Capital Regional District (CRD) staff got an earful from Fulford Water Service Commission (FWSC) members when the group met on Friday, April 14 to discuss a consultant’s draft technical report about replacing aging water district infrastructure.
Tony Maude, who has volunteered as a commissioner for 12 years, even resigned his position as a result of the report’s contents, which he and his colleagues said did not reflect the commission’s wishes, repeating a process that never seems to change.
“It’s an extremely frustrating exercise,” he said, about being a commissioner.
The commission is mandated to serve the people who use the water system, he said, “But regardless of what decisions we make, and what we decide to do, there seems to be a disregard within the CRD, since we don’t have control. So what happens is we recommend, we ask, we suggest. Things don’t happen. Other things do happen.”
Maude said he would rather spend his time working to change the system to something that gives real control to commissions.
From the commissioners’ point of view, the McElhanney engineering firm should have received input from them before creating the Fulford Water: AC Watermain Replacement report. In addition to what appear to be data and priority inconsistencies, the document includes references to adding the Vortex property to the district and achieving “fire flow” volumes. It also provides a strategy for replacing 4.1 kilometres of asbestos cement (AC) pipe installed in the 1970s and other improvements such as water meters. The project charter for the report, which the commission did approve, specifically excluded fire flow considerations.
FWSC commissioners said they have previously asked the CRD for gradual replacement of lines to be considered, beginning with the most critical areas. They have also requested use of “dynamic testing” to determine the true state of the water lines.
Commission chair Carole Eyles said it was ridiculous to include fire flow estimates in any report, recalling that giving fire protection to ratepayers’ properties was one of a few things promised through the initial CRD borrowing referendum passed in 2004 that did not come to fruition. Water meters was another.
“We don’t have [fire protection-capable flows], in spite of the fact that we approved a referendum that would give us that,” she said.
Eyles also said that the district has not had leak issues with the supply line, which McElhanney recommends be replaced as a top priority.
“But we have had other issues that don’t seem to be indicated here, or taken into account in terms of priority.”
Commissioners were also offended by the report’s references to the Vortex development, noting that existing FWSC ratepayers should not be contributing to studies that facilitate a private venture currently outside their district.
Salt Spring’s senior CRD manager Karla Campbell said the commission didn’t pay for the Vortex information as McElhanney is also doing work for the Vortex owners.
“So they probably share that information they have internally to kind of understand what the implications were. So it wasn’t any cost to the commission,” she said.
CRD engineer Dean Olafson also stated the fire flow information “was essentially free information,” but when pressed by Maude he agreed there would have been “a small incremental charge” to include it.
From an engineering standpoint Olafson said he disagreed with use of dynamic or destruction testing and incremental replacement of the lines.
“When asbestos cement pipe fails, it does not develop a pinhole leak. It fails catastrophically. It just starts leaking and then you’ve got an emergency repair. So the idea behind this program is to do it in a preventative manner.”
He said the report’s recommended process would cost less than putting Band-aids on the system through emergency repairs over many years.
Campbell stressed that commission feedback would be provided to the consultant.
“This is what this meeting is for. There’s no decision that has to be made. This is not finalized. It’s completely at a draft stage. And that’s why we paused it here, to consult with you.”
But commissioner Alan Martin pointed out that it was ludicrous to have paid a consultant to include information that was not requested, and then pay them again to take it out.
“We’ve been saying the same things: communication has been awful, as was told to us by other commissions in relation to CRD communication; the things that we ask for don’t get done, and things that we don’t ask for are forced on us. And we have to pay for all of it,” said Martin.
The owners of Fulford district’s approximately 100 ratepaying properties must cover all costs of commission projects, unless grants or gas tax monies can be acquired for a specific purpose.
Olafson said he didn’t know the exact cost of the McElhanney report but that it was definitely much less than the $90,000 budgeted in the FWSC capital plan.
Friday’s meeting concluded with the commission requesting a meeting via Zoom to discuss the report with McElhanney engineers, which will also be paid for from the FWSC budget.