Oliver is hoping to break a sewer agreement with Vincor whose wine-tailings have been wreaking havoc with the sewage treatment plant.
“We have to get it done, we are having so much trouble,” said Oliver Mayor Pat Hampson. “The problem with the wine-tailings is they have a negative impact on our system because they are quite acidic and also Vincor is exceeding the quotas that we agreed upon.”
Hampson said for years residents have been complaining about the sour smell coming from the sewage treatment ponds, but it was only recently the town figured out the wine-tailings were the culprit. The Oliver system is not able to absorb the high-acid content and, according to the mayor, 62 per cent of the sodium in the treated water is a result of Vincor.
“It is going to cost us close to $100,000 to repair it. The product is causing deterioration of the concrete sumps that we have our pumps in to move the sewage to the treatment plant. So we have damaged pumps and also damage to the concrete basins that the sewage is collected in, which ultimately have to be replaced,” said Hampson.
The town has been after Vincor to do something about the issue for a long time. It is only recently that Vincor installed a pre-treatment system at the winery, but Hampson said that takes a few weeks to get up and running because it depends on bacteria to work.
“We had complaints about the smell two years ago, but this year it became particularly unpleasant. I wrote an email to the Vincor president saying we have to get this dealt with but their speed has been slow because it’s costing them money, but it’s costing us money as well,” he said.
Oliver Coun. Michael Newman and the municipal manager are slated to meet with the Osoyoos Indian Band this week to try and find a solution. Hampson said council would like to transfer the memorandum with Vincor to the Osoyoos Indian Band, as their equipment can handle the wine-tailings without issue. In return, Oliver could then take on sewage from a development on Tuc-El-Nuit Lake, which they couldn’t previously because of the exceeded output from Vincor.
The mayor said he does not know yet if Vincor is planning on helping with costs to repair their sewage treatment equipment.
“We don’t know what they are going to do, but certainly we are going to ask them to pay for it because it is damage that is going to cost the taxpayer money. We are going to be asking them (Vincor) to pay and that will become a battle within itself,” said Hampson.
The sewage agreement was listed as council’s highest priority shown in a recently published document from the town. A hotel feasibility study was given the second highest priority. Hampson said periodically hotels have expressed interest in building in Oliver but are held back by the shoulder season and a lack of marketing information for developers. In recent memory, Hampson said one entrepreneur expressed interest to him in constructing a hotel but commented that it would be a much easier process if the study was done by the town because hotels are not prepared to spend $10-20,000 in market analysis.
Bonnie Dancey, chief executive officer for the South Okanagan Chamber of Commerce, said there is about 189 beds in Oliver and the rural surrounding area. Events in the shoulder season, like the recent Festival of the Grape, drew about 2,000 people, and is an example Hampson used that could attract a hotelier to the community.
“Well, you could bet your boots there is a significant number of people who are not going to be driving after the wine festival and they are looking for somewhere to sleep. If we want a hotel to come into Oliver we have to market ourselves. If there is things that we can do to lessen the effects of a shoulder season then we need to look at those and see if we can achieve them,” said Hampson.