Whistler has its fingers crossed but it is not optimistic that senior government funding will come through next year to connect the last homes in Whistler to the sewage system. And so, for the first time, The Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) is starting to think about a Plan B.
Whistler has been denied five times already in grant submissions for the multi-million dollar project and the current funding assistance program, which Whistler has again applied to, is extensively oversubscribed.
"Staff has certainly... made a sincere effort to get external funding," said Michael Day, manager of environmental operations. "External funding is highly uncertain at this point."
But whereas previous council policy would end the discussion for any project at that point, Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden wants to keep all options open.
"My personal position is that, assuming that we have the interest of the landowners, the 39 people in the neighbourhood, that we move away from the position that the municipality currently has, and that is: we're not going forward with sewer on the west side road unless there's senior government involvement," she said.
Several cost sharing options were presented to council at the Dec. 18 meeting.
For example even if the municipality foots half the estimated $3.5 million bill, it could cost the 39 homeowners on Alta Lake Road more than $3,000 per year for 20 years to pay off their connection to the sewer.
Attempts to reach homeowners were not successful before deadline.
Before Whistler makes any move, council first wants to hear what those homeowners with septic fields and tanks have to say about the matter.
"We've got to do a whole consultation piece first because there will be some cost sharing with the... landowners," said Wilhelm-Morden, after the council meeting.
A technical report by wastewater consultants is due in the New Year.
Among other things, it will look at options for the connection on the west side of Whistler. Included in that analysis is whether it makes business sense to connect Rainbow Park to the sewer system.
Another option being considered by consultants is looking at the municipality supporting conversions to holding tanks to deal with leaking sewage.
A 2006 report identified nine "secondary treatment" systems along the road as having a higher degree of failure than conventional septic systems. In these cases the soil on the property and the neighbouring properties had elevated levels of indicator bacteria.
That same report concluded that while there was clear evidence of coliform presence in the soils, there was no evidence that the septic systems were causing elevated fecal coliform and E.coli in Alta Lake.
The BC Ministry of Environment also studied the lake and in October concluded that water quality was not a concern at this time.
"Staff is not presently in a position to support claims of impact to lake biology, nor of threats to public health or tourism, resulting from failed septic systems on Alta Lake Road," wrote Day in his report to council.
And yet, in Councillor Duane Jackson's mind, it is all about the lake. "I'm a bit concerned about the science," he said, adding that it's not just the coliform and the health of the lake, but also issues such as silt build up, the weeds, geese, all affecting the lake. "They're all having an impact on the quality of the experience," he said. "It's not about, in my mind, 39 property owners. It's about the crown jewel of the Whistler summer."
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