The story of a Vancouver Island municipal infrastructure project, delayed for over a decade, appears headed for a happy ending.

In the 1990s, the City of Campbell River planned to upgrade and replace a key sewer force-main pipe that serves the southern portion of the city. The 6-plus kilometer pipe originally served a much smaller population, so it required upsizing. Also, given its age — about 50 years old — the pipe had begun to fail, causing leaks.

City officials considered starting with a 1.5 kilometer stretch where the pipe sits on the beach and is vulnerable to winter storms.  But there were challenges in arriving at a final concept, and funding issues. So they started with the more southern sections, which could also be incorporated into a highway renewal project through Willow Point.

Engineering studies proposed a variety of options for the section on the beach, including twinning the pipe and covering it with concrete to protect it from erosion. The city council of the day liked this idea, especially because it included the potential for a pedestrian walkway on top of the encasement.

Thank goodness the city didn’t dismiss the residents’ concerns and push the project ahead anyway.

But when the concept was presented to the community, it didn’t sit well with nearby residents. The city council listened to the residents’ concerns, and focussed resources on replacing the other sections of the pipeline.

Around 2008, a harsh winter storm washed out sections of the Old Island Highway near Oyster Bay.  This caused city staff to notice an increase in the wear and tear on the sea walk and to begin to understand the potential effects of sea level rise, climate change and the impact to the foreshore.

When the city planners turned their attention back to that 1.5 kilometers of sewer pipe, the city’s only sewer force-main pipe located on a foreshore, they realized the original plan had not taken into account the potential impacts of sea level rise and the increasing severity of winter storms.

The world was a different place in the late 1990s. Climate change hadn’t entered the discussion about municipal infrastructure. Fortunately, design standards are continually being updated to address changing conditions.

City staff studied the expected impacts of sea level rise and determined that the marine foreshore environment is likely to undergo significant changes in the next 100 years. As a result of these anticipated changes, staff now recommends that proper consideration be given to the placement of any critical infrastructure within the marine foreshore environment.

Campbell River staff have also determined that it’s a comparable cost to place the force-main within the highway structure and out of the marine foreshore. Moving the pipe overland will also likely result in reduced operating costs as the anticipated changes to the marine foreshore occur in the coming years.

Staff are now working on a report that summarizes these new developments and a plan to move the sewer pipe out of the foreshore. They will present it to City Council in the near future.

So, some people with a self-interest triggered a fortuitous delay of what to some seemed like a good idea in the 1990s, but which would have actually been a serious mistake.

Thank goodness the city didn’t dismiss the residents’ concerns and push the project ahead anyway.

Thanks in part to neighbors who opposed the project, and thanks to a city council that took the residents’ concerns seriously, the delay provided time for a better plan to emerge, one based on new and emerging scientific data.

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