CBRM Council Report

On the same day last week—July 8—600,000 liters of gasoline spilled out of a storage tank in Sydney’s North End and Rogers Communications showed us why Canada needs not more “competition” in the telecoms sector but a publicly owned internet provider (yes, I went there).

I say this off the top of my council coverage by way of explaining why I will not be discussing the Canada Day kerfuffle.

We came as close as I hope we ever come to our own Halifax Explosion last week and the only information we’re getting about the incident is from Imperial Oil—CBRM was directing reporters to Imperial’s public affairs officer on Friday rather than to any government official. Better still, the Imperial employee doing the communicating was one Keri Scobie, who is based in Edmonton, and whose idea of keeping people updated included refusing to tell the Post how much of the leaked gasoline was recovered.

Imperial Tank Farm, Sydney, NS

Imperial Tank Farm, Sydney, NS. (Source: Google Maps)

I asked the Nova Scotia Department of the Environment and Climate Change if it will be investigating the events leading to the leak and was told:

The Department of Environment and Climate Change is investigating and monitoring the recovery and cleanup effort being led by Imperial Oil. Staff have been onsite and in contact with emergency responders and Imperial Oil officials. The Department’s role is to ensure Imperial Oil is responding appropriately under the Nova Scotia Environment Act’s Environmental Emergency Regulations and has authority under these regulations to direct action if necessary.

But when it comes to determining what actually happened, spokesperson Tracy Barron said;

Imperial Oil has an in-house environment team leading the spill response and recovery, and is required to provide our Department with an incident report on what happened and action that was taken, including cleanup and testing. Staff from our Sydney regional Environment and Climate Change office are also being briefed by Imperial Oil officials on next steps for recovery, cleanup and testing.

I find it a bit disturbing that Imperial is telling the Department of the Environment about next steps for “recovery, cleanup and testing” rather than the other way around. We’re trusting that what’s best for Imperial is best for us, but it apparently suited Imperial to have no equipment on site capable of spraying foam on the escaped gasoline—they had to rely on trucks from the airport,  trucks that were only reinstated in 2016, leading one to wonder what would have happened had this leak occurred at any point between 1997 and 2016, when there was no fire service at the airport.

I asked about the age and capacity of the tanks, which must be registered with the province, and Barron told me:

The Department’s investigation is continuing and the condition of the tanks will be part of that investigation.

I also looked up the province’s storage tank standards and discovered they were updated in 2021 and now contain a section (2.11), not present in the previous, 1997 standards, on “Impact Protection” for above-ground tanks. This includes protection from impact by “heavy construction” vehicles (Imperial has said the cause of the leak was a collision between a front-end loader and a tank) but Barron told me the 2021 standards:

…apply to new or updated storage tank systems and are not applicable to previously installed tanks.

On the bright side, I’m not alone in my concerns. As the Post reported on July 10, some North End residents are organizing and hope to hold a meeting to discuss the wisdom of situating a tank farm in a residential neighborhood—a neighborhood, I might add, directly across the harbor from a marine industrial park that would surely be a more suitable location.

Although the real answer is to get off fossil fuels.

When’s the last time you heard about a 600,000 liter electricity spill?

 

Sewage

Greg Campbell (no relation), manager of technical support services for the CBRM Water Utility, presented to council on Tuesday about wastewater treatment and how we’re going to pay for it.

The Spectator has long copped to a fascination with wastewater treatment and has written at length about Canada’s Wastewater System Effluent Regulations (WSER), which came into effect on 1 January 2015. As I explained previously:

Introduced in 2012 under the Fisheries Act, the regulations apply to wastewater systems that deposit “a deleterious substance…in water.” In other words, to much of the wastewater the CBRM currently dumps into the Atlantic Ocean. Meeting the regulations will mean providing secondary wastewater treatment across the board. (Briefly, primary treatment involves “basic processes to remove suspended solid waste and reduce its biochemical oxygen demand” while secondary treatment “uses biological processes to catch the dissolved organic matter missed in primary treatment.”

As you can see from this map, which I published in 2017, the problem was particularly acute in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland:

Operators of wastewater systems had until 30 June 2014 to apply for transitional authorizations allowing them to continue dumping untreated wastewater into the ocean as they drafted strategies and found the funding to meet the compliance deadlines. Those deadlines were staggered, depending on whether a wastewater system was considered high-risk (2020), medium-risk (2030) or low-risk (2040). The risk levels were assigned based on a number of factors, but basically it was down to what you were dumping and how much of it.

