Monday, May 5, 2014

A Bridge Too Far ?

The title of this entry may be somewhat misleading upon first view. You probably read it and asked yourself if I was referring to the 1977 movie by the same name or the new pipe/pedestrian bridge that is being proposed by the City of Trail in cooperation with the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary (RDKB). The title was written that way specifically to grab your attention, misdirect your focus and illustrate the following point. The information being circulated about this project along with the counter-petition you may have seen, is also doing the very same thing. It is factually inaccurate and misdirects the public's attention to a different question "Do you want the old bridge re-built?". Regardless of why or who is spreading this information, the public deserves to hear the truth in plain terms about what is actually possible,what is actually being proposed and what it is projected to cost...before they sign their name to a counter-petition.

FACT : The old bridge IS structurally unsound for transport and is beyond repairs that would be economically viable.

It was condemned in late 2010 due to the very real risk that the structure could fail and at 100 yrs of age it had reached the end of it's useful life. An engineering firm (Buckland & Taylor)- http://www.b-t.com/menu/home/Pages/buckland-and-taylor.aspx) that specializes in bridges and municipal infrastructure refused to sign off on the continued use of the bridge based on the expertise of a team of certified (P. Eng) Engineers. These are not people who claim to be Engineers with "better ideas". They are professionals who have completed  bridge projects all over the world. They stake their credentials on the fully informed decisions they make, knowing full well the implications of their decisions and the impacts to affected communities.This decision was not taken lightly, nor was it made in haste without consideration for the impacts.

FACT : The current sewer line on the bridge HAS failed twice and must be replaced.

The sewer line strung along the bottom of the old bridge failed in 2012, dumping thousands of litres raw sewage into the Columbia River.The Ministry of Environment did not levy a fine on the RDKB (who is responsible for the sewer line) at the time. Additional seepage was noted this past winter and a future failure of a more significant nature could result in fines to the RDKB East End Sewer Group (Trail, Rossland & Warfield) that could run into the millions. This would result in a significant and immediate tax increase for all participants of the service and it CANNOT be paid over time like the cost of a new structure can. In response to that FACT, some have said, "Just pump it back to the new bridge and string it across like the gas line". Sorry, the existing single pump house cannot handle the job.  A new one would have to be built at a cost exceeding 7 figures, just for the pump house, never mind the cost of piping, which by the way would have to hang on the river wall and be exposed to the rising river and constant current. This would never be approved by the Ministry of Environment and any thinking person can see why this should not happen. "How about digging up Bay Avenue and running a new line to the new bridge?". Again, it would cost millions, and require the construction of another pump house. Then you lose the water line redundancy and additional fiber-optic conduit. You may have also heard it said that, "They can just run it under the river bed". Simple right? In a word, no. Not simple at all. No guarantee can be made that the river bed is passable with a sewer pipeline. The digging would have to take place first and if in the middle of the multimillion dollar endeavor it was discovered to be impassable, we would be back to square one and have the cost of the new bridge added onto the sunk costs (pardon the pun) of the very expensive underwater excavation. This is a huge and irresponsible risk in my view. This is a bad bet that no responsible council should ever make with taxpayer funds.

FACT:  The cost of a new car bridge would approach 20 Million dollars as at 2011. This would effectively freeze capital spending in the City of Trail for years and the RDKB would still only be required to participate in the portion that carries the sewer lines. The province of BC will not fund the construction of a new automotive bridge.

FACT:  The entire capital cost of the City of Trail's participation in this project (both pipe bridge partnership with the RDKB and the walking deck) will be paid for by the Government of Canada's federal gas tax grant program and this will be the case until the loan is retired.

1. The total cost of the entire project would be 9.8 Million. This includes $200,000.00
that has already been invested in engineering costs for this project.

2. The Pipe Bridge portion will cost the RDKB 4.5 Million (in which Trail participates at 62% of the cost of the service). This utility bridge MUST be built and we must participate in this critical infrastructure repair.

