I agree with Councillor Berger’s assertion that one of the major problems with the new sewer agreement is that the 21- year term is way too long. The agreement’s proponents argue that the term will provide stability and certainty, as if this will somehow stave off changes that can and will occur over the next 20 years. It’s well known that the most successful businesses are those that have the flexibility to respond creatively and appropriately to changing conditions – the exact opposite to what the sewer agreement allows.
Sure, no one can predict exactly what’s going to happen over such a long time period, but the following are possible, even likely:
• Technological changes for sewer systems – already ideas such as energy recovery, bacterial conversion of solid wastes into useful products and conversion of solid wastes into fuel are being developed and tried out. Who knows what will come next, but the sewer agreement does not allow Sooke to get maximum benefit from these ideas.
• Economic cycles – economic ups and downs occur on a regular basis. We just went through a major recession, and the odds are very good we’ll experience another within the next 10-20 years. In the United States, tens of thousands of homeowners just walked away from the homes they couldn’t afford in new subdivisions. Could this happen in Sooke? And even if it happened only a bit, where would the sewer fees, that must be paid to EPCOR no matter what, then come from?
• Increasing external costs – the district explains that current costs are so much higher than anticipated because such things as dumping fees and utility costs went up unexpectedly. Well, duh. The CRD has already announced dumping fees will continue to increase and the Hartland dump will be closed in the next 10-20 years and it’s likely that dumping at an alternate site will be even more expensive. Hydro has applied for major fee increases. Fuel costs for shipping the solid wastes, maintenance vehicles and emergency generators at all the pump stations are going to go up. As EPCOR gets a percentage of all cost increases, it is very much in their interest for those increases to occur. There is no ability for Sooke to reap the benefits of finding alternatives to reduce these costs.
• Climate change – at least twice in the past year the sewer plant released contaminated water into the Strait of Juan de Fuca because excessive rainwater overwhelmed the system. Climate change experts are telling us that such severe storms are becoming more common. Clearly, some changes have to be made to the sewer system, in conjunction with those who are responsible for Sooke’s heralded wastewater system, but the sewer agreement doesn’t really address such collaborative efforts.
• Political philosophy – the district says it considered moving the service in -house but it looked like it would be too expensive. It then posted a couple of comparison cost for municipally-operated systems and the shown costs aren’t all that different. More to the point, more and more municipalities are deciding to keep it in-house or to change contracted services to in-house operations, after considering the economic, social and environmental benefits. It seems to me that the major impediment to a fair look at such an option is the philosophy held by some councilors and staff that asserts that private sector operations are always better and cheaper than public sector.
As early as next November, this attitude could change, but the new council would be prevented from doing anything about it if the new sewer agreement is signed.
So, I urge every taxpayer in Sooke to sign the AAP form to force council and staff to reconsider the options and to prevent us all from being locked into any kind of agreement that prevents us from dealing sensibly with all the changes that can and will occur over the next 21 years.