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Province steps up funding for Cape Breton’s delayed high-risk wastewater projects

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Officials with the Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM) in Nova Scotia say they are relieved that the province has stepped up with new funding for critical wastewater upgrades and remain hopeful they will continue to receive exemptions from looming compliance deadlines until the high-risk projects are finally finished. 

Operators of facilities in the “high risk” category will have to upgrade their plants by December 31, 2020, but it may be as far off as 2027 when CBRM finalizes its own wastewater upgrades.

Despite the delays, CBRM’s director of engineering and public works, Wayne MacDonald, noted that the funding model has changed since council approved the applications for the upgrade projects in January 2019. Whereas CBRM anticipated paying 27% of the $97.9-million upgrades, the provincial (60%) and federal government (40%) are now covering the entire cost under the Green Environmental Quality Stream of the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program. 

“A very significant item to the discussion is that CBRM will not have to borrow that share, which really provides long-term benefits for the project in terms of operational and debt-servicing costs,” MacDonald told councillors at the March 27th council meeting. “I think the message is clear from the province, that they realized we needed additional support,” added MacDonald. 

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Nova Scotia’s Department of Municipal Affairs paid for a viability study that found CBRM’s declining population is one of the biggest challenges the municipality has to face when it comes to tax and service levels. To further alleviate cash flow pressures on CBRM, Nova Scotia’s Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal is providing a $6-million advance for the wastewater projects. 

The funding application, which made it in just three days before the deadline, includes the design and construction of the two high-risk wastewater systems in Glace Bay and Port Morien, as well as the replacement of the UV disinfection system at the Battery Point sewage treatment plant in Sydney, which has reached its end-of-life. New UV systems are also planned for four wastewater lagoons.

 MacDonald told council that the UV disinfection systems should be completed within the current fiscal year. Port Morien, which is the smaller of the two facilities to be constructed, should be completed by the 2023 construction season. Glace Bay should be completed by 2027. 

In terms of beginning public participation around the Cape Breton projects, as well as engaging local construction contractors, MacDonald said some “creativity” will need to come into play, perhaps using options such as mail-out surveys to respect social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“As was discussed previously, and earlier in the pandemic, was that we were following our pandemic planning processes for social distancing, keeping our staff members safe as well as the public and we’ve instituted as many of them as we could,” said MacDonald during the March 27th council meeting. 

The deadline for wastewater systems with a transitional authorization expiry date is December 31, 2020 to meet the effluent quality standards for carbonaceous biochemical oxygen demand and suspended solids. The total residual chlorine standard for systems < 5,000 m3/day comes into effect January 1, 2021. 

CBRM is also considering an additional $39.5 million in future underground sewer and water line upgrades.

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