CBRM received 19 transitional authorizations (you’ll find them all in this article), including for three “high-risk” systems: the Glace Bay consolidated system, the Northside consolidated system and the Port Morien system.

The municipality is currently working on the Sydney Harbour West Wastewater project, which is not a high risk system, and which Campbell says is behind schedule and not expected to come online until April 2023.

Work has also begun on the Port Morien and Glace Bay systems, which are expected to be operational in 2025.

Campbell presented an updated WSER compliance map which, as reproduced in the council agenda packaged, looked like it had first been flushed down several toilets:

Map of WSER Compliance in Canada

Campbell’s reason for coming before council was to discuss the increased costs associated with these new treatment facilities, a combination of “debt repayment, operating expenditures and development of capital reserves.” His presentation noted:

Wastewater is currently funded through taxation as a function of assessed property value. The current tax rate is sufficient to cover current expenses, but with annual wastewater costs expected to increase by $2.1 million in 2023 and again by $1.7 million in 2025, a mechanism for additional cost recovery is required.

I realized, looking back at my 2017 stories, that this was in the wind early on:

District 2 Councilor Earlene MacMullin and District 11 Councilor Kendra Coombes both endorsed the idea of using the budget sessions to educate the public on the wastewater issue, and CAO Marie Walsh suggested the public could be told about the various ways in which the projects might be funded, including the possibility (currently under consideration) of switching to a usage-based, “water in/sewer out” payment system, such as is used in the Halifax Regional Municipality.

As Campbell noted on Tuesday:

CBRM previously had immense success building treatment facilities driven by regulatory compliance requirements in the Water Utility by following a utility model with user-pay rate-based cost recovery. Evaluation of a similar approach to wastewater should be considered by Council.

Campbell noted that whether you consider such a system “fair” depends on your definition of “fair,” if you think people should pay for what they use, then this is “fair;” if you think people should pay what they can afford, then it’s not.

CBRM incremental wastewater costs

I don’t know enough about the subject to say anything helpful about this, so will do some research and get back to you.

Greg Campbell

Greg Campbell

Campbell said developing a wastewater utility “is a major endeavor” that will take “a minimum of 18 months” and asked council to pass a motion to:

…direct staff to proceed with scoping the development of a Wastewater Utility Model that provides rate-based cost recovery; and to report back to Council with a revised rate methodology, service delivery plan, legislative requirements, and revised timetable by September 2022.

Council obliged, so we’ll know more in September.

But I have to note that District 10 Councilor Darren Bruckschwaiger, who led the charge earlier this year for a cross-the-board tax cut that reduced CBRM revenues by $3.8 million, noted during the discussion that they all “knew” the “day was coming” when they’d have to talk about the additional costs associated with the new treatment plants.

To put those costs in perspective, Campbell said this year we’re spending $6 million on wastewater; next year, when the Sydney Harbor West system comes online, we’ll be spending $8 million; and in 2025, when the Port Morien and Glace Bay systems begin operating, those costs will hit $10 million and if we take the advice of consultants and set aside cash each year to allow for future replacement of the systems, it will be closer to $12 million.

 

School Sale

If you, like me, travel Route 4 semi-regularly, you have probably had occasion to ask yourself what is to become of the two former schools you pass along the way — East Bay Elementary and the Portage School in Sydney Forks.

Well, wonder no more. The CBRM put both up for sale earlier this year and on July 8 it named the buyers:

East Bay School was sold for $100,000 to Leanne Taylor, Craig Taylor and John Xidos.

Portage School was sold for $12,600 to Thomas Dilney.

Actually, this won’t stop me from wondering what’s to become of them, but it will keep me watching.

 

Thomas Street

Council considered a request for a zoning by-law amendment to allow for the construction of a three-unit apartment building on Thomas Street in Sydney (the current zoning allows for a maximum of two units). I’m including this item in my council round-up for the highly idiosyncratic reason that this is the neighborhood where I grew up.

The building, to my untrained eye, looks kind of big for the lot size but would arguably be an improvement on the piles of earth that occupied the space for an inordinate amount of time after the house that had been there was knocked down.

Given the ongoing housing crisis, I think council should say, “We’ll let you build three units if one is affordable.”

But what are the chances?

