Sewer hopes down the drain 

Households still waiting for sewer hook up

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The provincial and federal governments have turned down an infrastructure grant application that would have helped connect the last Whistler residents to the municipal sewer system.

The letter, sent to the municipality about two weeks ago, outlined the infrastructure grant application was not approved for the west side of Alta Lake, leaving almost 40 homes as well as Rainbow Park and the Whistler Hostel still on septic tanks and septic fields.

“(The project) is subject to receiving funding from senior government,” explained Brian Barnett, general manager of engineering and public works.

The lack of funding means residents such as Jill Jacques will have to wait at least one more year for the sewer. Jacques has already been waiting for her sewer hook up for 12 years, ever since she bought her lot on what was then called Westside Road, now known as Alta Lake Road.

At that time she was told the sewers would be forthcoming and even considered holding off on the construction of her home so that she would not have to pay out $25,000 for a septic holding tank.

“We almost waited to do our build to try and save the $25,000 required to buy the holding tank,” said Jacques. “We decided to go ahead and from there we kept making inquiries about when it was coming, but we have no idea.”

Jacques, along with several other homeowners in the area, have been lobbying the Resort Municipality of Whistler for the hookup.   They have been told that the RMOW is waiting for funding to help pay for the multi-million dollar project.

“There seems to not be the impetus because there are not very many people living there,” said Jacques.

Two years ago the municipality received a sizeable grant of roughly $4 million to help offset the costs of hooking up Emerald Estates properties to the sewer system. That project cost about $10 million. Emerald residents and the municipality equally split the remaining cost of the project, leaving each household with approximately a $6,000 tab.

Though Jacques knows a sewer hook up will cost her money, she’s willing to shell out. In the long run, she believes it will be cheaper.

Residents without sewer have to get their septic tanks pumped regularly. Jacques said it costs her $160 each time the truck comes. When she had her family of five living at the home the tank had to be pumped every two to three weeks.

“It’s extremely expensive,” she said. “The holding tank collects every drop of clean or dirty water that comes out of your taps.”

That means residents with holding tanks have to be extra careful about how much goes down their drains.

Jacques said she turns her taps off when brushing her teeth. She reuses any boiled water in the kettle to water her plants.

Barnett agrees that’s one of the major drawbacks for residents on septic tanks.

“There’s nothing wrong with it other than it tends to cost more money for the homeowners,” he said. “It’s hard for them to have the luxury of long hot showers… because they’re forced (to take) conservation measures, which can be uncomfortable for the household.”

Barnett said it’s also inefficient in that trucks have to be sent out to pump tanks on a regular basis.

“It’s a lot more effective for long term planning to have the sewer collection system,” he said.

Jacques said she was also concerned about the septic tanks and fields leaking into the environment and damaging ecosystems in Alta Lake.

Barnett said the municipality has done tests on the water and nothing has been linked to leaking septic systems on Alta Lake Road.

“We’ve looked and we haven’t documented or found any correlation between leaking septic fields or poorly functioning septic fields and water quality,” he said.

The westside sewer was identified as a project in 1992 but has been rescheduled and re-budgeted over the years.

The project was estimated to cost $2.7 million in 2004. With rising construction costs that budget has risen to $3.25 million.

As with the Emerald project the municipality is proposing a 50/50 cost sharing between the RMOW and the residents. Any provincial grant would be used to lessen the cost for both parties.

Barnett said he was not surprised Infrastructure Canada turned down the grant. It is not uncommon, he said, for municipalities to apply more than once before funding is approved. This was the first time Whistler has applied to Infrastructure Canada for an infrastructure grant for Alta Lake Road. Barnett said they would reapply.

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