Fernie’s wastewater treatment facilities as seen from Cokato Rd. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

Fernie’s wastewater treatment facilities as seen from Cokato Rd. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

Fernie approves $287K in expenses to fix wastewater infrastructure

These are more steps on a long road to bring the city’s wastewater policies into compliance

Fernie is taking some more steps towards bringing the city’s wastewater infrastructure back into compliance with environmental regulations.

In a presentation to special council meeting on July 18, staff presented a road map for the city to start out, with a ‘wastewater treatment system assessment and compliance strategy,’ – noted to be “a first step in a long term plan”.

Fernie’s wastewater treatment plant was noted to be overwhelmed, and open to the river earlier in 2022 due to various factors overwhelming the system including excess water getting in. The facility was open to the river from October 2021 through to June 2022, and is open again.

Steps to fix the system will include the completion of an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) to determine how much treated effluent is being released into the Elk River, and at what concentrations.

The completed EIS would then help inform a new application to the Ministry of Environment, and what needs to be done to upgrade the system to bring it into compliance with provincial regulations. The city would only be regarded as in compliance after the upgrades were completed, which could take a long time. In an interview with The Free Press earlier in July, the city’s Chief Administrative Officer Michael Boronowski said that the assessment stage for the wastewater plan would take the city well into 2023.

Councillors were asked to approve three staff recommendations starting with the assessment and compliance strategy which would include the EIS, and cost $197,000.

The second ask was for a green light to proceed with a Riverside Lift Station ‘screening solution’ that would filter inflow to the system more effectively and prevent items that cause problems at the treatment plant from getting there in the first place. That work will cost $90,000.

Finally, councillors were asked to approve a provincial request that the city rescind its ‘2014 Liquid Waste Management Plan’.

All funds will be coming from the city’s capital budget, and had been allocated during the 2022 budget process already.

All requests were approved, with Councillor Phil Iddon opposing the Riverside Lift Station expense due to it being too expensive, and above what council had previously been told it would cost.

In the meantime, short-term efforts to improve the city’s wastewater treatment infrastructure has included additional monitoring, the Riverside Lift Station design, de-sludging of lagoons at the treatment plant to improve efficiency, and the hiring of two new wastewater treatment operators to assist existing staff handle the system.

Further down the timeline, the city will be re-doing it’s wastewater treatment plan, which is expected to be a high-engagement process, and will inform future decisions on how to invest (and what to invest) in the city’s wastewater infrastructure. That engagement process is expected to be lengthy.

While the city is at risk of regulatory action if it were to do nothing, according to staff as long as the city works towards a solution for its wastewater problems, and remains in regular contact with the province on progress, fines are unlikely to be coming down the pipeline.

READ MORE: Fernie’s wastewater woes no drag on development: City

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