Need for new water treatment plant questioned at forum

A community forum in Ashcroft grew heated when the subject of the proposed water treatment plant came up for discussion.

A Community Forum held by the Village of Ashcroft on April 14, attended by approximately 60 people, saw a few heated exchanges. The proposed new water treatment plant came under fire from some members of the public who questioned the necessity of building one, the cost, and the process employed.

Testing has indicated that while Ashcroft water is generally fine, the chlorination system currently employed to treat it leaves the water system open to turbidity warnings throughout spring and summer, and the occasional boil water advisory. It also does not remove protozoa from the water, which can cause severe intestinal illness and even death for those with low or compromised immune systems, such as the elderly or the very young.

At the open meeting on April 11, Council decided to pursue a membrane filtration system, which was recommended as the most consistent system for removing protozoa from the water supply. The decision to build a new treatment plant comes in the wake of new provincial legislation which states that treatment plants must remove protozoa from the water supply.

The Village has received federal and provincial grants totalling $5.7 million to build a new treatment plant, leaving the Village to find the balance. A bylaw requesting a loan of up to $4.1 million is awaiting approval, sparking fears amongst those who feel the Village is taking on an unsustainable level of debt. It was suggested that Council had “dollar signs in their eyes” and should return the grant money.

The Village’s plan to put the bylaw to an Alternative Approval Process was questioned, with some wondering when the process will begin and what will happen if enough people (10 per cent of registered voters, or some 149 people) vote against it. Questions were also asked about the process leading up to the decision to build a new treatment plant, with some wondering if Council has been too hasty in awarding work to Urban Systems, who prepared the 2014 Water Master Plan for the previous Council. It was explained that the plant is at a very preliminary stage, and that when it comes time to construct the project it will be put out to tender.

Mayor Jack Jeyes took the brunt of the questions, and sometimes struggled with the more antagonistic ones. At one point a speaker was told to “Sit down and shut up” by an audience member, although most people remained respectful.

A less contentious topic discussed at the meeting was the proposed Off-Leash Dog Park (OLDP), which was studied by a Select Committee struck last summer. After examining various sites around town, the Committee suggested that part of the lower pool park might be a suitable location, although the recommendation was not binding on Council.

At the meeting it was reported that Staff discussions with Interior Health indicate that IH seems amenable to having some of the land between the ambulance station and Hillside Manor on Government Street used for an OLDP, subject to certain restrictions, such as no on-street parking.

It was also noted that the building, financing, and maintenance of an OLDP would be the responsibility of a dog park group or committee, not the Village. The site is in the early stages of being discussed; should the project continue, a steering committee would be formed to discuss the size of the park, financing, etc.

The Village’s new Water Conservation Bylaw was mentioned, and Mayor Jeyes said that water conservation kits are now available at the Village Office for each residence in the Village. The kits contain a moisture meter, water gauge, and water conservation tips, as well as a brochure outlining the new bylaw. There is also a Planting Guide from Ashcroft Communities in Bloom, listing many of the trees, plants, and flowers which do well in our climate without requiring a lot of water to maintain and keep healthy. Watering restrictions take effect on May 1 and will extend through September 30 unless otherwise indicated.

Const. Chupik of the CN Police gave a presentation about rail safety, and pointed out that crossing rail lines anywhere other than at a marked crossing is illegal, and subject to a fine of $115. He also noted that in most cases, the rail right of way extends for approximately 50 feet on either side of a train line, and any unauthorized people in that right of way are trespassing.

The final item of the night was a proposed Community Garden in Ashcroft. It was noted that Community Gardens are increasingly popular, as a way for those without gardens to enjoy growing flowers or vegetables, as well as socialize, and that they have the potential to attract many different users of all ages. The Village has identified a possible site in downtown Ashcroft on which to locate a Community Garden, and it is now being assessed for suitability.

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