The price tag for a new sewer line across the Fraser River has hit $32 million, and the District of Mission desperately needs more federal and provincial funding to complete the job and avoid a possible environmental disaster.
However, to date, no new funding has been offered.
“It is an emergency for us, but it’s an emergency for everybody,” said Mission Mayor Pam Alexis.
The new sewer line is needed because the existing 37-year-old pipeline is at near capacity, and, because it is a pressurized line, cameras can not be placed into it to inspect its condition.
Alexis said because the pipe is almost 40 years old and has been constantly subjected to rough waters and a lot of movement of rock in the area, the chance of it wearing down is significant.
“It’s a risk factor, and I believe it would be much more expensive to clean up and repair and take action after the fact.”
Mike Younie, the district’s chief administrative officer, said the pipe has already experienced a failure – about five years ago – on the land portion of the sewer line.
“So we know the potential for failure is there,” he said.
With about 150 new homes being built in Mission each year, the old pipe will not be able to deal with the increased waste and could break.
“It potentially could be an environmental disaster that would take a long time to recover from,” Alexis said.
The mayor said she has spoken to many government ministers, alerting them to the potential disasters environmentally, and not just for Mission.
“Everything flows west,” she said.
Younie said if the sewage spills out into the Fraser River, it could seriously impact salmon, critical sturgeon habitat, and even killer whales, which depend on Chinook runs.
Other communities like Maple Ridge could be impacted as Mission’s waste floats down river.
Younie explained what would happen in Mission if the pipe breaches.
“We would have to stop it on the land. We’d turn off the pipe, then it would be a nightmare on the land,” he said.
Once stopped, Mission’s sewer lines would begin to back up. Workers would have to dig a lagoon, right by the race track, and the sewage would flow into that space. Then, the district would run hundreds of pumper trucks to Abbotsford and back every single day to take the sewage to the JAMES Treatment Plant.
To avoid this, the new larger sewer line needs to be completed – soon.
“This project has to happen,” Alexis said.
Funding for the new sewer line was first made available in March 2017. At that time, it was announced that the district would build the Fraser River Sanitary Crossing Siphon for $8.3 million.
The project was approved under the Government of Canada’s Clean Water and Waste Water Fund. The federal government would provide almost $4.2 million, and the provincial government would provide approximately $2.7 million. The district’s share would be just over $1.4 million.
With the need for land on both sides of the crossing, the total price of the project was estimated at $12 million.
Work is now almost completed on the land portion. However, the total price tag has almost tripled from $12 million to about $32 million.
According to a staff report, the scope of work became more complex and expensive.
Some of the contributing factors to the cost increase include the inflation of construction costs between 2016 and now, the cost of American steel rising while the value of the Canadian dollar fell, a trade dispute resulting in a 25 per cent steel tariff, an increase of the pipe’s diameter from 750mm to 900mm, environmental assessment reviews and more.
Alexis has recently been in communication with MLAs Simon Gibson and Bob D’Eith, MPs Jati Sidhu and Ed Fast, and other government officials and cabinet ministers in Ottawa, but so far, no new funding has been acquired.
“We are, in my opinion, overlooked many times because we don’t fit in the big-city model (and) we don’t fit in the rural; we are kind of in between,” sad Alexis, adding she is being told there is no money available.
“We need assistance from both levels of government. We can’t do it by ourselves.”
Mission could borrow money to pay for the project, but that would mean a large tax increase.
A loan of $20 million translates into about a three or four per cent increase on top of any other increase needed to maintain regular services.
It would also take away any other needed improvement projects for the time being.
Alexis said she will continue to seek funding from all levels of government and will soon be asking other community politicians, especially those along the Fraser River, to express support for the project.