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Whistler receives grant extension

Sewage plant upgrade now slated to complete in 2009



Whistler has received a year’s extension on an infrastructure grant from the federal and provincial governments to complete the upgrade of the wastewater treatment plant, located near the Cheakamus River on Highway 99.

The $12.6 million grant is being put towards a project that was expected to be completed in March 2008 but is now expected to be finished in mid-2009, according to Brian Barnett, general manager of development services and environmental projects at the Resort Municipality of Whistler.

The grant came through the Canada-British Columbia Municipal Rural Infrastructure Fund, which ensures that the federal and provincial governments each provide one-third of funding for major infrastructure projects. Municipal governments contribute the final third.

“Infrastructure is a very expensive undertaking, and that's why senior levels of government provide assistance,” Barnett said.

The grant was awarded in 2003, when the sewage plant upgrade was estimated to cost $20 million. The project was delayed and costs escalated. The total budget for the upgrade is now pegged at $37.8 million.

Whistler announced last July that it would have to spend $20 million on the sewage plant upgrade by March of this year if it was to maintain the $12.6 million grant. John Nelson, the municipality’s capital projects manager, told council last year that Whistler would be “challenged” by the March deadline. The announcement of a year’s extension to complete the project has now secured the grant.

The grant is going towards an upgrade that will make substantial changes to the way Whistler’s wastewater is treated. According to Barnett, the existing plant uses a chemical treatment process to remove phosphorus. This process will be replaced with a geological one, which Barnett said will be a more natural process that will keep chemicals out of the water.

“It’s a state of the art process,” he said. “Basically bugs are used and grown in large tanks and they sort of naturally decompose any of the bad nutrients within the wastewater.”

Another upgrade will replace the current disinfection system, which uses chlorine to disinfect the water, with an ultraviolet one that Barnett said will be safer for employees and for the public.

“One big advantage is we remove chlorine gas from the plant, which is a poisonous gas,” he said. “The gas is currently stored in one-ton compressed tanks, and that poses a risk for public safety and employee safety.”

The upgrade will also increase the plant’s capacity and deal with the odour issues.

The grant application stated that the entire project would be completed by March 31, 2008, but delays in starting the project forced the RMOW to seek an extension.

The delays were caused by what Barnett calls the “procurement process.” Originally the upgrade was to be completed as a public-private partnership. But under pressure from residents, Whistler council later decided not to use that approach.

“Some of the delays were caused mainly by just some decisions around the procurement process, in terms of contracting out construction work,” Barnett said.

The project also includes the composting facility being built south of the plant on Callaghan Valley Road. The new building is being built to standards set out by Leadership Environmental and Energy Design standards and expects to reach a silver level of achievement, the third highest level in the LEED system.