Several properties in the Silver Star community have received sewer disconnection notices.

Several properties in the Silver Star community have received sewer disconnection notices.

Utility dispute heats up at Silver Star

Resort and private company have differences of opinion over sewer rates

A complex dispute is escalating at Silver Star.

Silverhawk Utilities, a Calgary firm that owns the sewer system at Silver Star, has issued disconnection notices to a residential strata complex, about four private homes and four buildings owned by the ski resort.

“There is an ongoing court case between Silver Star and Silverhawk,” said Michael Sherwood, Silver Star Mountain Resort general manager.

“We’re trying to get into a court of law and the date keeps getting moved.”

A primary issue appears to be utility rates, with Sherwood saying fees for one resort building jumped 500 per cent from 2007 to 2008.

“This is a community here and it’s not comforting to know the bill may double or triple,” he said.

Silverhawk Utilities says its intention is not to disconnect services but to collect payment from customers.

“There are clients with accounts overdue in excess of three years, with some dating back as far as 10 years,” said Andrew Blizzard, spokesperson.

“We will no longer provide a service for free to these clients.”

However, Blizzard says that if bills are not paid, customers will be disconnected Aug. 15.

“This lack of payment and burden of collection is then placed on all individual homeowners and business owners that pay their bills in a timely manner.”

Blizzard admits utility rates have increased, but  says it’s a result of health and safety regulations being imposed by the Ministry of Environment.

“For example, our laboratory testing has gone up between 400 to 500 per cent,” he said.

“Our treatment plant is now being upgraded to run at a tertiary level nutrient removal facility from the operation in 1999/2000 which was direct discharge into the environment via exfiltration.”

The resort has pursued the matter with the provincial government because there is no governing body that oversees private sewer utility fees.

“They can increase rates without any justification,” said Sherwood.

Sherwood says the resort has no interest in owning the utility and he supports private ownership  as long as there is senior government oversight.

The resort buildings that have been served disconnection notices are the administration office, Tube Town, the High Altitude Training Centre and staff accommodations.

“Our legal counsel is dealing with this in a swift manner,” said Sherwood.

Eric Foster, Vernon-Monashee MLA, says a number of ministries are observing the situation.

However, Foster admits the government’s authority is extremely limited.

“We are trying to find a way to get involved without being heavy handed,” he said.

“I’ve questioned ministry people on how we move towards a monitoring agency.”

The Interior Health Authority says it would only have a role if sewer service was disconnected.

“Residences are required to discharge into an approved sewerage system. Interior Health will consider necessary action in consultation with the Ministry of Environment to prevent a health hazard, should that be required,” said Roger Parsonage, IHA’s regional director, of health protection.

The Silver Star Property Owners Association would like to see local taxes used to purchase the utility so it can be operated by the Regional District of North Okanagan.

“The regional district has to respond to taxpayers. We have to get on with this,” said Drew Eyre, SSPOA director.

However, the RDNO director for Silver Star isn’t sure if the agency should become the operator.

“It’s a possibility but it’s not the preferred direction,” said Michael Macnabb.

“If a private company came in and operated it, that would be preferred. But because they are residents of Area C, we will look at it.”

Blizzard says a third-party purchase of the utility can only happen if Silverhawk can prove it’s a viable business entity.

“The regional district would essentially be the best choice as they currently own and operate the water utility at Silver Star,” he said.

“In the case of RDNO, they can apply the overdue accounts to property taxes.”