Debate and rebuttals took periodic turns into heated exchanges, applause and the occasional gavel pound to calm the crowd during a public hearing for a newly proposed lagoon in the Rural Municipality of Buckland.
The new structure is needed to replace the failing system for roughly 65 dwellings at North Bay Trailer Park. If a plan for a new lagoon cannot be decided before September 1, authorities from the Saskatchewan Water Security Agency (WSA) said work will begin to decommission the old lagoon, meaning all residents of the park will be forced to move.
An audience of over 40 turned out Monday, spilling into the office foyer, to discuss an application the R.M. received to construct the new sewage lagoon approximately two miles west of Highway 2, near Red Wing Road.
Those in attendance skewed heavily in opposition to the motion for a multitude of reasons. The greatest concern pertained to uncertainty around the project's future. Many worried if, down the road, sewage trucks will start hauling additional waste to the site, which could add stress to a road already not in the best of shape, according to residents. The road was shut down for nearly six weeks last year, they said, and prevented buses and ambulances from getting through.
“Once we let this happen, I think it is going to be a lot more involved,” one resident said.
“That is a scary potential for us,” another added.
Others questioned what damage would be done to the road by installing the pipe, though park owner James Wankel said a trenching machine, with “very low ground disturbance,” will be used. He said there are also currently no plans in place to allow additional dumping.
The lagoon, he explained, will be designed well over capacity. The project would occupy around five acres of land on a 160-acre parcel. The lagoon itself will be trenched only about two-and-a-half feet into the ground and have a three-foot berm around it with a membrane to contain the contents. The proposed four-inch pipeline, he said, would not transfer any solid waste and would run in the ditch on the south-side Red Wing Road. The lagoon will also be designed to purify itself with biological degradation, a natural process. The project is still early in its development, with more engineering studies to be completed and test holes dug to measure things like the water table. The project is regulated by the WSA.
Wankel fielded an abundance of questions during the hearing and attempted to quell some concerns. The exchanges, at times, turned into heated back-and-fourths.
Residents pointed to environmental concerns, questioned how the natural runoff and discharge will be dealt with in an already wet area. Red flags were further raised around what to do if the pipe or the lagoon itself leaks and contaminates the groundwater.
“If something leaks in there and destroys my well, who is responsible for that? Who do I sue?” a resident said.
Wankel replied by saying the design was abiding by all the rules laid out the WSA to minimize the risk of that occurring.
“This is a brand new lagoon done to engineered standards with a membrane that does not allow it to seep through,” he said.
All are uneasy with the possible smell that could come from the lagoon and what it could mean for their property values.
“I don’t approve of this lagoon because what is it going to do to my land,” one man said. “Is it going to lower the price, which it probably will, having a thing like that there?”
Another lady vocalized her discontent with the impact it could have on her livelihood, as she plans to develop a U-pick orchard in the near future.
Speckled among the crowd, however, were a handful of residents who call North Bay home.
"What am I going to do? Look at me, I raised my family out there, bought the place 13 years ago,” one man said. “I should just pick up because all you people are unhappy? … What do you want me to do? You want us just to get up and leave so everything is better for your guys.”
This caused some punctuated rhetoric in the crowd, with residents accusing Wankel of passing the buck and making a poor business decision.
“You have a problem,” one resident said. “Instead of fixing your problem, you are giving all of our people your problem.”
Another chimed in saying they “did not sign up to be neighbours to a sewage lagoon."
Talks later spiralled into finding alternative locations. Suggestions surfaced pitching a renovation of the current lagoon, purchasing another chunk of land or approaching the city to take the waste. Wankel said these were all avenues he had already explored over the past two years, and to no avail. Reps from the WSA said a repair is not possible at the current site and Wankel added that the government won’t give up the Crown land nearby.
“What I would call it is ‘not in my backyard,’ … and I get it,” Wankel said. “There is always going to be someone who says, ‘not in my backyard’ … We have looked at so many options and this is the last one for us.”
After the meeting, Rachel Kobelsky, who lives near the proposed site, said she and others don’t feel “like the developer and council are able to give us a good idea of what we can expect in the years to come if this moves forward.”
“It seems like the developer doesn’t have much concern over how the residents feel,” she said. “We didn’t sign up for this. Plain and simple.”
Reeve Don Fyrk said the project is still up in the air. He understood people were “unsure of the unknowns” and said the public hearing was a chance for councillors to pick up some ideas from the people and weigh them when the final engineering plans come forward.
“This might not be the final spot for it. We don’t know,” he said. “It is all privately owned. The R.M. doesn’t really have any say in it, except yes or no.”
He said the project could move ahead in a few months for a few years. He also addressed some top concerns, saying he lives near a lagoon and never smells it, and said a few other people he spoke too only catch a whiff of the lagoon once or twice a year.
“It's a Catch 22. You're damned if you do and you're damned if you don’t,” he said. “We will see what happens.”
On Twitter: @JournoMarr
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