Although Tunstall Bay residents cannot agree on how to fund a new water reservoir tank, it seems likely the project will go ahead.
Municipal engineering director Patrick Graham and CAO Liam Edwards spent most of Monday’s community information session fielding questions from residents who had issues with the $655,000 price tag.
Earlier this year the Tunstall Bay Water System Local Advisory Committee requested a new reservoir tank to help the 144-property service area with needed capacity and firefighting efforts.
Council asked staff to prepare a design; a tender with Industra Construction was approved in September.
Costs were the main point of contention, particularly how payments will be structured. The municipality plans to borrow the money through the municipal finance authority. It has opted for a short-term payment option over five years. This means residents will be paying an extra $937 per year. If the municipality spread the costs over 10 years, the annual levy would be almost half that at $522.
“The short-term approach was the one that the LAC preferred. We supported that and agreed with it and proceeded on that basis,” Graham said.
Several people were also opposed to the money coming through debt financing rather than reserves.
“It has to be debt financing; there’s really no other way to pay for infrastructure of this scale,” responded Graham. “Until the point when we have the water system reserves built up to a much more substantial level, then there’s capacity to deal with capital replacements over time without having to do debt financing.”
There is currently about $270,000 only in the water reserves and this is being eyed for other projects. Any potential grants are also being focused elsewhere. The province says projects such as new water tanks should be funded through municipal asset management.
Another financial concern was the size of the new tank. The old tank, built sometime in the mid-1980s, can hold 66 cubic metres for storage and 161 cubic metres for fire fighting. It will remain in use as long as possible although, like much about the tank, its lifespan is unknown.
The new tank, made of glass-fused bolted steel, will be 595 cubic metres. Water for fighting fires will take up the vast majority at 438, with 66 for storage and 91 for emergency storage.
Some residents suggested the new tank needs to be about half that size. But that doesn’t mean it would be half the cost. A bolted-steel tank holding 290 cubic metres would cost $325,000 while the 595 cubic metre tank is $374,000.
The LAC and municipality agreed the extra 305 cubic metres is worth the approximate $50,000.
Many residents expressed their preference for a concrete tank, saying it would last 100 years. But costs would also skyrocket: a 595 cubic metre reinforced concrete tank was estimated at just under $1.5 million.
How the water would be used was another point of contention. Several people said nearby Cape on Bowen property owners, lacking their own reservoir, would benefit from the new tank and yet aren’t contributing to its costs. They want the neighbouring properties to either contribute to the project or not be allowed to draw water from it during a fire.
“I’m fine if they pull from our hydrants if they shoulder a portion of the cost,” said one resident.
Graham said, “Cape Roger Curtis is not benefiting in any way from this project. The only ability to fight fires beyond what an individual home in Cape Roger Curtis has is how big the tanker truck is from the fire department.”
“You can imagine the size of that fire truck’s tank compared to your reservoir. It’s tiny…. That occurs all across Bowen anywhere that’s not within water service.”
“Fires get fought with ocean water or whatever we can do to save lives,” said clerk Stef Shortt.
LAC committee member Peter Rankin was discouraged by this turn in the discussion. “The one thing I’m shocked about [is] if there is a fire at Roger Curtis… good luck to us in Tunstall Bay. We will be very lucky to miss it.”
Rankin says sharing water in a fire emergency needs to be done for the good of the island so the fire doesn’t spread.
Rankin also doesn’t believe there need to be so many water boards on Bowen. He said opposition like this for a new tank discourages people from participating in the water management process.
“We have asked for new volunteers, we haven’t had any. People have been resigning left and right because nothing has been done… How long it’s going to last, who knows,” he says.
The proposal goes to council Dec. 13 for loan authorization. Edwards and Graham are advocating for its approval. They say $54,000 has already been spent on design, costs will go up if delayed and it would not look good for the municipality to cancel an accepted tender.