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Grand chief criticizes Delta over First Nations issues
Delta Mayor Lois Jackson says she was upset to hear an indigenous leader criticize Delta at a Union of B.C. Municipalities workshop on Monday.
According to Jackson, Grand Chief Edward John from the Tl'azt'en Nation in Northern B.C. was speaking about the need for municipalities to help neighbouring First Nations achieve autonomy and self-sufficiency. He reportedly told delegates that some municipalities are denying services that would help some First Nations achieve that.
Jackson heard John's comments and thought he might be hinting at Delta's current situation with Tsawwassen First Nation (TFN) and their ongoing sewer needs. She later confirmed it after the chief gave an interview to another newspaper.
"I was livid because we have been working on this file for four or five years and in the short run we have provided water and many other services for the Tsawwassen," said Jackson. "However, when it came down to putting their plan together for their future development there was absolutely no way that we had any capacity whatsoever to accommodate that."
An independent engineering study conducted for Delta last year confirmed the municipality does not have the sewer infrastructure to meet TFN's ambitious development plans, which include two massive shopping malls, a new residential community, and an industrial park.
"It was really upsetting for me to have this chief sitting up on stage as a member of the presentation party make a statement… that Delta was not cooperative and we're not helping," said Jackson.
Metro Vancouver has urged Delta into signing a five-year servicing agreement with TFN while the regional government works out a permanent solution. But little progress has been made on that file and Jackson said an interim agreement would be a mistake.
"Any governmental body that puts something in for five years and thinks they're going to remove it after five years is sheer folly," she said.
Jackson said that TFN chief Bryce Williams approached her afterward and apologized for the remarks.
"The grand chief is a very respected leader and I think he's probably reflecting some general frustration," said TFN's acting chief administrative officer Tom McCarthy, who was not present at the workshop. "TFN and Delta are absolutely committed to working together as neighbours and as partners."
McCarthy said that TFN and Delta don't agree on every issue but that it's normal for bordering municipalities to work through and resolve problems.
"We've got pipes running across our boundaries, we've got drainage, we've got major highways, we've got roads," he said. "You can't do that if you don't have a level of cooperation."
Delta has nine servicing agreements with TFN, including water, fire, police, animal control, parks, and drainage.
TFN has had its own sewer plant since 1996 which services the tiny community of fewer than 350 people. Only one portion of TFN lands has been connected to the Delta sewer system since the 1980’s—the 92-lot Stahaken subdivision. But it wasn’t until about two years ago that TFN began trying to negotiate in earnest to connect with Delta’s sewer system.
Last October, TFN offered to purchase Delta’s force main for $3 million and transfer ownership to Metro Vancouver. That request was turned down. Delta built and owns the 26 kilometre sewer force main running from North Delta's Annacis Island at an estimated cost of more than $20 million and a replacement cost of $46 million.
The municipality told Metro Vancouver in April that it needs to work out a solution with TFN that doesn't involve that sewer line.