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Town of Banff splitting sewer line cost with Sulphur Mtn businesses

BANFF – Town of Banff ratepayers will be on the hook for half of the estimated $2 million price tag to replace an ageing sewer line on Sulphur Mountain that has seen a couple of raw sewage spills.
Rimrock Hotel
The Rimrock Hotel is one of three property owners on Sulphur Mountain that are on the hook to pay for replacement of an aging sewer line that occasionally blocks up and spills raw sewage.

BANFF – Town of Banff ratepayers will be on the hook for half of the estimated $2 million price tag to replace an ageing sewer line on Sulphur Mountain that has seen a couple of raw sewage spills.

On a 4-3 vote, council has passed two readings of a bylaw for the municipality to split the costs 50-50 with the three Sulphur Mountain businesses – Upper Hot Springs, Banff Gondola and Rimrock Resort Hotel. It doesn’t come into effect until third reading is passed.

The businesses have argued against paying the full cost for the sewer line, noting the Town of Banff took over ownership and responsibility of the line in 1995 and all out-of-town properties already pay a premium water and sewer surcharge of 25 per cent.

But Dave McKenna, president of the Banff Jasper Collection by Pursuit, which owns the gondola, said council’s decision to split the costs is fairer than the 100 per percent originally proposed.

“We do continue to focus on the fact the line is wholly owned by the Town of Banff,” he said.

“That being said, in the spirit of collaboration and understanding the challenge of delivering the service to the Sulphur Mountain Group, 50-50 seems acceptable.”

Councillor Peter Poole was adamantly opposed to splitting the costs, pointing to a Town report that indicates it’s not the intention of the municipality to subsidize services provided to out-of-town utility customers.

He said the cost share amounts to a subsidy to the three businesses and “takes from the many and gives to the few.”

“I cannot stand when we have a policy not to subsidize businesses, but to get full cost recovery for the services we provide, that you would do that,” he said to his fellow councillors.

“I cannot stand to watch you hand over money from a neighbour of mine who is having a hard time paying on a fixed income for her rising taxes and her rising rates.”

The sewer pipeline, which is the only one outside town boundaries and is runs about 1.8 kilometres outside the townsite, has been a source of backups leading to raw sewage spilling through a manhole below the Rimrock in recent years. Bears have been attracted to these spills.

Coun. Brian Standish, who originally thought that the three businesses should pay the full cost of the line replacement, changed his mind, saying this is a unique and incredibly complex situation.

He said the three businesses are all valued members of the community, noting they are utility ratepayers and support Town programs and initiatives.

“I believe we have a moral and ethical responsibility with regards to the ownership of this sewer line,” he said.

“We’ve been maintaining this line for nearly 25 years, so we simply can’t close our eyes and deny our responsibility now, just because of the $2 million price tag.”

Coun. Chip Olver unsuccessfully argued that the businesses pay 80 per cent of the costs.

“I believe a shared cost could be considered reasonable, but only if the users who receive the most benefit contribute a large majority of the cost,” she said.

Mayor Karen Sorensen and councillors Standish, Corrie DiManno and Grant Canning supported the 50-50 cost share, while councillors Poole, Olver and Ted Christensen were opposed.