About two dozen ratepayers attended a public hearing at the Elkhorn Elks Hall last Thursday evening to learn about a planned $6M upgrade of the community's wastewater infrastructure.
The current lagoon, constructed in 1965, consists of one primary and one storage cell. With the provincial Environment Act in 1988 came more stringent regulations, rendering it non-compliant.
In 2006 Elkhorn’s sewage system began to give trouble. Chief Administrative Officer Garth Mitchell said, “Council started to lobby the province at that time to try to get some level of assistance to help us with the project.” Provincial funding at that time would have left 66 per cent of the cost to be covered locally.
During wet years from 2007 through 2014, above ground pumping was needed from the lift station to the lagoon. This process took the effluent away from the town, and also identified the need for more lagoon capacity.
“What was built and designed for population at that time just won't handle today’s lifestyle and the amount of water that we use,” Mitchell said.
The present facility also lacks road access, which hampers the ability to do maintenance. Mitchell noted that the sludge has never been removed from the existing cells, which is part of the work that is planned.
Plans call for the construction of a new wastewater lagoon, along with a new lift station and upsized force main piping.
The current lagoon provides gravity and low pressure sewer service, while the expanded lagoon will handle a larger population base as well as the effluent from rural septic tanks.
The lack of road access hinders maintenance of the system. RM of Wallace-Woodworth administrator Garth Mitchell explained, “All those years we've had to trespass across that pasture property to get in to do any work.”
The new system
A proposal for a new system was submitted to the government which was approved by the province. Mitchell said. “We are tripling the ability to get water and wastewater to the lift station.”
Once construction is complete, up to nine septic trucks per day will be able to enter and exit via a new approach off Provincial Road 256.
Plan essential to funding applications
While initial provincial funding left the municipality with a bill they could not handle, now new provincial funding will help to defray the amount borne locally.
“If the local improvement plan is not approved, we will run the risk of losing a very, very lucrative grant, which has given us a huge opportunity,” Mitchell said. The R.M. was a beneficiary of one of the first grants from the provincial Climate Resiliency Program.
“We've been banging the door for a long time and the province and this program identified the need and thankfully we were on the first run of applications.”
Mitchell said the cheque is already in hand, to get the work underway. Federal Gas Tax dollars will also go towards the project. Mitchell noted that two grants will be awarded to the R.M. this year, as was the case in 2019.
JR Cousin Consultants Ltd. of Winnipeg will be responsible for design, overseeing the construction and ensuring the contractor meets the specifications.
The new primary and storage cells will be constructed of compacted clay on 15 acres of land owned by Brad and Alanna Martin. “They've been very cooperative to work with through this whole process, and without their cooperation we probably would have ended up like in 1965 where they had to expropriate the land,” Mitchell said.
Uninterrupted operations in the event of a power outage will be a big plus. “The natural gas generator is going to kick in and our lift station will continue to run and keep the water out of town and keep the sewage out of people's basements.”
The project cost has been estimated at $5,939,000. Of this amount, approximately $1,300,500 will be borne by the municipality. Funding of $4,638,500 will come from the province under the Disaster Prevention and Climate Resiliency Program. The municipality anticipates having to borrow approximately $320,200.
Only those ratepayers in the Elkhorn LUD who will directly benefit from the upgrades will contribute to the cost through a local improvement levy. They will have three payment options. They may choose to remit the total amount as a lump sum of $1186 or finance it over 10 or 20 years.
“Each individual ratepayer can look at their options and decide what suits them the best. If we have a new house go in and they build on one of the lots not part of the debenture program, we will have a per hookup fee,” Mitchell said. “New people that come on to the system are not going to get a free ride. They will have to pay an amount, which is not finalized yet. This is what happens with the water system now.”
The operating and maintenance costs will fall under the annual sewer utility operating budget.
Provincial funding is contingent on the project being completed by November, and there are strings attached.
“If we fail to meet the terms and conditions (of the license) and get this work done, the next time we have to do emergency spills we're looking at some fairly hefty fines from the province under the environment regulations. So that’s another reason why we need to get in compliance.”
The construction work has been put up for tender, and the results of this public hearing will be forwarded to the provincial Municipal Board.
A concern and response
During the question and answer period, Reeve Clayton Canart read an objection letter from Brian and Sandy Heaman:
“The benefit to all ratepayers will only be in the capacity for septic trucks to dump waste. As most companies pass that fee on to customers the benefit appears negligible,” states the letter.
It appears that The Province of Manitoba is covering 78% of the anticipated cost of the upgrades. Of the remainder, the “users” will pay 25% with the RM contributing 75%. Even without RM assistance the cost to the users for this upgrade is far less than previously anticipated. At 25% the cost of the upgrades to users is even more reasonable.
We would encourage Council to review this plan. Trying to minimize the expense to the users is far from the only consideration that should be made.
The RM should contribute to that portion of the project that may benefit all ratepayers and provide some additional financial support that reflects Elkhorn’s contribution and importance to the RM. It is our opinion that the 75 /25 % split does not provide for a fair share being paid for by those that will benefit most. We feel that a split of 30% RM and 70% users is far more reasonable and equitable, and would support that decision.
Reeve Canart responded, “I think the important part about this project is, as far as the Council goes, we view the municipality as one. Our communities are all part of it. We're extremely fortunate to have a grant of this size. We have other large capital projects coming up for the future so I think funding this project this way for Elkhorn puts us in a good position to continue with other capital projects in the whole municipality in the future.”