THE North Shore's mayors are praising new federal guidelines that will force an upgrade of the Lions Gate Wastewater Treatment Plant by 2020, but the question remains: Who will pick up the $400-million tab?
Environment Minister Peter Kent confirmed at a press conference last week what local governments had been planning for for several years: Roughly 850 plants across Canada will have to be upgraded to secondary treatment standards in the face of new, tighter laws around effluent.
Kent said paying for the new sewage plants would be "not unlike" other major infrastructure projects of recent years, which have typically seen the federal, provincial and local governments each take on one-third of the project cost. At this point, however, there has been no commitment from senior government.
As it is right now, the Lions Gate Wastewater Treatment plant, which serves the entire North Shore, offers primary treatment, meaning it filters only large solids from the sewage before it's discharged into Burrard Inlet. Under the new standards, all plants must have at least secondary treatment, which removes not only solids but dissolved organic matter as well.
Vancouver's Iona facility, which is also under Metro Vancouver jurisdiction, will also have to be replaced.
Decommissioning the existing Lions Gate facility and building a new one along Pemberton Avenue at West Second
Street will cost about $400 million, which the North Shore's mayors say is out of reach for local taxpayers.
"If you're going to mandate pretty expensive remedies and upgrades through national policies, the critical piece for local governments is 'How are we going to pay for this?" said District of North Vancouver Mayor Richard Walton. "Our concern is really if and when the provincial government will commit, and there's been no indication yet."
West Van Mayor Michael Smith put it more bluntly. "The bottom line is: We have to get that level of commitment. Municipalities collect a fraction of the revenue that the federal and provincial governments collect. . . . Instead of increasing the number of MPs, they should cut two-thirds of them and do away with that gold-plated pension and put the money towards infrastructure."
City of North Vancouver Mayor Darrell Mussatto was the most optimistic that federal and provincial funds will materialize when they're needed - ahead of the federal deadline of 2020. He called the announcement "great news for the North Shore."
"If they (don't), it's a pretty big bill to the residents on the North Shore," he conceded.
Funding matters aside, Mussatto said the new federal guidelines are needed for the health of Burrard Inlet.
"We do need to make sure we have a good quality of wastewater entering the oceans and inlets. It's very important," he said.
John Weston, MP for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country, couldn't promise the mayors the one-third formula, but he said he will be pushing for it.
"There's no guarantee that it would be resumed but certainly, it's likely," Weston said. "I'll be speaking with our local governments and encouraging them to start working with me and the federal government as well as my provincial counterparts right away to see what can be put in place to share the cost in an effective and fair way. . . . The sooner we clarify the costs and the needs, the better and the easier it is to start looking for a cost-sharing formula that will work and will get this job done."
Ida Chong, provincial minister of community, sport and cultural development, said it is too soon for the province to commit to anything, but stressed that some type of partnership is likely.
"We will take a look at what the federal government is offering and, generally, we work in partnership with the federal government and the local government to find a way to ensure, where there are infrastructure needs, there is a mechanism to meet that," she said. "If you're asking me today, 'Is there money on the table?' I can't give you that answer."