Paying by the rules

Deana Stokes Sullivan
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Mayors worry wastewater regulations will carry hefty price tag

New wastewater regulations proposed by the federal government have municipalities in this province worried about how they'll pay for the required infrastructure upgrades.

Conception Bay South Mayor Woodrow French is in Halifax this week, attending Atlantic Mayors' Congress meetings, where the issue is generating a lot of discussion.

New federal regulations covering wastewater treatment have some municipalities worried about how they will come up with the cash to pay for the infrastructure the new rules may require. - Photo by Thinkstock

New wastewater regulations proposed by the federal government have municipalities in this province worried about how they'll pay for the required infrastructure upgrades.

Conception Bay South Mayor Woodrow French is in Halifax this week, attending Atlantic Mayors' Congress meetings, where the issue is generating a lot of discussion.

The mayors arrived in Halifax Wednesday night and will conclude their meetings today.

French said they're not opposed to environmental initiatives, but the cost of the mandatory upgrades to sewage systems to further process effluent in Atlantic Canada is expected to be at least a billion dollars.

"That's a significant amount of money. It's going to put certainly a lot of hardship on municipalities, and certainly on municipalities in Newfoundland and Labrador," French said.

Rural municipalities and towns such as C.B.S. which have small business bases will feel the greatest financial effect, he said.

"So the only place to get this money would be from the taxpayers."

Even St. John's won't be off the hook for added costs, despite its new sewage treatment plant which cost more than $140 million.

St. John's Mayor Dennis O'Keefe said he's aware of the proposed regulations and, environmentally, they're probably a good idea.

"But the federal government is certainly going to have to come in as the main player on financing something like that because municipalities can't do that alone," O'Keefe said.

French said Conception Bay South already has sewage treatment, but the regulations would require major upgrades. Work is underway in the town to upgrade the existing system and replace an older treatment plant in Topsail by the end of this year.

French said the cost to service C.B.S. from Topsail to Kelligrews is already $14 million to $15 million. He's not certain how much the new regulations will cost the town, but said it's sure to be expensive.

"We've got some places that are still putting raw sewage into bays, harbours, ponds and rivers, and they don't even have a sewage treatment plant in place. You take a small community that's got to put in a sewage treatment plant, you're looking at probably a couple of million dollars," French said.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) has estimated the cost of bringing municipal water and wastewater infrastructure in the country up to acceptable levels as being $31 billion.

French said that's before the regulations even come into effect. The FCM says the regulations would require additional infrastructure investments nationally worth $10 billion to $13 billion over the next 30 years.

The new sewage treatment plant in St. John's has been built to allow for improvements in the future, O'Keefe said, but the big question is what it will cost to comply with the regulations.

"We, as a city, would have to look at the same kind of partnership we had for the present situation that would involve the city, the province and the federal government," O'Keefe said.

Federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice announced March 19 that the proposed Wastewater Systems Effluent Regulations had been published in the Canada Gazette, kicking off a formal 60-day public comment period.

"These are concrete steps we are taking to make sure that Canadians continue to enjoy water that is clean, safe and plentiful for generations to come," Prentice said.

The minister said the regulations for municipal, community, federal and other wastewater systems will include standards for national wastewater effluent quality and "provide regulatory clarity" for rules on reporting for more than 3,700 Canadian facilities.

For those not already meeting the effluent quality standards, there is a proposed phase-in approach.

The deadline for upgrading facilities with higher-risk wastewater effluent discharges will be 2020, whereas others will have until 2030 or 2040, depending on the level of risk associated with existing effluent quality and environmental considerations.

Prentice said the federal government will work with provinces, territories and municipalities to make this a reality.

dss@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Canada Gazette

Geographic location: Halifax, St. John's, Atlantic Canada Topsail Newfoundland and Labrador Kelligrews

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Recent comments

  • W
    July 02, 2010 - 13:33

    Time for these small towns to pay the piper, decades of little or no taxation cannot go on.

  • W
    July 01, 2010 - 20:22

    Time for these small towns to pay the piper, decades of little or no taxation cannot go on.