CBRM Council: Water & Wind

Water/Wastewater Commission

Greg Campbell

Greg Campbell

Greg Campbell (no relation, a point I feel obliged to underline regularly for his sake), manager of technical services for the CBRM’s Water Utility, appeared before CBRM council last night and I realized that I had dropped the ball in my coverage of his issue, which is the plan to create a combined CBRM Water/Wastewater Utility and switch to a usage-based, “water in/sewer out” payment system, similar to that used in the Halifax Regional Municipality. The combined utility would be overseen by a Commission consisting of four councilors, three “private sector citizens” (?) and a non-voting representative of CBRM staff. It will be answerable to the UARB.

(Asked whether such a system would be more or less “fair” than the existing one, Campbell told councilors back in July 2022 that would depend 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.)

Campbell’s last presentation to council on the matter took place on 22 December 2022, after I’d gone on my Christmas holidays, which is no excuse for not addressing it in January. All I can say in my defense is that I’ve generally done a pretty good job on the wastewater beat, covering, as noted above, Campbell’s July 2022 presentation to council in which he explained the problem the Water/Wastewater Utility is intended to help solve, namely, covering the costs of meeting federal requirements for wastewater treatment.

I’ve also written at length about these requirements, but the short version is that the feds are demanding we stop dumping raw (or not far from it) sewage in the Atlantic Ocean, which means we need to upgrade our various wastewater treatment systems, which will add considerably to the municipality’s costs, due to a combination of “debt repayment, operating expenditures and development of capital reserves.”

I also covered an October 2022 presentation to council by Campbell and consultant Gerry Isenor, who was in the process of preparing the Water Utility’s request for a water-rate hike (its first since 2019) to be presented to the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board (UARB). That hike was approved in on March 28 and I’ve done a sidebar story with more information about it.


About last night

In December 2022, council approved the adoption of a combined Water/Wastewater Commission structure and authorized staff to pursue the “legislative and governance changes” necessary to implement such a commission.

In February 2023, a project steering committee was established consisting of a list of job titles:

List of project steering committee members

(Marie Walsh, whoever her executive assistant is, John MacKinnon, Jennifer Campbell, Wayne MacDonald, Greg Campbell and Christina Lamey? Why not use their actual names?)

Campbell says this group has been meeting weekly to “advance the project in a forward manner” which, you have to admit, beats advancing it in a backward manner.

The committee sent a special request for legislation to establish this commission to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing (the dreaded John Lohr) and was told the department was “looking into possible solutions” and “has been engaged with staff and legal council to develop draft legislation for fall 2023.” CBRM staff are working with the department on the draft legislation.

On 30 May 2023, CBRM council apparently held a workshop to discuss the governance and organizational structure of the new Commission but the irony of holding a “governance” workshop that was not open to the public or even announced publicly (the only meeting listed on the municipal website for May 30 was “budget deliberations”) was apparently lost on all concerned. (Although I now understand why, at the end of that budget session, Deputy Mayor James Edwards asked if they were going straight into workshop.)

But don’t worry, a “condensed summary of the relevant background and items for consideration was given to all major stakeholders within CBRM” and last night, the “details presented to each of the [unnamed] stakeholders” were shared with the public.

Provided the province plays ball and passes the necessary legislation, our Water/Wastewater Commission will consist of four councilors, three “private sector citizens” appointed by council and a non-voting CBRM staff representative appointed from the CAO’s office.

I do not know what the difference is between a  “private sector citizen” and a “citizen” and I’m hoping there isn’t one.


Organizational charts

Campbell’s presentation to council last night–and the supporting documents in the agenda—were jam-packed with detail, including the organizational structure of the Commission itself and proposed organizational changes within the CBRM’s Engineering & Public Works Department (EPW).

The organizational chart attached to the agenda is mostly illegible, but if you look at it in combination with a second chart (intended to explain the “shared services” model”) it helps:

Organizational chart

A corporate organizational chart


Basically, responsibility for wastewater will be removed from Public Works and placed under the control of the new Water/Wastewater Commission, which will also be responsible (as you’ve probably deduced from its name) for water. According to the report presented to council in December:

The size and operational budgets for the new water and wastewater utilities dept. will be equivalent to the resulting Public Works Department, in the range of $40-$50 M/year.

Public Works will continue to “operate in most of its normal functions” including:

  • Transportation and roads maintenance
  • Storm water and catch basins
  • Transit Operations
  • Fleet Maintenance
  • Solid Waste Management
  • Street Lights

The Water/Wastewater Commission will have “designated staff” to “conduct all the daily operations and maintenance work from the existing four Public Works depots in CBRM.” These will include wastewater collection and manhole maintenance, excavation works, sewer backup services and repairs.

The Commission will share corporate services with CBRM (like finance, HR and communications) and engineering services. Furthermore, the Commission will enter into “bilateral agreements” with Public Works for the “sharing of unionized workforce for seasonal events and emergency response.” (CAO Marie Walsh underlined that workers will remain employees of the CBRM, not the Commission.)

As you can see from the charts (especially the second one), operations in the Water/Wastewater Department will be divided by department (Tech Support, Water Operations, Wastewater Operations) rather than by geographic area, as is the case with Public Works (North, Central, East). The report says this will improve the “efficiency and effectiveness” of service delivery.

I am going to listen to Campbell’s presentation again before I write anything more because I have to admit, I find the subject complicated (although I think it’s less complicated than the corporate language makes it sound, it’s all  “proactive” and “strategic” and “leveraged for efficiency.”)

The costs of developing the combined Commission were initially estimated at between $500,00 and $600,000 and to date have reached $165,816.18. Staff estimates another $215,000 in consulting fees will be required. Final costs are as yet unknown, but to date the project remains “on budget.”

Last night, Campbell asked council to:

  • adopt a “guiding principles document;”
  • approve a Commission Board comprised of eight commissioners (pending provincial legislation);
  • approve a revised organization structure for water/wastewater service delivery;
  • approve a revised Engineering & Public Works organizational structure including an expanded Engineering Services department responsible for Asset Management and delivery of Capital Projects.

And council did.


Blown Away

As for the second presentation referenced in my headline, it was made by Denis Thibeault, a self-described “fairly young and new economic development officer” with the Cape Breton Partnership who was part of the local delegation to WindEurope 2023 in Copenhagen.

Where Campbell’s presentation was dense with facts and figures about actual developments that will have real-life implications for CBRM residents, Thibeault’s presentation was mostly a breathless account of turbine components so large they dwarf the deputy mayor (the deputy mayor is six feet tall, if these components didn’t dwarf him, we’d be Spinal Tap “Stonehenge” territory), wind charts so complicated they have “four colors” and Danish port cities so much like CBRM (give or take a thriving offshore wind industry) the local delegation felt right at home.

Remember back in the bad old days, when “port developers” Barry Sheehy and Albert Barbusci were Harbor Port Development Partners (HPDP) and they used to rave about how big ultra-large container vessels (ULCVs) were? I mean, back when they were trying to establish a $1.5 billion container terminal for such vessels in our harbor, something they apparently aren’t doing anymore, although their contract kind of specifically says that’s what they’re to do?

Text from a contract

Anyway, Thibeault’s presentation was a lot like that. I mean, look at the opening slide:

(“No one knows who they were or what they were doing.”)

The contrast between Thibeault’s presentation and Campbell’s was so stark last night that I realized it’s time to surrender. You can’t see it, but I’m waving a large white flag here at Spectator HQ and admitting defeat: CBRM council, you’ve won. You may believe what you like about the future of Novaporte but until Albert Barbusci lands a living, breathing client for his wind marshaling port, I don’t want to hear about it.