Gold Bar residents looking for clarity after learning of plan to reroute major sewer line

Residents around a downtown wastewater treatment plant are demanding answers as they learn of a plan to reroute a major sewer line to the facility.

Epcor said new technologies will mean facility can take future flow with minimal impact to community.

Jim Rickett lives close to the Gold Bar treatment plant and has been trying to get more information about a 2017 decision to reroute a major sewer trunk line to the facility. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

Some residents who live near the Gold Bar wastewater treatment plant want more information about a plan to reroute a major sewer line to the facility.

For almost 20 years, the city's sanitary strategy called for wastewater from one of the city's five major trunk lines to be treated at a plant outside the city.

The original 1998 strategy called for the south Edmonton sanitary sewer line, which services Leduc, Nisku and the Edmonton International Airport, to flow north to the Alberta capital region wastewater plant. That plant is outside Edmonton, about 10 kilometres upstream from Fort Saskatchewan. 
The Gold Bar Waste Water Treatment Plant, visible here from the air, will service flows from south Edmonton sanitary sewer. (EPCOR)

Last year, the committee overseeing the strategy, made up of city representatives and private stakeholders, decided to reroute the line to the Gold Bar facility. That decision was made on the recommendation of an engineering report. 

City officials and Epcor, the city-owned utility that operates the Gold Bar plant in Edmonton's river valley, said improved technology will allow the facility to handle output from southern trunk line with minimal impact to surrounding communities.

But some residents who live near the Gold Bar plant are frustrated the decision to reroute the sewer was made behind closed doors. Members of the Save Gold Bar Alliance said they only found out about the plan after they met with Coun. Ben Henderson, sent letters to Epcor and requested city documents.

"People who live in these communities both south and north of the river are concerned with any plan that will bring more industry, more smell, more noise, more traffic into our dense residential community," said Jim Rickett, one of the residents spearheading the Save Gold Park Alliance.

By directing the trunk line to the Gold Bar facility instead of the other treatment plant, the city will shorten the proposed trunk line by about six kilometres, from its original 18-kilometre length.

That will save money, though it's not clear how much.

Mike Darbyshire, general manager of the Capital Region plant, said the decision to divert the trunk line to Gold Bar made financial sense, but was made possible by technological improvements not envisioned in the original 1998 plans.

"It's pretty well a financial reason," he said, "because we want to make sure we're doing what's right for all the ratepayers in the region."

Todd Wyman, director of network integration with the city's drainage department, said building 18 kilometres of sewer line would take a significant amount of time and cost more money.

"This is the point where we've made that significant shift in the strategy with full confidence that this can be undertaken," said Wyman, who chaired the oversight committee last year.

CBC News made several requests to obtain the engineering report that recommended rerouting the sewage line to Gold Bar, but did not receive the document before publication.

Residents concerns come as tensions build over Epcor's rezoning application for a portion of Gold Bar Park, which would see the utility build a parking lot and operations centre. A petition started by the alliance that asks council to reject the application has gathered more than 1,900 signatures. 
Members of the Gold Bar Park Alliance want assurances the park will be protected in the future as the bordering wastewater treatment plant prepares to service more flows. (Save Gold Bar Park Alliance)

Epcor did not agree to an interview with CBC News, but said the company will provide information about the sewer line at a utility committee meeting in August. Epcor insisted the sewer and the rezoning application are two separate topics.

Rickett said the lack of information about how the company plans to manage future sewer output has left some in the community skeptical.

"There are many people that don't have a great deal of trust with what's going on," he said.

The Edmonton regional growth plan anticipates the capital region will nearly double its population by 2044, from 1.3 million to 2.2 million.

More people means more sewage.

A 2016 Epcor report noted the Gold Bar plant could triple its capacity over the next several years with "some limited land use adjustments and significant capital upgrades." The report also mentioned several technologies the company is considering for that plant.

The facility won't have to triple its capacity in the near future, even as the trunk line is rerouted to Gold Bar. Population growth will happen over time and the sewage line will be built over the next several decades.

Members of the alliance still want to know exactly how the company plans to manage future sewage flow.

"What does that mean for odours in the park and in our area?" asked Simone Klann, a volunteer liaison between the community and the Gold Bar plant. "What does that mean for noise and construction?

"I'd like to see that we don't notice your impact before you go toward expanding three times," she said.

Klann and Rickett also want to know why the committee chose to divert the trunk line from the Capital Region facility, which services wastewater from one of the other five major trunk lines in Edmonton and from several surrounding municipalities. The facility has room to expand, is outside the city and was built nearly 30 years after the Gold Bar plant.

Despite new technology that will make the Gold Bar facility more efficient, the alliance wants to see less, not more, sewage flowing into Edmonton's river valley.

"The park land doesn't really have a voice right now," said Klann. "We as residents, especially those of us who love it and use it, we need to speak on its behalf."