The official administrator overseeing the Village of Big Valley heard a report on the condition of the municipality’s sewage lagoon, and the news wasn’t good. 

The lagoon condition report was made at the Feb. 12 regular meeting of council.

Village Chief Administrative officer (CAO) Colleen Mayne made a report to Official Administrator (OA) Gene Sobolewski titled “Big Valley wastewater lagoon 2022 federal and provincial contraventions,” noting in her report problems with the lagoon were revealed unexpectedly.

Readers should note Sobolewski currently acts as council as Big Valley has no quorum.

Mayne stated that the County of Stettler, which had been aiding the village with water and wastewater management as the village searched for a new Public Works foreman, discovered some issues related to a sewage discharge and the required reporting that apparently was never submitted to upper levels of government.

In her verbal report Mayne stated the lagoon contraventions involved both provincial and federal water and wastewater regulations, including Department of Fisheries and Oceans regulations, Municipal Government Act (MGA) rules and Alberta Environment regulations.

According to the CAO the County of Stettler staff came across these notices of contravention that date to 2022 and after she was notified of them Mayne stated she could find no record of the Village of Big Valley ever responding to them.

In her verbal report Mayne suggested the 2022 contraventions were related to the release of wastewater into the river from the lagoon, which is an activity that many municipalities engage in. 

However, it must be done according to certain environmental laws and requires certain reports be compiled by the municipality afterwards for the proper regulators.

According to the Government of Alberta website, “Alberta Environment and Protected Areas regulates the Municipal Wastewater and Storm Water Management Program to ensure environmental protection. Regulatory frameworks, standards and guidelines are designed to assure environmentally acceptable wastewater discharge and acceptable storm water management practices. 

“Municipal systems are regulated by Alberta Environment and Protected Areas and private sewage systems are regulated by Municipal Affairs.”

During her verbal report at the council meeting Mayne listed structural problems at the lagoon as well, noting the lagoon needs repairs and failure of the structure would be a major problem. 

The CAO confirmed MPE Engineering is currently working on an infrastructure report that includes the lagoon.

The CAO noted that she’s met with the County of Stettler again since this all came to light and the county has agreed to continue helping Big Valley with its water and wastewater services until Big Valley’s new foreman has all certifications in place. 

She added that perhaps a stakeholder meeting to discuss these serious issues with the lagoon should be held.

OA Sobolewski stated he saw several pressing issues that needed to be addressed quickly. First, the OA stated Big Valley must respond to regulators regarding the 2022 discharge to let them know the municipality is working on the problem and ensuring the village has a certified staff member testing the water.

Sobolewski then discussed the lagoon’s structural issues, noting as he did that in the past he’s actually worked as a municipal Public Works foreman and is familiar with how expensive these projects are. 

“This could cost a lot of money,” said Sobolewski, adding the price tag could be in the millions of dollars and that grants would be needed because that’s beyond Big Valley’s tax base to cover. 

“You’re not going to be able to afford a repair like this,” said Sobolewski.

The OA stated any decisions made on this issue require the engineering report on the lagoon’s exact condition, plus cost estimates and a timeline for repair.

Sobolewski also suggested looking into meeting directly with the Minister of Municipal Affairs about grant funding for the lagoon project.

Sobolewski passed several resolutions, including sending a letter to the federal government about the 2022 incident, contacting MPE about the infrastructure report and beginning the process of looking for grant money.

He also tabled this issue to a future council meeting.

By Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Feb 28, 2024 at 08:53

This item reprinted with permission from   East Central Alberta Review   Coronation, Alberta

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