Metro Vancouver leaders say they’re optimistic Ottawa will contribute one third of the $1.4-billion cost of replacing its Lions Gate and Iona sewage treatment plants and ease some of the pain for home owners who face sharply higher utility bills.
Federal environment minister Peter Kent was in Delta Wednesday to announce new federal effluent regulations that mandate sewage system upgrades to a minimum of secondary treatment.
He made no explicit funding promises but said the federal government intends to roll out a new long-term infrastructure grant program starting in 2014, after the federal deficit is eliminated.
Metro board chair Greg Moore said he’s hopeful one third of the upgrade cost here will be covered by the federal government and be matched by the province.
The new rules had been widely expected and Metro Vancouver is already designing the replacement of its Lions Gate plant, which must be complete by 2020.
The deadline for Iona’s replacement is 2030 but Metro aims to replace it several years sooner if senior governments share the costs.
If federal grant money doesn’t materialize, Metro Vancouver residents could see their sewage bills more than triple, and households in Vancouver and the North Shore that are directly served by Iona and Lions Gate may see their annual bills rise by as much as $1,000.
“That’s the worst-case scenario,” Moore said. “It is not reasonable to expect local taxpayers to carry the entire burden.”
Some cities within within Metro are also lobbying to rejig the formula that currently apportions much of sewage capital costs on the benefitting areas.
The idea would be to spread more of the cost across all of the regional district, making residents in non-benefitting areas like Surrey and the Tri-Cities chip in to reduce the impact in Vancouver and the North Shore.
Surrey councillors have vowed to fight such a change, arguing their residents in previously paid the bulk of the costs of the 1996 upgrade of the Annacis Island treatment plant under the existing formula.
Georgia Strait Alliance executive director Christianne Wilhelmson said the Iona plant should be upgraded sooner than 2030, the deadline for medium-risk plants, adding it should be considered high risk.
“Iona discharges near the mouth of the Fraser River – a very unique marine environment,” she said. ” But it’s treated like any other wastewater system that might dump into the middle of the ocean.”