With 2020 wastewater deadline looming, CBRM coming down to the wire

It’s going to be nip and tuck whether Cape Breton Regional Municipality meets next year’s deadline under federal sewage wastewater treatment rules.

Work on the last of the municipality’s high-risk effluent systems has yet to start, but Wayne MacDonald, CBRM’s director of engineering and public works, said a new infrastructure funding program might help.

Under federal wastewater regulations, effluent going into waterways like the ocean has to be properly treated by 2020.

A decade ago, CBRM officials estimated it would take $454 million to comply with the rules for high-risk and low-risk systems.

Treatment plants for Glace Bay, Port Morien?

On Tuesday, council approved a staff recommendation to apply under a new funding program for grants toward treatment plants in Glace Bay and Port Morien.

The funding application would also cover upgrades to disinfection systems at the Battery Point sewage treatment plant in Sydney and various sewage lagoons throughout CBRM.

The total cost of those projects is estimated at $98 million. Under the new funding program, the federal and provincial governments pay 73 per cent of that.

MacDonald said the two plants would be the last of the high-risk systems in the municipality.

Before voting to approve a recommendation to apply for grants, Coun. Earlene MacMullin asked whether CBRM has the roughly $26.5 million for its share of the projects. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

But before voting on the staff recommendation, Coun. Earlene MacMullin asked if CBRM has the roughly $26.5 million dollars for its share of the projects.

MacDonald told council they would have some decisions to make on how to fund its share.

Coun. Darren Bruckschwaiger said the new funding formula — with the feds and the province paying nearly three-quarters — makes debt financing affordable.

Coun. Darren Bruckschwaiger says if the federal and provincial governments pick up 73 per cent of the tab, CBRM can afford to borrow to get the work done. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

“One thing we’ve always said here around the table was that it always made sense to borrow at 33-cent dollars and it appears we’re at 27-cent dollars, which is great news,” he said.

MacDonald says if approved, the Glace Bay and Port Morien projects wouldn’t be complete by 2020 as required by regulation, but would likely be close enough.

“They’ll be in process, if we’re successful with the application, and working towards them being completed,” he said.

CBRM cleaned up sewage outfalls on the east side of Sydney Harbour in 2014 and a $58-million project on the west side is now in the design stage.

The municipality is on the hook for a third of the cost — roughly $19.3 million — of that project.

Breathing room on other projects

MacDonald said CBRM will have some breathing room on the remaining lower-risk projects.

“With Sydney Harbour West, plus Glace Bay-Port Morien and the projects that we were doing, from the timeframe of the wastewater projects coming online, the remaining would be the low-risk projects in around the $200-million range, and they would be required by 2040, so we have a little bit more time for those,” he said.

The municipality isn’t likely to face a penalty for not having all of its high-risk work completed by 2020, MacDonald said.

“I believe CBRM certainly looks very favourable to the regulatory bodies that we’ve been doing what we can, and I think this application makes a strong move in that direction.”

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