Misunderstood Metro faces uphill climb in 2013

Board chair defends regional district as it battles critics, public ignorance

Metro Vancouver board chair Greg Moore

Metro Vancouver board chair Greg Moore

Metro Vancouver has an image problem.

Too few residents know what the regional district is or that its $635-million budget is mainly geared to deliver drinking water, treat sewage and deal with garbage.

Polling conducted by Metro last year found just eight per cent of residents knew what it was – 13 per cent knew it by its formal name, the Greater Vancouver Regional District – and many of those who were aware confused it with TransLink.

“We have some work to do,” Metro board chair Greg Moore said in a year-end interview.

He said the region will aim to better communicate its role, without spending any extra money.

“Metro Vancouver needs to do a better job of letting people know about the billion litres of water that we clean a day and that we clean up a day – and that nothing goes wrong with it.”

Instead, he admits, the regional district is often criticized as too focused on green initiatives and immersed in decisions such as whether to ban smoking in regional parks.

And then there’s the ongoing debate on building a new garbage incinerator, fought by Fraser Valley opponents who fear more air pollution.

It’s sure to be a source of continued controversy this year, as prospective partner firms are identified and a list of proposed sites is made public by fall.

Moore admits to “frustration” with some opponents who portray the waste-to-energy project as a costly boondoggle in the making without talking to regional officials or proposing a viable alternative.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation and the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of B.C. have both slammed the expected $450-million price tag.

“I find it disappointing when these groups decide to come out and comment they don’t bother to talk to Metro Vancouver,” Moore said, arguing other options are not necessarily cheaper.

“A landfill is over a billion dollars over that same lifespan when you look at the total life cycle of the project. And you have to deal with the liability of having garbage in the ground for the next 100 years.”

Moore notes Metro’s garbage volumes are falling as the region’s ban on residential organics disposal kicks in and cities provide curbside pickup of food waste.

The reduced waste flow means Metro has already scaled back the size of the expected waste-fired plant and Moore said the region is on target to slash the amount of garbage dumped at the Vancouver Landfill in Delta to below 100,000 tonnes per year by 2020.

It will be more difficult, he said, to achieve the next stage of the organic waste shift – getting all multi-family condo buildings and businesses to also put all compostibles in green bins instead of the trash.

Metro has yet to face a major test of its new Regional Growth Strategy – the master plan for development across the region signed in 2011 and cornerstone of efforts to contain sprawl and ensure livability.

But cities should soon begin submitting their regional context statements for board approval. They’re the contracts by which each municipality pledges to ensure local land-use plans conform with the designations and goals in the regional strategy.

The region will also be on the hunt for government cost-sharing on major projects, such as the planned $600-million replacement of the Lions Gate sewage treatment plant to ensure secondary treatment of discharges to Burrard Inlet.

Metro has opted to postpone design work on the longer-term $800-million rebuild of its Iona treatment plant.

But it is designing a $450-million expansion of the Annacis Island sewage treatment plant and a $60 million upgrade at the northwest Langley plant.

Big Metro projects advancing this year include the construction of a $110-million ultraviolet water disinfection system at the Coquitlam reservoir, which delivers water to the eastern third of the region.

A $250-million water tunnel will also be built under the Fraser River to increase the supply of water for the growing population south of the river and replace an existing line considered too vulnerable in an earthquake.

“One of the key things you need after a major natural disaster is clean water,” Moore said.

But another big project that’s been underway for years still won’t be finished by the end of the year.

Twin tunnels are still being completed to take water from the Capilano reservoir to the new Seymour-Capilano Treatment Plant, which is filtering water from Seymour reservoir.

Metro fired and replaced the original tunnel-building firm after it halted work, citing hazardous conditions, causing a lengthy delay for the $817-million project, now slated to be finished in early 2014.

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