Anti-treatment group trying different approach with feds

ARESST hopes government will revisit application of wastewater regulations

Westside and Eastside committees continue to work toward finding sites that could host a sewage treatment plant and related resource recovery facilities.

But that isn’t stopping a local anti-treatment advocacy group from continuing its battle to convince local politicians and the Capital Regional District to halt work on the nearly $1-billion project, given what the group argues is the lack of scientific evidence pointing to the need for treatment here.

The Association for Responsible and Environmentally Sustainable Sewage Treatment (ARESST) has sent a formal request for a performance audit of the 2012 federal wastewater regulations, as they relate to Greater Victoria, to the Auditor General of Canada.

View Royal resident and ARESST chair Brian Burchill says the regulations, as written, contradict scientific studies that support the screening and outfall system currently used to disperse of sewage from the south part of the region.

“It’s not as though there’s reports from public health officers that people are getting sick,” he says. “The aquatic activities are still going on, nobody’s cutting back on their recreation. We’re using the waterfront because it’s safe to use.”

He says the existence of marine ecological reserves on both sides of the region’s two outfalls, off Clover Point in Victoria and Macaulay Point in Esquimalt, points to the fact that the sea life is flourishing in the area.

While the original request to the federal auditor general was met with a head-scratching suggestion to approach the Auditor General office in Victoria, Australia, Burchill says, a second attempt was made recently to get the request directly into the hands of Auditor General Michael Ferguson.

ARESST, whose supporters include people from University of Victoria-based marine biologists to former federal minister of environment David Anderson, has made multiple presentations on the subject to the Capital Regional District board since its formation in 2009, but its arguments against treatment have been mostly ignored, Burchill says.

“Fighting the CRD is a waste of time,” he says of trying to convince politicians. “They are so bullheaded and they have the majority of power. I think part of the driving force is it will be a big boon to the local economy to have a billion dollars injected into it, but it’s for something we don’t need.”

Regardless whether Ferguson seriously considers the request, Langford Coun. Denise Blackwell, a member and former chair of the region’s liquid waste management committee, doesn’t expect it will succeed, based on her knowledge of previous discussions of Greater Victoria’s sewage dispersement methods.

She recalled that the CRD had representation on a committee looking at proposed federal regulations before they were made into law. Despite having explained the unique characteristics of Greater Victoria’s fjord-like marine environment, the CRD found itself subject to the same broad criteria as every other coastal community.

“At the time, it was us saying there’s nothing wrong (in the marine environment), but we’ve never had any indication from anybody that (the decision) would change,” she said. “The feds are not willing to look at it and not willing to revisit it.”

Vic Derman, a Saanich councillor and vice-chair of the Eastside select committee looking into sewage solutions for his municipality, Victoria and Oak Bay, was among the early critics of the federal regulations. While he still says their “one-size-fits-all” criteria inappropriately puts our area in the same category as communities that empty their sewage into less vigorous waters, he prefers to look at the current east-west strategy being undertaken to find appropriate sites as providing an opportunity to emerge with a bigger-picture solution.

“ARESST is accurate in saying the federal regulations have been poorly applied,” he said. “However, their request may be moot if we can turn this into an impressive sustainability project.”

Rather than worrying about whether the region might be unfairly categorized under the federal wastewater regulations, Derman’s main concern is that the process of finding a site and choosing the right technology be done differently than before, when the CRD focused on the one-site McLoughlin Point solution that was ultimately rejected for rezoning by Esquimalt council.

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