A group of Big Eddy residents is forming a committee in order to push the city to permit development in their neighbourhood while the city grapples with issues with the Big Eddy Waterworks.
And they say they’re willing to advocate for separation if city hall doesn’t address their concerns.
“The goal of the committee is to get the city to get moving and in the meantime, while they’re moving, is to let us build,” said George Buhler. “If they don’t want to do that, allow us to separate.”
Buhler, along with Vince Sessa, the owner of the Big Eddy Market, and Chuck Ferguson, the owner of the Big Eddy Pub, attended a council meeting last Tueday, Sept. 9, where the waterworks was a topic of discussion.
The state of the Big Eddy Waterworks has emerged arguably the biggest infrastructure issues facing the city after Interior Health raised concerns about the state of the independent water system last year.
The concerns forced the Revelstoke School District to put plans on hold to sub-divide and sell off the old Big Eddy school site. It’s also caused delays to Sessa’s development plans for the Big Eddy Market.
The developments were delayed because water flows aren’t strong enough for commercial fire protection, as mandated in city bylaws.
Last week, a letter to the city from Interior Health was provided to local media. The letter by Rob Fleming, an environmental health officer with IH, was addressed to assistant city planner Chis Selvig. It is dated Dec. 20, 2013, and was discussed during the closed-door portion of council earlier this year on Feb. 25.
The letter lays out the concerns with the long-term sustainability of the waterworks.
“There is insufficient information on the current infrastructure assets and capacity in regards to peak daily demands and maximum production,” wrote Fleming. “The infrastructure is aging and the two production wells are over 33 years old with no long term plan for replacing vital infrastructure. In addition the BEW has conducted unapproved upgrades and repairs of the distribution system in the past.”
The letter also questions the waterworks’ financial stability, saying it is in a poor position to fund upgrades and emergency repairs. Rates are too low compared to similar-sized utilities and there is no fund in place to deal with long-term planning and to remain compliant with the Drinking Water Protection Act & Regulation.
“Based on the above, I cannot support further development within the Big Eddy subdivision at this time,” concludes Fleming. “Additional information from Big Eddy Waterworks regarding the state and capacity of their infrastructure and finances is required to ensure the water system is equipped to provide clean, safe, reliable tap water over the long term.”
The letter cause a brief furor at council last week when councillor Tony Scarcella pulled it out during the discussion and asked why council wasn’t informed about its existence. It turns out, council had been made aware of the letter in February at a meeting Scarcella attended.
According to the minutes of that meeting, which were released to the media on Thursday, Mayor David Raven raised the possibility of the city acquiring the Big Eddy Waterworks.
Also on Thursday, a special council meeting was called for Tuesday, Sept. 16, where the waterworks was set to be on the agenda. A report by engineering director Mike Thomas laid out the recent events surrounding the waterworks and some of the history of the problem going back to April 2013 when Interior Health sent a referral letter regarding the school district’s subdivision application.
The report, which can be read below, says Thomas met with representatives from Interior Health and the BEW on Feb. 18 in order to discuss future options for the waterworks. It also says city interference with the BEW would have been inappropriate without a request from the board of the BEW.
The city’s life was made easier late last month when a letter came from the waterworks asking to begin discussions on a takeover by the city. The waterworks is currently undertaking a $50,000 water quality study and will have to conduct another expensive infrastructure study next year. The two studies are eating away at most of the BEW’s budget.
City staff is currently looking at funding sources to study the waterworks in order to move forward.
For the Big Eddy committee, they want to see development permits approved while the issues are being resolved. They are worried about the impact on property values. The current water flows are only affecting commercial development and not residential. Sessa said the city is holding up an expansion of the Big Eddy Market; the city says the fire protection issues need to be addresed.
“We’re saying, until you get it sorted out, don’t disallow the Big Eddy from development,” said Buhler. “Otherwise, my property has no value.”
Tim Palmer, the city’s chief administrative officer, called the developments regarding the waterworks a “good news” story because they will eliminate a lot of uncertainty in the Big Eddy.
“It’s good news for the city for development. It’s good news for the Big Eddy residents and businesses,” he said. “It’s a bit regrettable it’s being tainted from other side of things, but it really is a very good story from everyone concerned.”