School district courts legal action over sewage Catch 22 The Howe Sound School District Board of Trustees passed a motion Tuesday to proceed with court action to force the Village of Pemberton to hook the new Pemberton Secondary School up to its sewage treatment plant. In a frenetic series of in-camera meetings Tuesday, school board trustees met with each other, with Pemberton Mayor John Steward and village councillors and with the lawyer for the school district. Nothing came out of the first two meetings to resolve the situation, in which Pemberton council refuses to issue an occupancy permit for the new $13 million school because its sewage treatment system is at capacity. So the board passed a motion to pursue legal action. "The fact of the matter is we have to get the new school open and Mayor Steward stated again Tuesday that is not going to happen until the Pemberton Sewage Treatment Plant is upgraded," Judith Knapp, assistant superintendent of the Howe Sound School District, says. Knapp says the board and the district lawyer agree a servicing agreement struck between the village and the school district is a binding contract and they are willing to go to court to prove it. Steward says he reads the sequence of events a little differently. According to him, school district officials knew back in 1992 when they applied for a rezoning application for the new school that it would not open until the plant was upgraded. "In that rezoning application their staff and ours agreed the sewage upgrade had to take place before the school could open," Steward says, adding district officials were pushing the village to approve the rezoning application and servicing agreement so they could secure the $13 million funding the Ministry of Education had offered for the construction of the 250 student high school, scheduled to open this fall. "They were telling our staff ‘We have to start the school or we will lose the funding,’" Steward says. "They were aware of the risks when all of this talk was taking place." Knapp says the school district shelled out $150,000 to the Village of Pemberton to help straighten out the sewage situation, but when a $1.59 million joint federal/provincial infrastructure grant definitely fell through last week, the Catch 22 was a reality. "We don't want this to be an us-against-them situation," Knapp says. "We want to work together to solve Pemberton's sewage situation… if they help us get the school open we'll help them in Victoria." Steward is adamant, saying there is no way they could responsibly put the new PSS on line with the current sewage situation, because the Ministry of Environment could fine the village $10,000 a day for exceeding their effluent discharge permit. "I don't think it's a very responsible thing for school trustees to force us to break the law to accommodate their bad planning," Steward says, adding school could be held in the old PSS until a positive solution to the sewage situation is found. Knapp disagrees, saying the old school has been packed up, the computers are being set up in the new school and the expensive task of relocating portables to house an added number of students until the Whistler Secondary opens in the fall of 1996 is all but complete. "They are saying they can't teach our kids in the old school, implying the students will get a sub-standard education in the facility where kids have been learning for decades," Steward says. "Does that mean the 4,000 kids that already came out of there got a sub-standard education?"