CAO turns whistle-blower at public meeting

District responds to Watershed Planning Committee

District of Lillooet Chief Administrative Officer Grant Loyer blew the whistle on citizens attending a public information meeting July 31.

When people in the audience peppered Loyer with questions and comments, he reached for a whistle on the table in front of him, then blew a shrill blast that silenced his questioners.

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The incident happened at the beginning of Loyer's presentation of the municipality's response to the Lillooet Watershed Planning Committee's May 23 presentation on the District's community water plan.

Minutes into his presentation, Loyer was interrupted by a member of the audience seeking to ask a question. Others said they also wanted to ask questions during the presentation. Councillor Wendy Parker and Loyer replied there would be a question period at the end of the presentation.

"We're all here to learn something that's going to benefit us, so if there's a problem understanding something, is that a problem to you that we ask you at the time?" asked Vera Busse. "If that's a problem to you, then I think you should listen to us, the people who are here to learn and do something for us."

"Oh, I have listened to you. Extensively," replied Loyer. "The council has been listening to you for six years."

As people shouted out comments, Busse added, "Maybe that's because you don't answer the questions."

At that point, Loyer blew the whistle. There were exclamations, someone muttered, "We're not children," and another person called out, "Do we get one, too?"

Loyer reiterated there would be a public question period at the end of his presentation. He continued the District's slide show response as several people walked out.

Approximately 60 people attended the meeting.

The District offered a detailed point-by-point response to the Watershed Planning Committee's earlier presentation on an alternative water project for Lillooet.

Committee "not sanctioned"

Loyer began the District's July 31 presentation by stating the planning committee is not sanctioned by any level of government. He described the committee as a "self-appointed group of residents acting on their own."

Loyer continued, "Unlike the alternative project, we have a project that was scrutinized and approved by the District of Lillooet Council, Interior Health Authority, Union of BC Municipalities, provincial government, federal government and T'it'q'et."

The Watershed Planning Committee wants to use gravity-fed water from Town and Dickey Creeks for Lillooet's water supply. It opposes the District's plan to use water from Seton Lake by pumping it from the Seton Canal (preferred option) or Seton River (backup option). The District has received $10 million in federal gas tax funding for its proposal, scheduled to be completed by the end of 2014.

Responding to the planning committee's assertion that the District never fully studied the gravity option, the municipality cited the work of its current consultant, TRUE Consulting, plus four earlier water studies - WEB Engineering 1977, Borrett Engineering 1985, Mac Godo 1989 and Stantec 1989. The studies stated water from Seton Lake is the best long-term option for Lillooet and that Town and Dickey Creeks both have limited capacity and their recorded flow minimums are too marginal for the creeks to be considered reliable water sources.

Other points in the District's presentation included:

Town Creek totally dried up in 2011. The District says the watershed was nearly completely burned in the 2009 forest fire and will not be in "optimal" condition as a community water source for decades

The District took aim at the costs of the committee's alternative, stating it would cost $2 million just for the piping in the committee's proposal to build a 4,500-metre downhill pipe with a connection point to avoid turbidity and create useful pressure. The District also estimates it would cost $500,000 to purchase the 42 acres of private land required for the committee's proposal. According to the municipality, current grant funding does not cover land purchase costs, meaning those costs would be paid directly by local taxpayers.

The District says the Water Survey of Canada data on water flows used by the committee are "deceptive" and "sporadic" because the data are for approximately six months of the year for the periods 1928-1931, 1955-1959, and 1962-1963. The District says Water Survey of Canada records are not available beyond 1966.

The committee proposes building two ponds/reservoirs in the Town Creek watershed. The District, noting the ground contours on the committee's map of the pond locations, says, "The vertical fall across both these ponds is 100 metres. Ponds cannot be built on land that steep."

