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Councillors set Edmonton rates to handle floods, sewer stink and Blatchford

City and EPCOR closer to fixing old sewers in parts of Edmonton
WATCH ABOVE: The city and EPCOR are one step closer to fixing old sewers in parts of Edmonton. Chris Chacon explains.

Without a lot of fanfare, city council’s utilities committee approved a rate hike Friday that in the years to come, will once and for all solve the stench coming from the sewer system in several of Edmonton’s older neighbourhoods.

While they were at it, a companion rate hike was also set to provide EPCOR with the money needed to flood-proof the city over the coming decades.

The aim is to prevent flooding like the community of Greissbach saw this past summer when a storm blew through, bringing significant rain over three days.

“They’ve created a fairly diverse strategy,” said Councillor Michael Walters.

The multi-million-dollar, two-decade plan will see new stormwater ponds all over the city, increases in the sizes of pipes handle larger volumes of water, as well as a fund to educate homeowners so they can take steps to flood-proof their properties.

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“It means we’re going to get on with doing the work needed to protect people’s homes and businesses and our communities from extreme weather and flooding.”

READ MORE: Ottawa announces $53M for flood mitigation projects in Edmonton

On the stinky sewer problem, Walters called it the last big step to make it so people can eventually enjoy their back yards in the summer.

“Because of substantial growth in south Edmonton and the fact that some of our drop shafts were creating this kind of odour it was affecting people’s quality of life,” he said.

“One of the great frustrations of my tenure here on Edmonton City Council is the slowness that I’ve been able to respond to that.”

EPCOR crews have begun work on upgrading pump stations and modifications to the drop shafts, according to Walters.

“All the capital work that will be required to do the things necessary to reduce the H2S gas from getting into the air and people having to deal with those smells.”

The rate increase will average $1.69 a month on most utility bills.

READ MORE: Edmonton considers ways to tackle stinky sewer ‘hot spots’

A rate increase was also passed for Blatchford so the city can start paying off the debt it took on to start the installation of the district energy system to heat and cool the buildings on the old airport site.

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Councillor Ben Henderson, who chairs the utilities committee, said they want to begin paying off the more than $19 million that, so far, has been sunk into the installation that is now being hooked up to properties.

Henderson pretty much ruled out an increase in property taxes to pay for the new stand-alone utility that’s being built from scratch.

“Our favourite option is: we get some help from other orders of government who have really been encouraging us to these kinds of things,” Henderson told reporters.

“I think it’s completely in line with their policy and their desires around greenhouse gas reduction. So with a federal election in the way, we were not going be getting an answer from the federal government. It sort of slowed down some of those things, but it’s not our only choice and we don’t need the full $93 million right away.”

Eventually the system will cost $93 million with the next major step being when the town centre portion is built several years from now.

READ MORE: 4 townhouse builders announced for Edmonton’s Blatchford development

Deputy city manager Adam Laughlin warned councillors against going too fast, too soon in building the system.

“There’s a degree of patience we need to exercise as it relates to early stages. And this is the rationale for this recommendation, that it balances the pace of development with the opportunity for this utility to grow and expand and accrue revenues.”

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Blatchford property owners will see a 2.7 per cent increase in the proposed rate from the original estimate. Jim Beckett, a consultant hired to be an advisor to the committee, said the goal is to implement slow and steady rate increases so there isn’t a rate shock with fluctuating input costs.

Beckett said the adjustment is within the rights of the committee as the body that sets utility rates.

“I was fortunate enough to tour the energy centre and it’s ready to go. There’s quite a bit of activity in the Blatchford area, you can see construction going on.”

Townhomes are being framed and home builders are expecting the first people could possibly move in as of February. The district energy system is tied into a geothermal shaft under the lake. Henderson said in Phase 2, the town centre will get heat generated from the sewer system when it is expanded.

By then, the plan is to get revenue not only from ratepayers but from land sales as the system is built out.