Oak Bay pitches staged sewer separation

Council inches toward remedying overflows in the area

Oak Bay plans to meet with the Minister of Environment as it inches toward sewer separation in Uplands.

Under the Municipal Wastewater Regulation, Oak Bay is required to separate the existing combined stormwater and sanitary sewer system in the Uplands subdivision. During heavy rainfall, the volume of water exceeds capacity of the system, sending overflows into the ocean at the Rutland and Humber pumping stations.

“I think we’ve made some positive steps forward. We’re gathering the required information that council needs to make an informed decision,” said Mayor Nils Jensen. “This is a complicated problem that requires a lot of information and a lot of thought.”

Jensen, municipal staff and residents of the Uplands neighbourhood met with MLA Andrew Weaver Tuesday morning for a “very positive meeting,” Jensen said.

“We spent about 45 minutes briefing our MLA and looking at alternatives. Really the focus was on how can we best protect our aquatic environment most effectively and most cost efficiently,” he said. “Staff will prepare a report as to what a staged project would look like and then the MLA, myself an others will meet with the Minister of Environment.”

Staff expect to have a report within the week and scheduling a meeting with BC Minister of Environment Mary Polack can take upwards of three weeks, Jensen said.

The staged approach followed discussion Monday of endorsing “partial separation” to remedy the environmental issues.

“What we’ll look at is a first stage at which point we hope to reduce the environmental impact as quickly as possible. That certainly seems to be the thrust now. If we can do that in stages over the next number of years and fix the environmental problem that’s something council will consider,” Jensen said.

That would achieve their two primary goals he said: “To fix the environmental issue and do it in a cost-effective way for all tax payers in Oak Bay.”

Weaver was unavailable for comment, but in an email, press secretary Mat Wright said “the meeting was very informative for us to get a briefing directly from the mayor and council on how they are moving ahead on the sewer pipe separation issue.”

Council inched in the right direction Monday night, approving a request for proposals for a geotechnical survey  to learn about the soil makeup, where pipes exist, how much rock there is and at what depths.

“It would give us better information in terms of the relative costs of going deeper into the ground with the new sewer,” Jensen said.

Staff will also prepare a report on how Oak Bay might go about a survey of residents who have easements on their land.

“It’s very important. In terms of the information which we’re going to be gathering on easements, that will certainly assist in understanding the real impact of re-using the easements for the new pipe,” Jensen said.

“We know there’s going to be quite a lot of impact on quite a lot of homes by reusing the easements. What we need to find out is the extent of that impact.”

Council will also consider its policy toward reinstatement of disturbed buildings, landscaping and other structures should easements be used.

“We do know that it will be disruptive and we’ll find out the extent of that. But people need to know what the municipality will do in reinstating these. Typically we do not do that,” Jensen said.

Last May, the district hired McElhanney Consulting Services, which developed six possible options to separate the sewer system. Option three features a shallow sanitary sewer system that would require all homes to have pumps. Council discussed removing that option from the discussion after hearing major resistance from residents, but opted to wait for the geotechnical information first.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” Jensen said. “I feel like we’re making good headway and balancing multiple interests.”

 

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