After hosting two open houses and receiving feedback from Windermere residents, the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) board has two important decisions ahead of it to determine the best route to lift the water quality advisory thats been in place since 2006.
The first open house on Saturday August 20th and second on Tuesday, August 23rd were held to collect public opinion on which of the three options presented the RDEK can move forward with.
The first option presented to the public was the reservoir option, which would entail the construction of a new water treatment plant at the site of the existing Windermere reservoir. The second option would be the purchase of Parr Utilities (the Windermere Water and Sewer Company) with the last option being the bulk water purchase from Parr Utilities, which was rejected in a 2011 referendum.
Wendy Booth, RDEK Area F Director, said this third option would unlikely be brought up again given that it is now the most expensive option of the trio. She said the interest in the second option, purchasing Parr Utilities, has increased, from the RDEKs perspective. Through purchasing Parr Utilities, Windermere would be able to utilize the existing water treatment plant with a larger customer base that would translate into lower expected user fees.
Shirley Ann and Don Sedgwick, homeowners in the Windermere area, said they are in favour of purchasing Parr, citing the costs as the main reason to support the decision.
At first I thought we were just going to be participating and Parr would still be owned by Parr, but with buying it, to me, there are the advantages of all the other areas that are included which could possibly lower our cost from what it is now, said Mrs. Sedgwick.
Despite the attention surrounding this option, there are a number of uncertainties related to it that still need to be explored from the RDEKs perspective, including the purchase price, building lease and the due diligence review of existing assets.
Its kind of been characterized as buying a used car where we dont know exactly whats under the hood so we have to go under the hood now and have a closer look at it, Ms. Booth said.
The RDEK will continue to take in feedback as to the preferred option from the publics point of view. Ms. Booth said she expects this decision to be made ahead of the RDEKs October board meeting.
The decision on which option to go with will only be the beginning, however, as the RDEK will also have to determine the elector assent method to borrow the money required to follow through on the proposal.
At both open houses, Ms. Booth presented both the referendum method and the petition method to those in attendance.
Under the referendum, votes would be restricted to Canadian citizens who are 18 years of age or older on voting day, are B.C. residents for at least six months and who must be a resident of real property in the area. Notably, said Ms. Booth, this excludes second homeowners, which accounts for approximately 60 per cent of the 600 properties in the area.
In direct contrast, the petition would allow second homeowners to have a voice with each property owner receiving a letter in the mail that must be completed and sent back within four to six weeks. Rules for the petition stipulate that if there are multiple people on the property title, the majority of the people would have to sign in order for it to be considered a valid ballot. Unlike the referendum where a no vote would not impact the outcome, a non-completed petition would stand as a no vote for the proposed option on the table.
The petition sounds great because it includes second homeowners who make up 60 per cent; however, we know that a lot of people have voter apathy on both sides and on the petition, whether they like it or not, theyre participating, said Ms. Booth.
She said that their estimates indicate that between 15 and 30 per cent of homeowners would not complete their petition, meaning that those petitions would be considered a no vote.
As a second homeowner in the Windermere area, Mr. Sedgewick said that while he would participate in the vote, he understands why this is a difficult decision for the RDEK.
I can understand the other side of the story too, because it would be a shame if 30 per cent of the people dont vote because they dont care or theyre away. Thats probably (enough) to automatically defeat (the option) as a vote against it and here you are back again at square one, he said.
Ms. Booth has requested a meeting with the Comptroller of Water Rights at the UBCM conference next month in Victoria. After receiving an extension from Interior Health until the end of 2016 from the original January 2015 deadline to move forward on this, the ball is now in motion on finding a suitable solution for Windermeres water quality.