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School District, homeowners must ‘compromise’ to solve sewage problem at Port Moody school: MLA

Negotiations to connect a 51-home strata complex with a failing septic system to the regional sewer systems have dragged on for four years. Now they've reached a "critical juncture," says MLA Rick Glumac.
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Fencing surrounds the hillside next to Eagle Mountain Middle school where water contaminated with e coli and fecal coliform was first detected more than four years ago.

The MLA for Port Moody-Coquitlam is urging School District 43 (SD43) and the owners at the Anmore Green Estates (AGE) strata complex to resolve their differences so construction of a new sewer hookup to the 51 homes can begin before the summer.

In a letter to SD43 officials, as well as a representative of the homeowners, Rick Glumac said the two sides need to “focus less on ‘sides’ and more on our common goal,” which is to address leaks from the housing complex’s failing septic system which have percolated to the surface on the grounds of nearby Eagle Mountain Middle since 2017.

“We need to find a way to finalize this and in order to do that both parties need to be willing to compromise,” Glumac said, adding students and teachers at the school, as well as parents have “been waiting a long time to see a solution implemented.”

Glumac’s rebuke comes in the wake of SD43’s conditional approval of a statutory right of way bylaw in a special meeting held Dec. 23. The bylaw will allow construction of a sewer line on the school’s property from the strata complex to a hookup with the regional sewer system in Port Moody – only 50 metres away.

But the positive vote was preceded by a request from the strata to possibly extend the deadline of Aug. 31, 2022, for the work to be completed. That elicited a sharp retort from the school district.

In a memo presented at the Dec. 23 meeting, SD43 secretary-treasurer and chief financial officer Chris Nicolls said if bids for the construction come in over budget, “simply not doing the work or delaying it indefinitely should not be an option.”

Nicolls said a new pollution prevention order issued to the school district last October by the Ministry of Environment is costing it more than $5,000 a month. 

The order requires the erection of fencing and signs around the area where leaks of water contaminated with E. coli and fecal coliform had previously been detected as well as the collection of monthly samples of ground water downstream of the strata’s septic system annually from Nov. 1 to April 30. 

An order issued to AGE at the same time requires it to provide dye testing of its septic system every November and March.

Failure by either party to comply with the orders could result in a fine of up to $300,000, six months in jail or both.

In an email to The Tri-City News, AGE spokesperson Brandie Roberts said the extension request relates to legal agreements that must be in place for construction to proceed. She added the strata needs to be protected in case delays occur related to the availability of contractors to do the work, procurement of materials or supply chain issues.

“The last thing we want is to have the agreements null and void and the project not occur because of an unforeseen delay that is outside of our control,” Roberts said, adding the strata is also requesting fees owing to the school district be capped at $164,000 so it’s not on the hook for additional expenses like SD43’s legal appeals to the pollution prevention orders.

Roberts said AGE homeowners have already funded $780,000 towards the sewer connection, of which $480,000 is paying for administrative fees. She accused SD43 and others of playing politics with the sewage problem.

“This entire process has been politically driven and does not follow sound decision making,” she said, adding, “For AGE and as a parent, this is extremely disheartening.”

In his memo, Nicolls said the school district continues to act in “good faith” to facilitate the resolution of leaking sewage from the failing septic system “but it has a fiduciary duty to manage its resources responsibly, including to recover costs it should not have been forced to incur.”

The presence of E. coli and fecal coliform contamination in water leaking from Anmore Green’s septic system was first detected in 2017. Protective fencing and warning signs were erected that winter at the base of a hillside often used by Eagle Mountain students for play or as a shortcut home. 

Negotiations to resolve the problem have been ongoing with the various levels of government that have jurisdiction over a possible connection to the nearby sewer system, including the Village of Anmore, the City of Port Moody, Metro Vancouver and the SD43. They haven’t always gone smoothly, and in late 2019, the province appointed a facilitator to help move discussions along.

Meanwhile, the frustration of parents continues. A petition in 2020 urging the problem be resolved once and for all collected more than 3,500 signatures.

In his letter, Glumac acknowledged all parties with a stake in the situation have come a long way, including preliminary site work and the preparation of other logistics, but “we are at a critical juncture.”