School board urges strata to take action as sewage stalemate slides into 2022

This story has been updated to include a response from Anmore Green Estates.

In an effort to end a four-year sewage standoff that saw effluent leaking onto Eagle Mountain Middle School property, School District #43 held a special board meeting Tuesday evening.

The trustees unanimously passed a motion intended to clear the way for strata corporation Anmore Green Estates to connect their private wastewater system to the regional sewer system in 2022.

The meeting was meant to function as a “demonstration of good faith” from the school board the strata corporation, according to a report written by school board secretary-treasurer Chris Nicolls.

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“We’re willing and eager to work with Anmore Green Estates once these details have been worked out,” said board trustee Barb Hobson.

Strata hits back

Rather than paving the way for a smoother working relationship, Tuesday’s school board meeting may have irreparably damaged the relationship between school district and strata, according to Anmore Green Estates vice-president Brandie Roberts.

“Not one board member spoke from an informed, reasonable, or educated position on this issue,” Roberts wrote in a message to B.C.’s Ministry of Environment.

Roberts urged the province to push the project forward due to the stalemate between the school district and the strata.

“There is nothing [Anmore Green Estates] can do to counteract or recover from the level of disingenuous actions and bad faith actions of the SD43 board as a whole. There is no further action that 50 families can take to resolve this,” Roberts wrote.

Back and forth and forth and back

The issue of statutory rights-of-way has been a sticking point in the proceedings. In a Dec. 16 letter, Anmore Green Estates’ legal representative informed the school board the strata is: “not prepared to pay significant amounts to SD43 and not receive the [statutory rights-of-way] in exchange.”

In a response, the school district’s legal representative beseeched the strata corporation to: “stop delaying and complete the work, which should have been done last summer.

“Simply not doing the work or delaying it indefinitely should not be an option. The Ministry of Environment ordered the strata corporation to address the pollution it is causing years ago and the Strata Corporation has had many years to secure the funding it needs,” the school board replied.

In May 2020, the strata stated that, based on their research, School District #43 is responsible for the septic leakage “and therefore liable for all costs,” according to Nicolls’ report.

After noting that complying with the provincial pollution order is costing the school board more than $5,000 a month, the board also noted it would not release any “potential claims” against the strata.

“The strata corporation’s best strategy for reducing its potential exposure to liability is to act reasonably and complete the work promptly,” the board stated. “When will the strata corporation take responsibility for the handling of its own sewage and stop looking for someone else to pay?”

The dispute evolves

Anmore Green Estates was awarded a permit to run its own wastewater treatment system in 1978.

Tests in 2017 found fecal coliform and E.coli had leached onto an Eagle Mountain Middle School field.

The province subsequently issued several pollution abatement orders.

Fencing was erected around the field. While there is “no indication” the waste has spread from the field area to school property, a dye test undertaken in 2019 suggested “effluent may be leaving the site through the storm sewer system” and ending up in Turner Creek, according to the province.

Subsequent tests showed the water entering Turner Creek is within the province’s water quality guidelines.

Getting it fixed

Including tendering, the connected is expected to take between 12 and 15 weeks to complete, according to a tentative estimate put forward by the school board.

Speaking to the Tri-City News in January, strata spokesperson Brandie Roberts stated that an engineering firm had been engaged, funding options were determined, and the strata was in the process of scheduling a meeting of homeowners to approve the plan.

“It is long past time to get this done,” Roberts stated.

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