My eagle-eyed mother pointed out that the description of the neighborhood provided to council was oddly outdated: it mentioned “a radio station,” a reference to the Alexandra Street building that once housed the CBC. The CBC moved to George Street some years ago and the building is now occupied by the Maritime Environmental Training Institute (METI). The Cape Breton Partnership also has its offices there.

 

Proposed building Thomas Street, Sydney, NS

Source: CBRM

Proposed building, Thomas Street, Sydney

Source: CBRM

 

Hiroshima Memorial Day

Japanese School Kids at Hiroshima memorial (Genbaku Dome)

Japanese school children near Hiroshima Peace Memorial, also known as the Atomic Bomb Dome (“Genbaku Dome”). An exhibition hall, it was the only thing left standing in the area after the bomb. Photo by Catherine Campbell (June 2014)

Continuing my highly curated approach to council reporting, I want to note that CBRM declared August 6 “Hiroshima Memorial Day” in CBRM. Peace Quest Cape Breton, which counts the Spectator‘s own Sean Howard as its campaign coordinator, issued the following statement:

On July 12, responding to a request by the local citizens’ action group Peace Quest Cape Breton, the Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM) unanimously adopted a Proclamation declaring Saturday, August 6th, 2022, ‘Hiroshima Memorial Day,’ a day not only to “remember the devastation” of the atomic bombing of Japan, 77 years ago, but also to “renew our commitment to ensuring freedom from the threat posed by nuclear weapons”.

The Proclamation…condemned “Russia’s threats to use nuclear weapons” in its illegal assault on Ukraine, an atomic bravado demonstrating the “utter failure of nuclear weapons to prevent or deter war,” and the corresponding need to “eliminate the nuclear threat worldwide.” The best way to do that, the Proclamation argued, was for “all states, including Canada, to sign and ratify” the 2017 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), the ‘Ban Treaty’ which entered into force (became international law) in January 2021.

An April 2021 Nanos opinion surveyed showed 74% of respondents – nearly 80% in Atlantic Canada – in favour of Ottawa joining the new treaty, despite Canada’s membership in NATO, a nuclear-armed alliance with a nuclear war-fighting doctrine – including the possible first use of nuclear weapons – identical to Russia’s.

Howard noted that the CBRM, under former Mayor Cecil Clarke, joined ‘Mayors for Peace’—a global coalition of 8,188 anti-nuclear municipalities in 166 countries, including 110 towns and cities in Canada—and commended Mayor Amanda McDougall and council for:

…taking this important stand for sanity and survival in a world increasingly imperiled by the possession and spread of these weapons of apocalyptic destruction. Commemorating the terrible dawn of the nuclear age—as CBRM has done since 2020—symbolically rings the alarm bell about present and future risks.

Here’s the full text:

WHEREAS: August 6th, 2022 marks the 77th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, followed three days later by the atomic bombing of Nagasaki; and;

WHEREAS: Hundreds of thousands of civilians died in these attacks and tens of thousands more have suffered and are suffering from the wounds, radiation sickness and multigenerational genetic disorders triggered by the explosions; and;

WHEREAS: Today’s 14,000 nuclear weapons, possessed by nine states, are equal in their destructive power to more than one million Hiroshimas; and;

WHEREAS: The illegal and barbaric Russian invasion of Ukraine, and Russia’s threats to use nuclear weapons, demonstrates the utter failure of nuclear weapons to prevent or deter war, and the need to reduce and eliminate the nuclear threat worldwide; and;

WHEREAS: In 2013, the Cape Breton Regional Municipality joined the global Mayors for Peace coalition, based in Hiroshima, pledged to work for a nuclear-weapon-free world; and;

WHEREAS: In 2017, 122 states adopted the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which entered-into-force in January 2021; and;

WHEREAS: The Cape Breton Regional Municipality supports the call of Mayors for Peace for all states, including Canada, to sign and ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons:

BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED: that Mayor Amanda McDougall of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality proclaim August 6th, 2022, as “Hiroshima Memorial Day” here in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. A day to remember the devastation of Hiroshima in 1945, and to renew our commitment to ensuring freedom from the threat posed by nuclear weapons, here and everywhere.

 

Communications

There was a discussion about CBRM communications which I will consider in my next issue because, as you might imagine, I have thoughts. (My first being that the municipality should renew its subscription to the Spectator. which was allowed to lapse when the previous spokesperson left.)