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emerald sewer costs

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By Bob Barnett Emerald Estates property owners don’t think 50:50 is fair odds when it comes to funding a sewer in their subdivision. The last major subdivision in Whistler without full sewer service, Emerald Estates property owners are facing bills of between $12,000 and $24,000 each to hook up to the sewer, which the municipality intends to build in 2000 and 2001. That’s a bill too steep for many. "A lot of people desperately cannot afford this," one property owner told municipal representatives at a Sept. 11 information meeting. "Why can’t you change that owner share down to something more realistic?" Another Emerald resident waved a copy of the Whistler 2002 document and noted two of the directions identified in the draft document are to make Whistler more affordable and to implement innovative and cost effective delivery of municipal services. "We’re suffering from the inactivity and procrastination by previous councils," the speaker said. "It’s council’s problem, tell them to put on their thinking hats." The current proposal for the sewer is for the municipality and property owners to split the $7.5 million cost on a 50:50 basis. The municipality has applied for $3.5 million in provincial funding to cut the costs in half, but the infrastructure assistance program has requests for six times as much money as is available. If Whistler’s application is turned down this year the municipality will re-apply next year. One property owner asked if the municipality might not be more likely to receive infrastructure funding from the province if it waited a year or two when a Liberal government might be in power in Victoria. The municipality is also planning to upgrade the Emerald Estates water system at the same time as it does the sewer work. The estimate for the water upgrade is nearly $2 million, which the municipality would fund. Much of Emerald Estates is on granite rock, which will require expensive drilling and blasting in order for the sewer lines to be installed. That fact also contributes to the wide range in costs per lot. But the basic premise of the municipality and property owners sharing the sewer cost on a 50:50 basis is what many Emerald property owners object to. Pressed on the cost sharing formula, Director of Public Works John Nelson admitted it doesn’t have to be 50:50, but that is what municipal staff have recommended to council. Cost sharing on some previous infrastructure projects was done on a 50:50 basis, including the Nancy Greene sewer in 1986 and water service for Scotia Creek and Chaplinville in 1986 and 1988 respectively. However, the Alpine Meadows sewer in 1981 was funded 19 per cent by the province, 66 per cent by the municipality and 15 per cent by property owners. The Whistler Cay sewer the same year was funded 37 per cent by the province, 55 per cent by the municipality and only 8 per cent by property owners. Kym Fawcett, public liaison co-ordinator for the Emerald sewer project, said survey results to the end of August showed 56 per cent of respondents are in favour of the project as the financing is currently presented. However, only 101 surveys had been returned to the end of August. There are 338 lots in Emerald Estates. Most of the lots in Emerald (234) are on septic fields. Thirty lots use holding tanks and 44 are connected to the municipal sewer. Thirty lots are undeveloped. While the municipality has identified the Emerald sewer as a priority, property owners in the subdivision can petition against the project. If a majority of property owners, representing more than 50 per cent of the total assessed value of Emerald properties, sign a petition opposing the sewer the municipality would have to put the project on hold for a year. If a petition is launched organizers will have one month from the date of the first newspaper ad announcing the project to collect signatures. Council is likely to consider the first bylaw for the sewer project at its Sept. 20 meeting or in early in October.

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