Brian Rothwell stands on the deck of his Osoyoos home with the racetrack and sandpit in the background below. Rothwell is among residents fighting town hall over property values.
At the centre of the brouhaha was a proposal by the town to cope with a projected excess of treated effluent from its sewage treatment lagoon system.
The bulk of the output from the lagoons is used by the Osoyoos Golf Club to irrigate its two 18-hole golf courses, which surround the ponds. However, the capacity of the golf club to accept the discharge was at its limit and the town didn't have a required backup plan.
The town potentially needed to dispose of 1,000 cubic metres per day of treated effluent.
Advice to council from staff and an engineering consultant called for the liquid to be piped to a sandpit just south of the Desert Park racetrack on the town's west bench.
At its Sept. 4 meeting, council voted to re-allocate about $150,000 from a solar power generation budget to pay for the effluent-dumping project.
Unfortunately for the successful completion of the plan, the sandpit in question is located just down the hill and directly in the sight lines of several homes in the affluent enclave of Dividend Ridge. (The community was named after the nearby Dividend Mine, which produced gold from 1912 to 1964.)
Four days after the council meeting, the first volley was fired when Pebble Beach Drive resident Brian Rothwell sent an email to town councillors C.J. Rhodes and Michael Ryan. He expressed concern about the potential impact on adjacent residential property values and the lack of communication or
consultation with residents.
"We hadn't heard a damn thing from anybody with respect to dumping effluent at the south end of Desert Park," Rothwell said in an interview this week.
"We just didn't want a pipe running to the sandpit that would then be spewing effluent that smelled poorly and looked visually unappealing," he said.
Meanwhile, opposition to the project continued to grow, as it became a popular topic of conversation in the Dividend Ridge community and at the golf club, a gathering place for many residents.
On Oct. 1, Rothwell's neighbour Craig Nairn appeared before council's committee of the whole to reiterate the concerns of Dividend Ridge residents. He said they feared the potential unsightliness of the dumping ground and possibility of odours and mosquitoes being generated.
Nairn suggested council was attempting to "sneak" the project through without consultation with affected residents.
Council agreed to postpone any final decisions and to examine the issue more closely at the Oct. 15 meeting of council.
About a week later, Mayor Stu Wells, accompanied by director of operational services Ron Doucette and consulting engineer Terry Underwood, accepted an invitation to visit Nairn's home. A number of residents reiterated concerns about the impact of the project and the lack of consultation.
At the Oct. 15 council committee meeting, Nairn returned to further press the case of Dividend Ridge residents and to offer advice to council about alternative solutions to the excess effluent problem.
Out of that meeting came an agreement from the mayor and council to appear at a public meeting at the golf club on Oct. 25.
Scores of residents attended the meeting to quiz Wells, Rhodes, Ryan, Coun. Mike Plante, Doucette, Underwood and town chief administrative officer Barry Romanko.
Much of their efforts went toward defending the plan and explaining that it was a temporary measure meant to deal with the excess effluent problem only until a more enduring solution could be implemented.
Many residents left the meeting angry and convinced the town had made up its mind and the sandpit-dumping proposal was "a done deal."
However, in an interview this week, Ryan said: "After that meeting at the golf course, council was quite determined that we would find an agreeable solution . . . including that there be no visible sign (of the effluent disposal site). . . . Council asked for options, and they were to be presented at the Nov. 5 council meeting."
Armed with a 140-signature petition, some 25 residents crowded into council chambers on Nov. 5 to witness council's resolution of the problem.
Council didn't disappoint. It passed two motions that would essentially meet the concerns of the Dividend Ridge community.
The effluent will still go into the ground near the sandpit, but it will be an entirely underground system that will see the liquid flow into a "subsurface disposal system" of crushed rock and piping. The pipe will be metered so residents will know precisely how much effluent is flowing.
Further, the town will fast-track plans to extend irrigation pipes to the airport and the high school playing fields so that they will be ready by spring 2013 to use effluent water for irrigating those areas.
In a second motion, council agreed that in response to the petition, "the area known as the sandpit will never be used as an effluent lagoon."
The revised plan will cost in the neighbourhood of $40,000 more than the original $150,000, depending on discussions with the contractor, Ryan said.
In an email from his winter vacation home in Mexico, Nairn said he is happy with the outcome.
"With so much momentum, the mayor and councillors had to come up with a solution that was both acceptable to the town . . . and yet satisfy voters. I feel this was accomplished.
"But it does prove that if a majority of voters, constituents, make a stand, democracy will take place. No one in power wants to be remembered for the bad decisions they (made)."
Said Rothwell of the resolution: "Democracy worked, sort of. The voice of the people helped council make the decision that was needed."
Rhodes said in an interview that since last year's election, he has become heavily involved with "the collaboration process and how important it is to the community."
In this case, however, he conceded that "in retrospect . . . collaboration should have begun earlier."
Rhodes pointed out that public input into council decisions is possible all along the process.