Sewage infrastructure is a municipal responsibility, or is it?
Some costs for installing pipes and pumps fall to would-be developers and citizens who want to build new homes.
This is what local realtor Dawn Kostelnik discovered while trying to subdivide her Crestview lot.
Before the city approves splitting the land in two, Kostelnik has to install a lift station, which pumps sewage to higher ground.
“We were told that unless we agree to put a lift station on the property (the city) would refuse a subdivision,” said Kostelnik in a recent phone interview.
But there is already a lift station that services Kostelnik and her neighbours’ properties.
“We don’t have a problem,” she said.
If Kostelnik’s lot and neighbouring properties are subdivided, however, the lift station could not handle the load, according to the city.
“I don’t believe (the lift station) is working fine,” said city planning manager Lesley Cabott.
“It can’t take any more capacity.”
While the city has offered to install a lift station on Kostelnik’s property for free, the offer would not extend to the newly subdivided land.
“The basic concept here for me is it’s interfering with my right to use my property,” she said.
But this is normal procedure, according to the city.
It doesn’t matter if it’s an apartment complex or on a single residential lot. Whitehorse residents planning to erect a new building that will feed into the city’s sewage system are responsible for building the infrastructure.
“It’s like this across the country,” said Cabott.
Once the pipes and pumps are in the ground, though, the city will maintain it.
“If it’s built to city standards it becomes the property of the city,” she added.
“They need to build it — it needs to be built to city standards — if they want the city to run it.”
That’s not the case, according to Kostelnik.
“(The city) does not cover anything on a person’s property, they cover it from the city line out,” she said.
“I don’t expect them to maintain my property or anything on it. But I do expect them to provide a service that works for everybody.”
While the city will pay to build a single station on Kostelnik’s property, it will not maintain it long-term.
A letter from the city dated May 30, 2005 puts the onus of maintaining the sewage system on the homeowner.
“After installation the city will provide a five-year warranty on the system…. Once the warranty is completed the maintenance of the system will become the responsibility of the homeowner,” it reads.
And the current lift station works, said Kostelnik.
Residents on the properties it serves have been paying $380 each year, for 11 years, to offset the cost of the current system.
Putting in a new one, on the subdivided lot, would cost about $25,000, said Kostelnik.
The station itself has a price tag of about $10,000 with an additional $15,000 to provide water and sewer.
Moreover, Kostelnik has no faith the new pump system will work.
A letter from the city states that more people on the line would harm the sewer system.
“The designated officer for the sewer and water bylaw has determined that additional sewage load for the existing lift station … would be detrimental to the operation and maintenance of the lift station,” the letter reads.
The problem is too little use, said Kostelnik.
“The reason (the city) is having a problem is because there aren’t enough people on it.”
If the city insists on a lift station before subdividing the land, Kostelnik wants to know the system will function.
“Prove to us that it works,” she said.