City sewer hook up requests backing up

Western Acres residents latest in line of Nanaimo neighbourhoods to ask for sewer services.

Requests to hook up to city sewers are beginning to back up.

In 2011, city council voted to cover the entire $3.2-million cost to install sewers for 107 property owners at Green Lake.

Three months ago, residents on Stamp Way also received their long-awaited sewer hook-ups.

Now, residents of one of Nanaimo’s oldest subdivisions say it’s their turn to have city sewer services as promised more than 35 years ago when Harewood was amalgamated.

Darlene Budd, a 40-year resident of Western Acres, has created a petition with 35 signatures on it asking city hall to install sewers. She said residents in the subdivision are forced to pay thousands of dollars to have septic tanks installed despite paying city taxes, and that when the Nanaimo Parkway was built in the mid-1990s, a sewer sleeve was installed suggesting there was intent to connect the neighbourhood to the city system.

“That sleeve came within 100 yards of our property so we relaxed about it thinking ‘OK, when we want to sell we’ll be able to pay and have it brought to our property’. Then we find out the sleeve was installed at the wrong elevation and isn’t useable and we’re told we’re out of luck.”

Budd said she is ready to sell her 10-acre property but without sewer, it’s difficult.

“I’ve been accused of self-interest and I have to say, yes, of course, we want the sewer there,” she said. “But we no longer wish to own 10 city acres. Who wants to pay taxes on that? We’ve raised our family and it’s time to move on and we’d like sewer there.”

Residents at Western Acres do not pay city sewer user fees.

In June 2011, city council voted to cover the entire cost of the sewer installation for Green Lake residents instead of a proposed 80/20 split that would have seen residents cover $640,000 for the project.

Nanaimo Mayor John Ruttan said that vote paved the way for residents of other areas to request similar treatment.

“The Green Lake issue was kind of a health issue, largely through failed septic fields that were leaching into the lake,” he said, adding that repeated attempts to have the project serviced through infrastructure grants were denied because the residential density was too low. “The fear at the time was be aware of what you grant one because you can’t grant it to one without granting it to all. Now the fruits of the deed are coming home to roost.”

Ruttan said that low population density at Western Acres, no environmental urgency and a projected cost of $3 million to install sewers makes it a difficult project to support.

“Look, I think we all want sewers there but we just don’t have that money sitting around. The challenge is it’s acreages, with big expanses of land with few residences and it’s very expensive,” he said.

Al Kenning, Nanaimo city manager, said he wouldn’t comment on political promises made in the past, but added the city is under no legal obligation to provide sewer services.

“My view is it’s not in our plans. It’s very expensive to service on a per-lot basis, and there is no written commitment,” said Kenning.

The Green Lake project is expected to be paid for largely through reserves. To connect all remaining properties within city limits to sewer services would cost an estimated $15 million.

Ruttan said it is unlikely there will be enough money left over in reserves after Green Lake is paid for to fund a similar project at Western Acres.

“If we need to borrow long term then it would have to go to referendum,” he said.

For her part, Budd said she is willing to consider a financial compromise.

“The thing is, and it’s a catch-22, we can’t subdivide until we have sewers, and density won’t ever be enough until we subdivide,” she said.

There are an estimated 70 lots, many of them five acres in size, at Western Acres.

The issue is expected to be discussed at an upcoming council meeting.

Other parts of Nanaimo not hooked up to city sewer include about 25 lots on Stephenson Point Road, 125 lots on Jingle port Road and four lots on Maki Road.