Plans to remove the sani-dump at the Fernie Visitor Information Centre (VIC) have landed with a splat.
Local businesses and residents that use the service are pushing back against the City of Fernie, which was originally moving forward with removing it without plans to replace it.
However, now city staff say they are working on interim measures.
The sani-dump at the VIC is going to be deleted as part of a $160,000 project to increase the number of parking stalls, add more electric vehicle (EV) charging points and alter traffic flow at the VIC, along with with parking changes at City Hall. Safety at the VIC parking lot has also been raised as an issue, with a large line-up of sani-dump users backing onto the highway at peak times.
The sani-dump has to be removed for the works, which are slated to begin soon and be completed by May 2022. During council discussion on the grant for the project being awarded on Jan. 10, staff indicated there were no concrete plans for a replacement, and did not mention any interim plans.
Community response to the plans to remove the sani-dump has been poor.
Deb Sedrovic, a Fernie resident who uses the sani-dump, said that the decision to remove it without having a replacement lined up was “ridiculous” given how well-used it is.
“If you’ve ever sat at the Visitor Information Centre over summertime for half an hour, the lines reach the highway … it’s a huge wait,” she said.
At the City of Fernie council meeting on Jan. 10, city staff said there were other facilities around the region for people to use — but Sedrovic didn’t buy it.
“Nobody is going to drive 45 minutes out of their way, one way, to go to a sani-dump.”
Sedrovic said that she and her husband (Kim Sedrovic of Fernie Wilderness Adventures) go camping year-round with their camper, and driving to neighbouring communities to use other services wasn’t fair for them or other local users, of which there are many.
“(Camping) is what we do for recreation.”
Ongoing, early discussions about building a new sani-dump at the Fernie Transfer Station were welcome, but the timing was way off, said Sedrovic.
“That would be great — but we can’t have the one there already shut down before the new one is open.”
Tessa Knoop, another Fernie resident who makes use of the sani-dump after regular summer backcountry camping trips, said removing the sani-dump would “complicate the already complex logistics of camping with small kids,” she said.
“I would think the City of Fernie would be looking at ways to make life easier for the very active, outdoorsy families in Fernie instead of putting more obstacles in their way.
“Maybe a pay station would make the existing dump more profitable for the city? I always use the honour system and would very much like to see this service stay where it is.”
Users have to pay $2 to use the sani-dump, with visitors paying at the VIC as part of an honour system.
In responding to questions from The Free Press delivered after the news of the project plans had broken, chief administrative officer with the city Michael Boronowski said there indeed were plans to relocate the sani-dump as part of the overhaul of parking facilities at the VIC.
“The city-owned lot across from the Railyard Dog Park and the transfer station have both been considered by staff, and a formal grant application for improvements including sani-dump and water-filling stations is pending with the province,” he said.
“Discussions with the regional district on locating it with the transfer station are in the very early stages, and staff are working on an interim location so that any disruption to the service is minimized.”
He added that the city was aware of how popular the current sani-dump was for local RV users, but did not respond to a question about stakeholder engagement on its removal.
In addition to local campers and recreational vehicle users, there are businesses in town that rely on the sani-dump as well.
Owner-operator of FibreFresh, a local carpet cleaning company, Jamie Klima said it would be devastating to go without a sani-dump in town.
“We use it year round, with permission, to dispose of the water recovered from floods and cleaning jobs. If I can’t properly dispose of recovered water, then I can’t go to work,” he said.
“I have looked for alternative ways to properly dispose of water, especially in the winter when the city closes the sani-dump and doesn’t clear the snow, but haven’t been able to find one.”
Alternatives in the South Country and Sparwood would add about an hour to his day, he said, adding that besides time added, not having a sani-dump available in town would impact how quickly he could respond to flood jobs.
“If it takes me an additional hour to get to that flood, it may be the difference between a small amount of damage, and a lot of damage to the property.”
Brad Parsell of the Fernie Chamber of Commerce, which operates the VIC on behalf of the city, said they were in favour of the sani-dump being removed and relocated from the VIC specifically because of how popular it is and how busy the car park has become.
“We have witnessed firsthand the car park there getting busier and busier, with lines of RVs causing significant safety issues with line ups out on to the highway at peak times,” he said.
In the summer of 2021, the sani-dump was recorded as being used 1,011 times, but given payment is an honour system, the numbers were likely much higher.
Parsell added that removing it from its current location would be very unpopular, and they had concerns that chamber staff would face some backlash.
“We are concerned that peoples frustrations that the sani-dump is no longer at the current location will be taken out on Chamber staff operating the VIC. Anything the City can do to help us mitigate this and manage expectations will be crucial.”
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