People with homes in Hemlock Valley could be paying 600 per cent more for their water, if the proposed increase from the Hemlock Valley Utilities goes through.
On June 21, residents received a notice from the utility saying the company had made an application to increase the rates for service beginning Aug. 1 of this year.
The rates would go from $49.82 a quarter for residential properties to $348.74 a quarter.
Mark Bulgin, who has owned a vacation condo on Enzian Way for the last six years, was shocked by the increase.
“It’s almost a breach of trust,” he said. “We’ve been good neighbours. We frequent the resort … It kind of makes you feel like you don’t want to go into the resort” when the owner proposes an increase like that.
Bulgin and other members of the strata council in his building got together to begin discussing what could be done about the increase. Residents had until July 26 to submit their comments to the comptroller in charge of reviewing the increase.
“Right away our strata council was like, ‘What the heck?’” he said. “‘We better start talking about this and we better get our ducks in a row.’”
Everyone on the strata council, as well as other residents in the condos and potentially others with cabins on the resort, sent in letters to the comptroller. Bulgin got in touch with MLA Laurie Throness, asking for his help in sharing their opposition.
“I can understand if you’re going from $30 to $50 every quarter … or even double,” Bulgin said about the increase. “And that would be an outrageous amount to double it. But I understand over the years, things get more expensive, everything’s gotten more expensive.”
“But to put it up (600) per cent?” he said. “I think that’s a little outrageous.”
According to resort owner Ralph Berezan, the proposed increase for water fees was to help pay for upgrades to the Hemlock water system.
The old system, which serves 230 customers in the Hemlock Valley, was installed between 1976 and 1980 to provide raw water to the community. In 2005, the community was put on a boil water advisory because of changes to drinking water standards.
A new water treatment facility, costing around $850,000, was constructed in 2015, and in 2016 the boil water advisory was taken off. (A recent boil advisory due to heavy rainfall was instated this June, and taken off in July.)
The plan, Berezan said, is to amortize the cost of the new treatment facility over 12 years, which is how the increase to the water fees was calculated. The original fees were implemented in 1994, and hadn’t increased since then.
Proposed increases will bring residential costs from $49.82 to $348.74 a quarter, day lodge costs from $2,616.50 to $5,233 a quarter, condo common space costs from $57.37 to $348.74 a quarter and low commercial costs from $57.37 to $149.46 a quarter.
In the minds of residents like Bulgin, the substantial increase to water fees seems to be a way for Berezan to fund a water treatment plant that could handle the new buildings proposed in the resort development plan. But Berezan said that wasn’t the case.
“I wish that was true,” Berezan said. Although the plan is to build hotels and other amenities in the resort, once they are put in “the water will have to be improved again.”
A letter from Berezan to the comptroller indicated that capital for future expansions would be addressed at a later date.
Although the increases were set to go in effect Aug. 1, both Berezan and the residents of Hemlock Valley are waiting for the comptroller’s decision on what will happen.
If the fees do increase, Bulgin isn’t sure he’ll stay.
“I would very much consider selling,” he said. “But, on that note, it’s going to make selling that much more difficult. Because now you’re paying more for water than you are for strata fees.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the homes subject to this potential fee increase are part of the Sasquatch Mountain Resort. Although the resort is in the Hemlock Valley, the homes are not within the resort area. This change has been made to the article, and we regret the error.