A Vancouver Island First Nation without a home for more than 50 years is poised to make a big step toward establishing one.
Tlowitsis First Nation is set to develop a wastewater treatment facility for its new 635-acre Nenagwas reserve, south of Campbell River.
Tlowitsis Councilor Thomas Smith said that the project is in its early stages and permit application for the wastewater treatment plant has been made with regulatory bodies.
The application includes a request for a Statutory Right of Way (SRW) for crown seabed for the installation of a marine wastewater outfall 14 km south of Campbell River at Oyster Bay. The wastewater outfall into the Strait of Georgia at Stories Beach will extend 2.8 km offshore from a road easement at the North end of Appian Way.
In the spring of 2018, the Tlowitsis finalized the purchase of the Nenagwas property in the Strathcona Regional District, in order to establish a community for many of its 450 members, who have been scattered since the 1960s.
The First Nation has hired Chatwin Engineering to handle the project owing to their past experience with similar projects for other Vancouver Island communities.
“Our engineers are still in the midst of designing the plant, ” said Smith and added, “It’s going to be a state of the art treatment system that cleans effluents before it is discharged.”
Smith also said that the permits are subject to approvals from several regulatory bodies, including the provincial environment ministry, municipal wastewater regulatory authorities and federal units like the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
“It’s going to take a few months for them to do all the analysis that they need to make sure that we need all the regulatory processes before we even get started on it,” said Smith.
He anticipates two more years for the wastewater treatment plant project to begin as the First Nation will first start building infrastructure on their Nenagwas property in July.
The announcement of the wastewater plant has raised questions among residents from the neighbourhood who feel that wastewater will be flushed into Strait of Georgia at Stories Beach.
Don Neil, a resident of Henry Road said that there’s very little information available about the project plans and that the Nation has not responded to his email asking for details.
Neil learned about Tlowitsis First Nation’s proposal for a wastewater outfall in the Strait of Georgia at Stories beach through a brief advertisement that called for comments from the public. However, there was very little information about details of the project, he said.
“A lot of people in the area are upset about the project as the plans and application for the project has been going on for many years and we’ve been given only 30 days to respond to this.”
According to Neil, sewage treatment facilities require constant monitoring and maintenance to ensure that no pollutants enter the ocean.
“We shouldn’t be putting anything into the ocean in the 21st century,” said Neil and added, there are other options to explore where treated sewage water can be recycled and used.
Addressing these concerns Smith said, “I think the rumor mill is that we were just going to pump raw sewage into the ocean,” and added, that the proposed treatment plant is capable of cleaning waste water two points below the optimum requirement by the municipal regulations for wastewater treatment.
Stressing that the effluents will be “basically purified” before going out, Smith also said that the amount will be minimal at the start based on the gradual development of the Nenagwas community.
“We’ve done all our homework on this and we’re First Nations… we wouldn’t be polluting the ocean, for the sake of the ocean,” said Smith, and added that the Nation will be providing updates about their wastewater treatment plant project on their website for the community to access.