Friday, January 12, 2018

Beaver Mines wastewater treatment project back to square one

Jonathan Skrimshire

"The site suitability for the proposed sanitary sewage lagoon development is considered low and site relocation is highly recommended". So reads the epitaph for the controversial Mill Creek wastewater lagoon. The patient was pronounced dead Tuesday, January 9, 2018. The Beaver Mines wastewater treatment project is now back to square one.

In the weeks to come, Council for the Municipal District of Pincher Creek will relaunch the effort to identify a suitable wastewater treatment solution for the community. All viable options are to be considered, including piping wastewater to the existing Pincher Creek facility. Council has also directed that terms of reference be drafted with the goal of contracting a project manager to oversee aspects of the project going forward.

MD Council receives unfavourable geotechnical assessment

Council for the MD, sitting as a committee, received the Beaver Mines Wastewater Treatment Report Update from Director of Operations Leo Reedyk at their morning meeting January 9. The geotechnical assessment of the proposed wastewater lagoon site at the confluence of Mill Creek and the Castle River, prepared by Tetra Tech Canada, accompanied Reedyk's report.

The Tetra Tech report presented the findings from boreholes drilled and test pits excavated at the Mill Creek site to analyze and classify the subsurface soils. The site suitability assessment indicated that "bedrock, including completely or highly weathered sandstone, siltstone, and conglomerate, was encountered at shallow depths ranging between 4.3 m and 5.1 m below the existing ground surface". This geological configuration does not meet Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development guidelines that state "a minimum depth of 10 m is recommended when the upper bedrock formation include coal seams, highly fractured or weathered rock, and other deposits with relatively high permeability."

The geotechnical report concluded that "the site suitability for the proposed sanitary sewage lagoon development is considered low and site relocation is highly recommended. The geology, topography, and geomorphology of the site and surrounding area provide little assistance in mitigating environmental impacts of the proposed sanitary sewage lagoon."

Reedyk's report to Council acknowledged Tetra Tech's findings and proposed potential next steps. "Options for consideration and discussion moving forward include: Enter into discussions with the Village of Cowley or the Town of Pincher Creek for use of their lagoon systems; Open a request for proposal process for land owners looking to sell suitable land for wastewater treatment in a lagoon and wetland system in close proximity to Beaver Mines".

Reedyk's report also noted the requirements set out by the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act's Potable Water Regulation that pertain to the Beaver Mines water and wastewater initiative. Stated succinctly, the regulation stipulates that a water supply system cannot be put in place to service a community unless there exists an approved treatment system to handle the resulting wastewater.

Council discussion of how to proceed in light of the various findings and recommendations presented was deferred to the afternoon regular meeting of Council.

Council discusses alternate wastewater treatment options

Discussion of the issue resumed mid afternoon with Director of Operations Reedyk again addressing Council. "The Mill Creek site [...] is not a viable site for a wastewater lagoon", he stated simply, requesting "direction from Council on what we do next."

A lengthy discussion ensued in which Council considered various potential wastewater treatment options and how to ensure effective management of the project going forward. Much of the discussion of treatment options focused on the possibility of utilizing the existing facilities in Pincher Creek or Cowley.

Councillor Terry Yagos appeared concerned about the possibility of indefinite delays. "Really time is of the essence if we're going to work something out maybe with Cowley, or with Pincher Creek", he said. "Those are the two acceptable options I see right now" he stated, at a later point in the exchange. "The third might be another lagoon, or maybe Lundbreck. But Lundbreck had some issues with their lagoon too."

Several references were made to underutilized capacity at the existing Pincher Creek facility. "Pincher [Creek] has a big enough lagoon", said Yagos. "They had to shut some of it down because they were not getting enough [wastewater]". Councillor Rick Lemire also indicated that Pincher Creek had "upgraded the plant, and don't have enough sewer system to make it run efficiently".

Yagos appeared ready to explore the idea with the Town. "To me, Pincher [Creek] is the logical [option] because we can talk to them right away. Cowley doesn't have a government yet. So how can we talk to them? Who do we talk to?"

Lemire was open to the idea of discussing the matter with the Town, but questioned Council's qualifications to do so. "I agree, we could talk to Pincher [Creek]. But I don't think there's anybody sitting in this room that would be able to discuss with them the finer details of putting a line in", he said.

Asked if any of these options had been previously explored, Reedyk indicated "the option of going to the town of Pincher Creek was previously discussed", and that "Cowley was looked at to the point of coming up with a number as to potential cost".

Yagos appeared keen to attack what he perceived to be the path of least resistance. "We've got to figure out what it would cost [to pipe wastewater] to their lagoon", he said. "I'm pretty sure [...] that's going to be our cheaper option. And it will be done on time."

Councillor Brian Hammond wasn't convinced that would be the case. "The town option was discussed ten, twelve years ago at some length. And the cost was prohibitive", he said. "The costs won't have decreased in that interim time. So it's still going to be a very expensive option."

Council discusses project management

Addressing the issue of how to best manage the project in the future, Lemire asked "Would it be worth our while at this time to hire a consultant to review all the options?"

Councillor Bev Everts was already on top of the issue and armed with a draft resolution. "It's our job to figure out what we want this project manager, this consultant to do", she said, setting out as potential "scope of work" items "capital costs, funding grants, operating costs, regulatory approval, environmental compliancy, expandability and upscaling".

Reeve Quentin Stevick was fully on board with the idea. "I certainly agree with both Councillor Rick [Lemire] and Councillor Bev [Everts] that I would really like to see a project manager that we hire directly to oversee the wastewater part of this project", he said. "I certainly believe that this is the step that we need to take going forward."

A lengthy discussion ensued regarding timing and which specific wastewater treatment options a potential project manager should be asked to evaluate.

Lemire didn't feel including a list of options was the appropriate approach. "I think with a terms of reference, we state what we want to happen, and they come back with the idea", he said. Stevick was also of the opinion that the terms of reference shouldn't be restrictive, expressing a desire that "whoever wants to put in a bid for a contract be given the latitude to come up with some ideas that may be alternatives to a specific lagoon."

After a substantial back and forth, in the course of which the wording went through numerous revisions, Council concluded their discussion of the issue with a motion "that administration be directed to draft terms of reference regarding wastewater treatment options for the Beaver Mines water and wastewater project, including estimated capital costs, estimated operational costs, timelines required and necessary regulatory requirements."

When the draft becomes available, Council will review the terms of reference with the goal of contracting a project manager to oversee the wastewater treatment project. As of this writing, the timeline for delivery of the draft terms of reference to Council is unclear.


Identifying an appropriate and affordable wastewater treatment solution remains the preeminent critical path item hindering the effort to provide permanent treated water supply to the Hamlet of Beaver Mines. It is the roadblock that must be cleared before the overall project can proceed to fruition.

Having abandoned the Mill Creek lagoon as unviable, Council for the MD now find themselves facing the same quandary as those who went before them. What is to be done with the community's wastewater? As yet, there is no clear answer in sight. But Council appears to be now addressing the issue in a manner that promises a better chance of success.

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