Happy February everybody! I hope this newsletter finds you all in good health. January was the month with the highest number of COVID cases on the Coast yet, so hang in there. I know COVID fatigue is real, but for the sake of our health care professionals and our elders, let’s keep up the effort.
I’ll start with the good news, as there’s precious little of it these days. We have struck water! This past fall the board had directed staff to conduct more test drilling for wells in several areas of the Sunshine Coast and we have some good news. Our test wells in Langdale, at Maryanne West Park and at Gray Creek were able to achieve yields of enough water to warrant the creation of a permanent well field at each site.
Here is a table summarizing the results at each test well:
The location at Langdale is the first well field we will likely tackle, as there is already a well servicing the Langdale community in place there, and considerable synergies can be achieved by expanding and refurbishing the existing well site and connecting the Langdale water system to our Chapman water system.
At Gray Creek, we already have a surface water intake that we can use in the height of summer, when turbidity levels have dropped sufficiently. Due to the relatively low yield of the test well, and the high cost of developing a well field, staff have recommended that rather than creating a well field we should add a treatment stage to the surface water intake at Gray Creek, which will create a higher yield at lower cost. While a well field with a capacity of 13 l/s would cost approximately $2.7 M, upgrading the surface water intake and treatment is currently estimated to cost approximately $2.5 M and would provide about 27.8 l/s. This requires some monitoring of creek levels to confirm the feasibility, but is also a water source accessible in the short term. These two water sources alone should create enough water to take of our current water deficit. Below is a table summarizing our water deficit issues and how the wells will solve it.
Note that Gray Creek in that table has the 13 l/s listed that a well field would produce, not the 27.8 l/s that the recommended surface water intake would.
The addition of the Maryanne West Park location, after 2025, should take us past the expected 2035 needs for water, putting us in good shape for the foreseeable future. As a result, we will not be committing any more resources towards a reservoir at this point in time.
All this comes at a cost, of course. Below is a projection of anticipated costs for adding these new water sources. Fortunately it is considerably less than the $52 million estimated for a reservoir.
Because of the high cost and the ongoing costs associated with all this infrastructure, our board continues to pursue a two-pronged approach by adding supply on one side, and by reducing demand through the implementation of water meters. Here is a link to my water meter argument, in case you need some ammunition. We will be commencing an Alternate Approval Process for those in the near future. The table below shows how a reduction in demand can affect our water supply deficit, creating a reduced demand in future infrastructure spending.
Staff have created a summary sheet here.
In that same special infrastructure services meeting we also got a report on the potential future of our solid waste disposal options. We have approximately 5 years left in our landfill, and then it is full. The consultants we hired examined 4 options:
1. A new landfill
This scenario seems at this point to be the most promising one, with a new landfill potentially being located in the Halfmoon Bay Area. Below is a table showing the potential costs of a new landfill, plus the ongoing costs. Please note that even at the low end, the costs for disposal will be higher than our current $135 per ton.
2. Exporting our waste
Qathet Regional District, our neighbours to the North, use this option to get rid of their waste. They export their waste by barge to Washington State, where a large landfill accepts it and deals with it. Apparently this is the option with the lowest GHG emissions per ton, because these large landfills have extensive measures to mine and reduce GHG’s, more than offsetting the extra emissions from getting the waste there. You can see the considerably higher cost per ton though.
3. A waste to energy facility
While an attractive idea in some respects, this option has several hurdles. One is the initial upfront cost, then there’s the relatively low volume we produce here, and that we would need a customer for the energy we produce. There is also a higher regulatory burden, as well as potential push-back against the emissions created. New and emerging technologies, like gasification, do not have a reliable track record yet, as the Edmonton experiment has shown. We also would need a place to dispose of the burnt materials.
4. Expanding our existing landfill
We may be able to squeeze a few more years of life out of our existing landfill by adding retaining walls so we can go higher, but this only pushes the problem a few years down the road, and also costs more than creating a new landfill.
Alas, the board has provided direction to pursue a new landfill at this point in time. Due to the tight timeframe it may be necessary to export our waste until the new landfill is in place, and we are setting up our existing landfill site to become a waste transfer facility once the landfill is full. Below is a summary table of the projected costs.
Talking about bad news… I’ve been giving you warnings for months and now here we are, in Round 1 budget. Things are looking ugly. Our community partners are being relatively tame in their asks for this year, with some programs actually decreasing due to the pandemic, but we are adding considerable cost to our budget with an ambitious work plan guided by our strategic plan. 40+ years of infrastructure deficits, the upcoming costs to close our landfill, rising construction costs, added bylaw enforcement, additional resourcing for our fire departments, aging recreational facilities and more staff capacity to handle the increase in projects are adding to our bill. Transit and Recreation are suffering from lower admissions while incurring higher costs due to more extensive cleaning and other COVID related requirements. Some relief is being provided by our COVID relief funds, and several infrastructure grants provided as stimulus, including the potential Cooper’s Green hall replacement and some opportunities towards a new bike park and pump track in Sprockids.
You can scroll through all 469 pages of the report here, with a summary on p. 173-174, and a summary of utility rate increases on p. 175.
I invite you to give me specific feedback as to which item listed in the budget should not go ahead and your reasons. I can’t do much with a “I can’t afford an 18% tax increase.” Regional Districts funding is arranged in a number of silos for each function, e.g. recreation, transit, fleet services, general government, etc. Each has its own budget, and each is treated separately. We can’t shuffle money from one function to the next.
Roberts Creek is being hit particularly hard this year, as the assessed values in our properties went higher here than other areas of the Coast, causing us to shoulder more of the burden. The average home price in the Creek is now close to $1 million. We have limited inventory, large property sizes, close proximity to the ferry and high infrastructure costs. It makes for low affordability, and I don’t see it changing anytime soon. I am trying to get more affordable housing online, but our tools are limited.
Here is a link to the Round 1 budget presentation.
That’s it from me for now. In case you have any questions or concerns, you can always email me.