West Van won’t annex community over water woes
West Vancouver has washed its hands of an ongoing water war on its western boundary, where an isolated cliffside community remains under one of B.C.’s longest running boil-water advisories.
For more than 6,150 consecutive days — since Jan. 1, 1996 — residents of the 13 sprawling oceanfront homes that make up the unincorporated community of Montizambert Wynd have been told by Vancouver Coastal Health that the water they draw from Montizambert Creek could be unsafe to drink.
Nearby, West Vancouver residents of Horseshoe Bay get their drinking water from the same glacier-fed creek, though theirs passes through a taxpayer-funded $2.6-million filtration system.
Montizambert’s does not. Instead, residents of this cul-de-sac each have their own in-home filtration systems. But last spring, the health authority ruled these systems inadequate and threatened residents with heavy fines for non-compliance if they didn’t pay thousands of dollars each for health authority-inspected point-of-entry filters on their homes.
“They have really no legal right to do that,” John Zara told The Outlook Monday from his home on the 13th lot of Montizambert Wynd. “Maybe if we had problems that someone was sick or the water had worsened…[but] I’ve been here for 37 years and I haven’t had a problem.”
Unwilling to take the financial hit, Zara and seven other Montizambert homeowners petitioned West Vancouver in June to either sell them access to their filtration plant or annex the community outright.
Today, the district revealed its answer to the ‘access or annex’ question: No, and no.
Those decisions were made at an Oct. 15 in-camera council meeting but are only now being made public.
To the question of water access, the district told The Outlook it simply isn’t in the business of selling services such as water — or police, or fire or sanitation — outside its municipal boundaries.
Regarding the proposed annex, Mayor Michael Smith said the arrangement wouldn’t make economic sense.
“We determined it wasn’t in anybody’s interest to proceed with the boundary extension because the costs of putting the water line over there would be about $900,000 for 13 residents,” Mayor Smith told The Outlook in a phone interview last Thursday.
There would also be the added costs to the district of upgrading Montizambert Wynd itself, as currently the rugged, single-lane roadway with an aging bailey bridge could not safely accommodate district fire trucks and other municipal vehicles.
“It’s Metro Vancouver who are the ones who are charged with providing the residents services,” Smith continued. “So it’s really in their bailiwick and I don’t know why they’re trying to pass it off on us.”
As part of Metro Vancouver’s vast Electoral Area A, which includes other unincorporated segments of the Lower Mainland like the North Shore backcountry and the University of British Columbia, Montizambert Wynd residents are represented at Metro by area director Maria Harris.
She told The Outlook last Thursday that, in its rejection of the annex plan, West Vancouver council failed to consider that Montizambert’s entire 40-year-old water system is due for imminent replacement anyway, making spending thousands of dollars per home for point-of-entry filters a too-expensive temporary measure.
“If they each have to invest $5,000 to $10,000 today, then it makes it less interesting to connect to the West Van water district later on when they need a new water system,” Harris said. “But if you take all those costs together, the price differential is going to be much less between the point-of-entry and the West Van hookup.”
Harris told The Outlook she plans to meet again in the coming weeks with West Van council, Montizambert residents and perhaps the province to renegotiate a solution to the water problem.
Still, the West Vancouver mayor was defiant.
“I think Metro would like us to take a problem they have off their hands,” Smith explained, “but we can’t do that at a huge cost to our own taxpayers.”
While Vancouver Coastal Health did not respond to The Outlook’s request for an interview, manager Paul Markey told the paper in June that while some Montizambert in-home filter systems may be “perfectly adequate,” the health authority needs guaranteed access to ensure each system is working at all times before lifting the drinking water ban.
“The matter of urgency will come from Vancouver Coastal Health needing to know there’s a plan in place to get safe drinking water into this community,” Harris said in response to the health authority’s tentative Nov. 30 deadline for action. “So it’s not something that can be stretched out for months.”
West Vancouver’s manager of corporate initiatives Mark Chan told The Outlook Tuesday he expects Montizambert residents will opt to rebuild their own aging water system — just as residents like Zara built the current one — and, with health authority-approved point-of-entry systems at their homes, save substantial costs and future health authority hassle in doing so.