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Bowen Health Centre Foundation questions sewage covenant terms

Delegation say they're "tired and confused" by the ongoing process
Health Centre map
The health centre will have to install a septic tank until there is capacity to hook up to the municipal sewage system.

A frustrated delegation appeared before Bowen council Monday, lamenting what they call a one-sided agreement that will drive up costs at the new health centre.

The Bowen Island Health Centre Foundation appeared at the virtual meeting where Tim Rhodes, president, and several directors opposed the details of a sewage covenant being requested by the municipality in order to receive a building permit.

The snag in the multi-million dollar project comes because the Snug Cove sewer system is at capacity. “We are currently in the position where we cannot be approving anymore connections to the system,” says CAO Liam Edwards.

This problem isn’t expected to be solved anytime soon though. Edwards says staff will have plans for sewer expansion at the January 24 council meeting, but in the meantime will be telling developers there isn’t any current possibility of sewage connection in the Cove.

With sewage hookup unavailable, the health centre now needs to create a septic field to service their building. But until these plans are developed a building permit can’t be issued. With time being of the essence, BIM offered to grant an exception if the foundation signs a septic covenant.

The covenant would allow for the building permit but restrict the foundation from applying for an occupancy permit until they’ve presented a sewage plan.

The wording of the municipal document wasn’t well received however.

“The confused part is why at this very late hour, at the very last minute, and days before the holidays, we've been asked by staff to review and sign a covenant in relation to waste treatments for the health centre in order to receive an urgently needed building permit,” says Greg Shepherd, a foundation director and CEO of Pharmasave Western Canada.

“Given the trust we have built and the level of professionalism we have shown in all of our dealings, does anyone on council believe that we would advance this project to opening without proper waste treatment in place? Yet this is what the covenant purports to protect you from,” Shepherd continues.

Added costs run into six figures

The foundation also expressed dismay at the additional costs involved with building a septic field and being forced to dismantle it once sewage capacity has been expanded and they can hook up to the system. The covenant reads this will all take place at the foundation’s expense.

Shepherd says this would include “$125,000 for fees and capital contributions to connect to the municipal sewer system, a cost that jumps to almost a quarter of a million dollars when the cost to install and decommission a septic system is added. None of these costs were anticipated when we offered to purchase the land in 2019, nor would they be an issue now but for the delays caused by Council at the beginning of this term and the shocking news last year that the municipal sewer system would not have capacity for the health centre.”

Coun. David Hocking asked if the financial burden could be reduced if the health centre opted to use the septic system long-term, rather than connecting to the municipal system once it’s ready.

Edwards responded the septic tank will actually be on municipal land and they may want to use it down the road. “There may be other opportunities for use of that land in the future that we wouldn’t want to be encumbered by a septic field that would be there for 30-plus years.”

“So on the one hand a septic field could serve the facility for a long period of time. But on the other hand, is that the best use of that land for municipal interests?” says Edwards, explaining the covenant allows BIM the option to require the health centre to hook up to the Cove sewage system when possible.

Edwards says the “covenant also ensures that the applicant will in fact develop a septic field, and not come back and identify that they should have the right to connect to a sewage treatment plant. I’m not implying that the medical centre would ever do such a thing, but for the municipality it’s important to get things confirmed in writing.”

Rhodes and the foundation remained less than pleased with the development, however conceded they had little choice but to accept the offer.

“If we have to sign this covenant to get our building permit, we will sign the covenant… because it’s absolutely urgent to get the permit and keep things moving,” says Rhodes. “There are things about this covenant that we don’t like, but if that’s what we have to do to move this project forward we’ll do it.”

“But with objections.”

The foundation did score some concessions however, including greater leeway to negotiate fees and a three-year timeframe to decommission the septic field once BIM requests they move onto the municipal sewer system. Council also unanimously voted to waive the covenant’s $2,500 fee.

Council also passed a bylaw establishing the covenant option in question as standard procedure for any similar project situations in the future.