sewers to the last remaining neighbourhood without them."

Or, as Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said after Tuesday's meeting: "It is the right thing to do."

Whistler has been very diligent in turning over every stone to get funding; it's just not going to happen. Having homes still on septic tanks and fields, she said, has always been a "bit of an embarrassment."

Providing sewer to Alta Lake Road was on Wilhelm-Morden's radar when she ran for the mayor's office four years ago.

Her first council, which was able to solve so many problems from pay parking to holding the line on tax, was unable to find a resolution to the issue.

"Here we are finally at a solution for the remaining 32 property owners," she said, noting that the cost is far less than ever proposed.

"I'm certainly hopeful that they will be positive and receptive to the idea."

The majority of the municipal funding — $1.9 million — will come from the sewer reserve fund, money that has been set aside for sewer projects.

The municipality will be reaching out to Alta Lake homeowners about the project.



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