3. Walking/Cycling Deck is 100% our cost at approximately 5.3 Million , 5.6 Million if you include our engineering and planning costs invested to date.

4. The City already has 700K available from Gas Tax revenues for 2013 & 2014 that will effectively reduce the initial borrowing down to 4.9 Million. This includes the cost of adding an additional waterline to loop Trail's municipal water system and create a back up system. It will also include fibre optic cable conduit to support further expansion of the City's Broadband connection.

* Total capital costs attributed to the City of Trail, funded by the federal Gas Tax Grant Program results in a total borrowing by the City of Trail of $4.916 Million, (interest not included).

This loan authorization bylaw #2775, was passed by Trail City Council (unanimously) on Monday April, 24,2014 under section 3.2 of the regular agenda during a public and televised meeting of council, with a pre-published agenda. This was not done in a closed meeting or an ad-hoc session as some have suggested.

This means that your City of Trail residential taxes will not be increasing as a result of this project proceeding and the federal government's Gas Tax Rebate Program will be used for its intended purpose of assisting municipalities with the upgrading of critical infrastructure and addressing the nation wide infrastructure deficit. If you have been told something different, you have been misinformed. The RDKB has the power to levy its own taxes to member municipalities for any borrowing they may do. How they collectively choose to pay for their portion of the pipe bridge is up to the elected officials that make up that governing body.

In summary, I will say this. The counter petition process is a piece of legislation that exists for two reasons.

1.) It is a legislative tool that allows municipal councils to expedite projects that require borrowing when tax revenues for the current year are not sufficient to pay for the entire project. It allows government to proceed in an orderly fashion,consistent with stated and published community objectives. It also prevents governments from having to go to referendum each time a decision is required to invest in critical infrastructure. This is of course why councils are elected in the first place, to represent constituents when these decisions are taken. If a referendum were required every time a major expenditure was planned or required, nothing would ever be achieved and the wheels of government would effectively grind to a complete halt.

2.) The province of BC put this statute into the Community Charter (The Act that empowers local governments) as a democratic check against abuse of power at the local government level. It allows citizens the opportunity to have their voice heard when they have not been consulted or had opportunity to offer a dissenting viewpoint. The key point being that an absence of consultation should be present to legitimize the use of the counter petition tool. To put a finer point on that last statement, refer to the outline below for the communication and feed back that the COT has provided and received on this project prior to voting on this loan authorization by-law.

Consultation:

Since 2012 -the future bridge has been covered extensively by local media (radio, TV, social media, online papers and discussion forums). It has been discussed by Mayor and Council at several Regular Council Meetings. Public consultations have taken place on numerous occasions during the Trail Market on the Esplanade. The information was also made available to the public at Waneta Plaza and on display at the Trail Regional Airport  An up-to-date information sheet was provided at the aforementioned consultations and has been available for review at City Hall. The project is also prominently available on the City’s website and was highlighted in the City’s autumn 2013 and spring 2014 newsletters, distributed to every resident in Trail and also remains available online for the public to view. For anyone to suggest that the public has somehow been kept in the dark about this project  is patently false.

Lastly, what is absolutely critical to this initiative and for the democratic process to be effective, is for the citizenry to be accurately informed when they choose to either participate in any counter petition or not. I am hopeful that the information provided here is of some assistance to you if you are still undecided on whether or not this project should proceed or if you feel that you have been misinformed. The implications of this project if unsuccessful could be grave for our community. The risks of not proceeding are high, as are the increased costs of kicking the can down the road for a future council to deal with this issue. If you only remember one thing I have said in this entire communication, let it be this;

*** There will not be any new City of Trail tax levy on your property as a result of either the pipe bridge or the walking/cycling deck being built. Our portion (for both components) is being funded by Federal Gas Tax Grant Revenues. If anyone tells you otherwise, ask them to prove it.

Thank you

Kevin Jolly
Councillor