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Sewage systems seeping on Alta Lake Road

Multi-million dollar grant application for sewer hookup in works

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By Alison Taylor

Soil samples taken from the ditches along Alta Lake Road show that roughly 60 per cent of the septic systems on the stretch of road may be seeping.

The results were gathered after a recent municipal study and will now form the backbone of an application to the provincial government for grant money to build a sewer line to 39 single family lots along that road.

“This is the most conclusive test,” said the municipality’s general manager of environmental services Brian Barnett.

And though there is no evidence to prove whether the sewage is leaking into Alta Lake, there is reason to suspect that may be happening.

“We suspect that poorly treated wastewater would be entering into the lake but, based on the data we’ve got, it wouldn’t be causing any significant health concerns,” said Barnett.

With council’s blessing staff is now moving ahead with two grant applications to the British Columbia Municipal Rural Infrastructure Fund. The federal, provincial and local governments will each contribute $51 million to the fund, which is designed to improve municipal and rural infrastructure throughout the province.

Whistler is submitting applications for two projects, the maximum allowed, to be considered for grant funding.

In addition to the Alta Lake sewer line, the municipality is also looking for funding to deliver several major water distribution projects over the next three years. Those include groundwater wells at Rainbow Park, an ultra-violet disinfection system for 21-Mile Creek, a new water main to the village and a new reservoir. The total cost for these projects is roughly $12 million.

It is not clear how much a new sewer line to Alta Lake will cost.

In the 2006 municipal budget it was estimated to cost more than $3.2 million, but with construction costs rising in recent years that budget is most likely outdated.

If the grant application is successful it will cover two-thirds of the project and the municipality and the Alta Lake residents will split the remainder.

“Our job is to prove the need and lobby the province to partner with us in developing infrastructure that addresses the problem,” said Mayor Ken Melamed.

The municipality has applied twice for provincial funding, in 1999 and 2005, and been rejected both times, much to the dismay of the residents who are the last remaining homeowners in Whistler unconnected to the municipal sewer system. Those residents have been lobbying the municipality for a sewer line for several years.

The mayor asked Barnett at the meeting if staff has any confidence the Alta Lake sewer grant request would be successful.

“We don’t have any feedback yet,” he replied.

The deadline for applications is Jan. 31. All funding commitments will be made by the summer and projects must be completed by the end of March 2010.

Meanwhile, with high volumes of visitor traffic in the resort over the holiday season, Whistler’s sewage treatment plant was working overtime.

There were periods over the holidays when the effluent was above the limits specified in Whistler’s permit. Barnett explained that even though the effluent is still treated before going into the Cheakamus River, the total suspended solids was higher than allowed.

“If we didn’t have those periods of spikes and problems then there’d be no reason to make an upgrade to the sewage treatment plant,” said Barnett.

Whistler is working on a multi-million dollar plant upgrade that will allow it to meet the demands in the high season and also eliminate the smell of the plant at the property line.

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