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‘Mountain high’ sewer rates frustrate Silver Star property owners

Silverhawk Utilities said they are working to address the property owners association’s concerns
Some Silver Star property owners are upset over their “mountain high” sewer rates. (Morning Star file photo)

Silver Star property owners are upset over the money they’re flushing down the toilet.

Mike Waberski, president of the Silver Star Property Owners Association (SSPOA), said the association has been compiling sewer service cost data from members and comparing these fees with other similar communities across the province for the past year. These “mountain high” fees, which Waberski claims are about three times higher at Silver Star than in other communities, have led to the SSPOA to hope for government regulation on sewer services.

Read more: Utility dispute heats up at Silver Star

“Our hope was that the provincial government would use one of its existing regulatory bodies to provide what we believe is badly needed oversight. Dialogue continues, but customers continue to be faced with excessive annual bills and additional hook-up charges that appear to have been already paid for by the original developers of the subdivisions,” Waberski said.

Silverhawk Utilities, which has served the Silver Star community for about two decades, said they are working on answering the SSPOA’s concerns.

Susan Huffman, in a letter of response to SSPOA, said Silverhawk “has always calculated its rates as if it were a regulated utility.”

“Unlike other utilities, we use actual cost and not budgetary costs. This means we are carrying all the costs of operation for an entire year and a half before we are receiving any funds from our clients,” said Huffman, noting that costs are calculated at the end of every calendar year, which then determine rates for the current year.

Huffman also said that, under the prior ownership of the SilverStar Mountain Group, the utility was not allocating costs directly to the operation of the Sewer Treatment Plant, which, in turn, led to “extremely low” rates.

The treatment plant also used to consist of three clay-lined coarse-bubble aeration ponds for settling of solids and the partial removal of BOD and ammonia, as well as an exfiltration pond to allow partially treated water to filter through the earth into surface waters.

“This was bare minimum treatment based on standards of those days. For years the effluent ex-filtrated into the rocks below and there was no need to spray irrigate,” Huffman said.

“When we purchased the utility, we were told the operating costs were approximately $70,000 per year. We later came to know why that was, and this was because they had maintenance people and electricians who already worked for the resort doing the maintenance, electrical and mechanical work for the utility. They were misappropriating expenses and labour, maintenance, electrical.”

Waberski noted that some have had to pay additional sewer hook-up fees, which were already paid for by the subdivisions’ original developers.

Huffman, however, said that Silverhawk charges additional capacity only “when the home being built exceeds the pillows purchased by the developer,” which, she added, are many of the houses that are being built.

Community meetings were held at SilverStar Sunday, March 17. A vacant lot owners’ meeting was at 2 p.m., followed by a residential homeowners’ meeting at 4 p.m.

“It has become clear over the years that there is a high level of frustration with Silverhawk felt by the community at large here at Silver Star. We have spent the last year attempting to engage in constructive dialogue with Silverhawk, without success. We have also been speaking with the provincial government as sewage would appear to be the only utility without any regulatory oversight from a rate setting and business practice perspective,” Waberski said.

“We are hopeful of a satisfactory regulatory outcome. However, there is a pressing need to focus both government and Silverhawk on finding an acceptable solution sooner rather than later.”

Read more: Sanitary sewer flushing planned on Vernon’s 32nd Street

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