It was high time for the CRD to ask for help: local politicians

West Shore mayors, councillors look forward to the guidance province may bring on sewage project

Further provincial intervention into the ongoing saga of establishing sewage treatment for the Capital Region’s core municipalities is, to some, like breathing fresh air into a stagnant process.

While he doesn’t sit on the Capital Regional District’s sewage committee, Langford Mayor Stew Young has been vocal behind the scenes and isn’t shy to share his opinions about the project.

“I think it’s a good idea and they should have been in since day one,” he said of the provincial government’s move last week to take a more active role in guiding the project. “Just because it’s the CRD doesn’t mean it should be doing billion-dollar projects.”

Among the recommendations coming from Communities Minister Peter Fassbender was to take the sewage treatment project from the hands of the CRD’s liquid waste management committee and make it the responsibility of an independent, six- or seven-person project board.

CRD staff and provincial representatives are currently working on finding candidates for the board, which will shepherd the project through its next stages but bring the final decision back to the CRD board.

Leaving a project of this scope to local government didn’t make sense to Young, who noted they just don’t have the expertise.

The best case scenario, Young noted, would be if they were able to bring the entire project down to a smaller budget. Although, he admits that’s a long shot.  He added that with the province directly involved, they may also recognize the need for more government funding, or as Young put it, they might up their ante.

“We still have to address the cost of this thing,” he said. “That’ll be when it hits home for taxpayers.”

Longtime Langford Coun. Lanny Seaton agreed. “It’s not sewage at all cost,” he said.

He noted the West Shore has attracted a lot of its residents because of its more affordable housing costs.

With a demographic made up of young families, seniors and other individuals on tight budgets, he said the hefty price tag accompanying this project could be too much.

“There’s people out there that may not have the resources to pay their taxes and you don’t want to put them out of their homes,” Seaton said.

Fellow sewage committee member, View Royal Mayor David Screech, didn’t take Fassbender and the province’s stepping in as an ultimatum. “I think what I heard the minister say is, ‘this is your project, but we think there’s a much better way of doing it. We would like you to take our advice and try it this way,’” Screech said.

The announcement was a respectful, but firm reminder that the provincial and federal funding are in jeopardy if substantial movement on the project isn’t achieved by Sept. 30, he said.

Screech said he’s felt for a long time that political oversight is needed in the area of sewage treatment for the region’s core area municipalities. Where the problem lies is in jurisdictional authority. “The one thing that is really lacking in all this is that at the end of the day, if they bring back a recommendation and (the host municipality) says ‘no,’ we still have no authority as a board (to force the issue). That’s a real gaping hole and I don’t know how we address this.”

View Royal Coun. Heidi Rast admitted she doesn’t know the ins and outs of the sewage treatment project, but knows people  are getting frustrated with the lack of progress.

“I think it’s about time the province got involved to get this project going,” she said. “I think it’s time for the CRD to start making progress and narrowing down the options … Residents of the CRD are pretty much sick and tired of what’s going on.”

Rast senses that the single plant option at McLoughlin Point, a plan previously approved by the CRD board but rejected by Esquimalt over the required variances, may yet be pushed forward by the province. “When you think of timelines, I think that is the only one that would meet the timelines.”

Explaining how the new project board will differ from the former Seaterra Commission, Screech said the Seaterra group was charged with implementing the project once the CRD board approved all the elements. The new board, he said, is “charged with coming up with the best solution to the problem.”While Colwood Mayor Carol Hamilton was unavailable for comment, Coun. Cynthia Day told the Gazette via email she appreciated the province stepping up with “concrete actions” to facilitate regional sewage treatment.

“The regional benefits (and costs) will now come back to the whole board after the specifics are worked out by an ‘expert panel,’” she said. “(The panel) will have quite a job to bring back a universally accepted, future-proof plan in the short time left to meet provincial and federal funding timelines. Having the region as a whole accept that this will affect both our landfill (where biosolids are going now) and our waterways is a big step towards all areas contributing equally to preserve our environment and our reputation.”

The CRD has until Sept. 30 to identify one or more sites for a wastewater treatment plant, including achieving the appropriate zoning. The current proposal calls for two secondary or tertiary sewage plants at either McLoughlin or Macaulay Point in Esquimalt, and Clover Point in Victoria at a cost of roughly $1 billion. A third facility would eventually be constructed somewhere on the West Shore.

Approval is needed from both Victoria and Esquimalt councils to move forward, but both municipalities are encountering resistance in their communities for locating their plants on those sites.

– with files from Don Descoteau, Kendra Wong and Arnold Lim

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