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Time to bite the bullet and borrow to fix roads, sidewalks, sewer lagoon in Lake Cowichan: Peters

Lake Cowichan mayor says he’d be ‘ashamed’ to show public the lack of capital spending
Mayor Rod Peters wants to see the Town of Lake Cowichan borrow money to tackle problems like upgrading roads and sidewalks, and finishing the sewer lagoon. (Gazette file)

“I would be ashamed to give this to the public. I would hate to have to show the people of Lake Cowichan the amount of capital stuff that’s been done in the last few years. It’s basically nothing. It’s time we bit the bullet, borrowed some money, and did it.”

Lake Cowichan Mayor Rod Peters is drawing a line in the sand, calling on his colleagues at the council table to approve the idea of approaching the Municipal Finance Authority for a loan to pay for infrastructure upgrades in town.

Peters first brought up the suggestion at the finance committee meeting on Jan. 14.

He was looking at a financial report ending Dec. 31, 2019 and pointed out that, for example, “the public works total capital expenditures was $398,096. That was for purchase of a sweeper and small tools. There was nothing there towards sidewalks or paving or anything.”

The parks budget, the water and the sewer capital upgrades budget also showed a similar lack of action, he said, suggesting that council’s upcoming strategic planning talks are a good time take aim at bringing the town’s services back to a good level.

In an interview Thursday, Jan. 16, he expanded on his concerns.

“We have some problems with our sewer lagoon, our water treatment plant; the whole spectrum of infrastructure has been slipping. We haven’t achieved anything in the way of real roads done or sidewalk areas done or gardening areas done really since they did the traffic calming area through town.

“The town’s infrastructure has been kind of neglected. I’ve had enough. We are going into a strategic plan. I want to go to the Municipal Finance Authority and borrow some money. We’ve had a balanced budget or a surplus every year for at least the last 10 years but they’ve kind of neglected the infrastructure.

“It’s got to the point where it’s not going to be good for the town unless we get these things fixed up. The town is starting to fall apart.

“We have to upgrade our sewer system, to finish the sewer treatment plant, for sure, in this next year. We have to hopefully get the water treatment plant going. It’s broken down already and it’s not even started. There’s a check valve and it’s not working; if you ever had a breakdown and the chemicals went back into the lake, it would be a problem. The other one is a machine that controls the chemicals that go in. They were testing it and it broke the first time they turned it on. That is a warranty thing through Tri-tech and at the rate they move I don’t know how long it will take them to get that. It’s going to be at least six months before they get the water system up as far as I can figure.

“We’ve got streets that are in disrepair, that have to be paved, and so on. We have to set up a program where we do the water, sewer and paving in one block a year, or two blocks a year. We have to get something organized.”

Works superintendent Kam So pointed out, in a report to council before Christmas, that roads in particular in Lake Cowichan are reaching the tipping point.

Peters agrees.

“If you keep on without doing anything to them, it will start destroying the base of the town’s roads. That’s what the strategic plan is about. The idea of that plan is fantastic but we have to have some money to do something about it. We can’t keep trying to get grants and not finish anything. With the sewer lagoon, they put the lagoon itself in but they never put in the machinery to run it. The ballpark [figure] is that they spent $1.4 million to get it to where it is today and it’s probably going to take at least that or more to finish it off. But, they’re waiting to get grants, and you can wait for grants forever.

“We have to bite the bullet. It’s going to mean a tax increase for a while but if we get that money we can fix the water treatment plant and the water system itself and get the sewer lagoon going,” the mayor said.

“We’ve got 500 lots in this town that are going to be coming on line in the next year. There are 250 lots that Johel Brothers had; that’s been bought. There are another 42 up at The Slopes; there will be about 30 on the triangle on the corner between South Shore Road and the old Lake Cowichan Road. And there’s a bunch in the final phase of Point Ideal.”

The idea is to do some serious talking about these issues, get a solid strategic plan set for the Town, he said.

“It will come up in budget discussions, which will start soon. We have to get at this. We don’t have a choice. I don’t want to point any fingers or anything but it has to be done. I can see that the problems are there.

“They’re just band-aiding everything together right now and it just doesn’t work,” Peters said.