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Something stinks at new PSS The politics of what to do with sewage from the brand new $13 million Pemberton Secondary School are getting dirty, according to Whistler Mayor Ted Nebbeling. The doors of the school may not open in September as scheduled because the Village of Pemberton will not issue an occupancy permit for the 250-student facility. It won't issue a permit because the Pemberton sewage system cannot handle the extra load. This development has school trustees reeling, school administrators looking for solutions and local politicians playing politics. Sewage is always a hot topic in Pemberton, where sewer and water fees have remained very low as village citizens have wished. Now, Pemberton Mayor John Steward, out of town until July 2, Acting Mayor Mark Hunter and Village Clerk Bryan Kirk insist it is not the Village’s fault the school can’t be tied into the sewage system. They are pointing fingers at a non-answer from the federal/provincial Infrastructure Works program for $1.59 million to upgrade Pemberton’s system. The old PSS is on a septic field and has not factored into the local sewage system. Nebbeling says it is widely known the infrastructure program was over applied for by a rate of four to one and there is no money left in the pot. "If they are waiting for that infrastructure money to open the school it will never open," says Nebbeling. "It’s well known there are no more funds left in that program." Now Steward seems to be playing a game of brinkmanship with the federal and provincial governments — using the new PSS as a $13 million pawn in a chess match to get the sewage treatment plant upgraded. A letter dated Feb. 27, 1995 was sent to Philip McCloy, capital projects co-ordinator for the Howe Sound School District. The letter, written by Pemberton Clerk-Treasurer Kirk is quite clear about the future of the new PSS. "I am pleased to advise that Phase 1 of our new sewer program is now operational, and there is capacity for the new Pemberton Secondary School," the letter states. A letter dated June 12, penned by Mayor Steward, is not so committal. "Completion and occupancy of our new High School is in the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the upgrade to our sewage treatment plant... Should we not be advised our grant is approved (by June 15), the new High School will have to be denied occupancy," Steward wrote. What happened in between Feb. 27 and June 12? "That is the $13 million question. What has happened between than and now… I have no idea," says Jan Systad, Pemberton trustee on the Howe Sound School District board. She says if the school district is going to look at other methods to dispose of sewage, including one being touted that would have raw sewage gathered in holding tanks at the school and then trucked to Whistler for treatment, the cost has to be factored in. "The bottom line is anything that costs money is going to take that money away from the education of our children," she says. "We have got to look at a solution that will get Pemberton on track with this sewage treatment dilemma, not an interim quick fix." Systad says she hopes the village is not "pitting one level of government against the other for their own gain." Nebbeling agrees, saying there are some backroom deals going on behind closed doors to find a quick solution and although Whistler has been named in the one option, no one has approached the municipality. "Somebody is pushing behind closed doors to have Whistler become some sort of regional facility, but that is not on the books," Nebbeling says. "Developers and taxpayers in Whistler have been paying to create one of the best treatment facilities in the province, but it is for Whistler, end of story." He says the municipality is on track to upgrade the treatment facility here, currently running at capacity. West Vancouver-Garibaldi MLA David Mitchell says the "ball is in the village’s court" and they must work with the school board and the provincial government to find a solution that won’t turn the school into a $13 million white elephant. "It's challenging for a small community like Pemberton that doesn't have a large planning or engineering staff," Mitchell says.

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