Water issues in Inverness County are no longer a drop in the bucket.
Last month, the Municipality of the County of Inverness released its 2019/20 budget outlining how the municipal unit would spend its tax dollars over the next 12 months. Sticking out like a sore thumb – or the tip of a scud missile — from that 14-page document was a call for approximately $103 million worth of spending to improve water and wastewater infrastructure in the county. That spending would be spread over the next 10 years.
So, why is it we are facing an infrastructure crisis right now?
Well, one thing that has to be appreciated is that the municipality simply has a great number of things that can break down. It’s not like water infrastructure is one unified piece of equipment reaching from Port Hastings to Cheticamp.
In specific, there are seven waste water treatment plants, seven water treatment plants, and seven reservoirs under the municipality’s ownership. With that, there are 23 lift stations, two water booster stations, 71.3 kilometres (km) of watermains, 45.7 km of sanitary sewer, and 10.7 km of wastewater forcemains. The overall estimated value of water and waste water infrastructure tops out at $185.9 million. All of it is being maintained by the municipality.
As years go by, things break down. That is the natural way machines work. One of Benjamin Franklin’s famous lines was “there are only two things certain in life: death and taxes.” Had Franklin lived long enough to see the industrial revolution reach its full speed, he might have added mechanical failure to his list of inevitables.
One does have to wonder why so many water-related problems are arising now, as it seems so many issues are popping up at more or less the same time. Maybe staff with the municipality, in years past, could have been more diligent with repairing equipment as issues arose. That sort of approach would have helped guard against such a number of problems arising all at once.
However, there’s no evidence municipal staff weren’t doing their due diligence over the years. Staff dealing with repairs have a very tough job, a job that’s often dangerous, and criticizing theirs effort isn’t something you’ll read in this editorial.
Greater financial investments, however, maybe could have been made in years past, all in an effort to keep the taps flowing. But even that is speculation at this point. It might be the case that all efforts were made to keep the infrastructure in good working order but still, somehow, the age of the system caught up to us.
In Port Hood on Wednesday, July 10, Inverness County CAO Keith MacDonald, flanked by Warden Betty Ann MacQuarrie and chief financial officer Tanya Tibbo, outlined for the community the scope of the water problems facing not just Port Hood but the entire county. Hosting such public information sessions is something to which MacDonald is no stranger, given similar meetings he’s hosted throughout the county since taking the CAO gig. Indeed, he held a similar meeting in Judique not long after the July 10 sit-down.
At one point, a local resident summed up the gist of the situation by pointing out, “basically, you’ve inherited a mess.”
Truer words have rarely been spoken.
Looking at the estimated investment cost per community over the next 10 years, Inverness needs a massive $42.6 million worth of capital investment, with Port Hood ($16.4 million), Cheticamp ($16 million), and Port Hastings ($10.3 million) all requiring massive investments as well. Rounding out the community requirements are Whycocomagh ($7.7 million), Mabou ($6 million), and Judique ($4.1 million).
Some of the high priority upgrades include replacing wastewater treatment plants in Whycocomagh ($5.1 million), Inverness ($4.7 million), and Judique ($2.9 million).
Upgrades to Inverness’ watermains are projected to cost $9.7 million and similar work in Judique is estimated to ring in at $1.1 million. Upgrades to gravity sewers in Inverness are also going to be a wallet-dinger at $7.1 million.
As things now stand, the municipality is waiting to hear back on a call for federal and provincial infrastructure funding as it relates to the Whycocomagh and Inverness waste water treatment plants. Garnering a bit of cash from those levels of government would be a great step forward.
As months and years go by, let’s hope the province and federal government are willing to open their wallets to help the local municipality in terms of its water woes. The only other alternative is for the county to go in alone on the repairs and, given the massive amount of work to be done, the chances of retaining the current tax rates are extremely unlikely.