The District also questioned the committee's technical research, dismissing the committee's OVIO filtration proposal by saying the company's filters are not a filtration plant. The committee's May 23 presentation also included a proposed self-cleaning pressure filter. The municipality says that particular filter is not used for drinking water and does not meet any approved criteria for drinking water filtration.

The committee says its proposal would provide ample, failsafe forest fire-fighting capacity for Lillooet. The District's response: "Recent forest fires have proven Town or Dickey Creek do not have ample or failsafe supplies. Seton Lake is far more ample." In the event of a power failure during a forest fire, the District says all water source options will be affected by a failure, but that the reservoirs currently in the distribution system provide storage for power failure events.

The committee cited contamination risk factors if Seton Lake should ever be contaminated by a spill or unauthorized discharge. In reply, the District said the Seton intake could be shut down if the lake is contaminated and the REC Centre and Conway wells and Town and Dickey Creeks could be utilized as backups. The municipality noted Kamloops, Kelowna and Penticton all have surface water intakes in far more vulnerable water bodies and each city relies on only one water source.

"Liar" accusations

In response to the watershed committee's statement that the District does not cooperate with First Nations and citizens, the municipality struck back at unnamed critics:

"We attempt to communicate with everyone and provide answers to all enquiries as they are presented. Unfortunately, some people refuse to believe our answers or response and instead choose to call us liars because we do not agree with their opinions," the District stated. "Libel and slander are among the weapons that they choose to use on anyone who disagrees. They try to intimidate residents who support us by contacting their employer with unsupported accusations or, in the case of business owners, by contacting their suppliers to bring pressure for their silence."

When Loyer completed the District's presentation, pertinent pages were posted on the screen and people asked their questions.

The first questioner was Watershed Planning Committee spokesperson George Vanderwolf, who said his group has repeatedly asked for an independent group of earth science engineers to study the gravity-fed options.

"You keep talking about costs, but if you had put money into Town and Dickey Creeks from day one, the whole community could have compared our proposal with your proposal," said Vanderwolf

He challenged the comment that people associated with the municipality were called liars. Vanderwolf said the Watershed Planning Committee never called anyone liars.

Loyer replied the District did not specify who made the accusations. He offered to show Vanderwolf evidence of the "liar" comments and who made them, asking Vanderwolf to apologize if the District could prove council and staff were indeed called liars.

Vanderwolf said he would apologize "as long as it's nobody in my group, because my group never called anybody a liar."

Where were the reports?

Vanderwolf also asked why the municipality is producing reports now on the feasibility of Town and Dickey Creeks when he has been asking for three years for studies on those options. Loyer said the documents had been sitting in the basement of the municipal hall and at the public works yard.

After calling Loyer's whistle-blowing disrespectful, Norm McConnell stated that if the District's information is accurate, "then we may have to accept the costs are the costs to meet Canadian standards for drinking water safety. However, there seems to be a difference of opinion on how it was approached or whether we could have done it cheaper or better."

He criticized the municipality for not securing agreements with the Cayoose Band and BC Hydro for access to the Seton Canal. McConnell said it is proper business practice to have signed authorizations before proceeding with a project.

Saying the District believed it had agreement and support, Loyer declined further comment. He added that under the District's Plan B, the municipality could use its longstanding two million gallon licence on Seton River.

Mayor Dennis Bontron interjected at that point, saying access discussions are ongoing, but must remain confidential at this time.

In his questions, John Courchesne noted the proposal for the alternate project had "comments all over the place, with no context. Thank God you've done the same thing, so they're equal."

Loyer confirmed for Courchesne that pumping costs are expected to increase by an additional annual cost of $35,000 over current pumping costs.

Courchesne also wanted information on water system operating costs now versus the future. Loyer said he didn't have that information at the meeting, but could provide it.

In his opening remarks, Mayor Bontron said the July 31 presentation would be followed by an Open House in late August or early September where representatives of Interior Health and other professionals would answer one-to-one questions.

The District's July 31 response will be posted online after Aug. 9 at Printed copies are available at the municipal hall.

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