Politicos call for full sewage environmental study

Oak Bay mayor says debate missing 'sanity and rationality.'

Two Greater Victoria politicians are calling for a full environmental study on regional sewage treatment, a delay others fear could jeopardize government funding.

Saanich councillor Vic Derman and Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen, who sit on the Capital Regional District liquid waste committee, want to halt work on the $782-million regional sewage project to conduct a full environmental impact and cost benefit study.

Derman maintains that every credible study points to minimal harm associated with the current system of piping screened sewage into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The federal government should change its designation of that system from high to low risk, he said, a move that would delay the requirement for changing the current system by 20 years to 2040.

“Every scientist, and even the CRD’s own reports show that no damage results from the current system,” Derman said. “We don’t have any emergency here. It’s a three quarter of a billion dollar solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.”

Jensen agrees. “What’s been missing, other than sanity and rationality, is a full environmental impact study,” he said.

“Theatre and perception is triumphing over science. It’s a bad basis for public policy making. Private industry wouldn’t undertake a project of this kind without study.”

Victoria councillor Geoff Young, the CRD board chair, disagrees.

He admitted that CRD reports don’t point to an environmental emergency in the current system, but said that it’s likely that damage to the marine ecosystem isn’t fully understood.

“It would be like taking an air sample in Victoria and using it to say that we have no carbon footprint,” he said.

Young said that delays have risks and that federal and provincial funding could disappear. “That could leave the municipalities to pick up the entire cost of the project,” he said.

Jensen has heard that argument, and said it falls flat.

“It’s a heck of a lot of money,” he said. “But that’s the point. If it’s not the right thing to do, we shouldn’t go ahead. Just think of what we could do with our portion of the money. A quarter of a billion dollars? We could end homelessness, improve roads and bike trails … the list goes on.”

Jack Hull, the interim project director of the regional sewage treatment project does not agree with any delay. “These are federal and provincial regulations. They are not optional. Nothing (in the plan) can change,” he said.

Derman’s motion for a study is scheduled for debate within the CRD sewage committee on Nov. 15.

“This is about the most important political issue we have (in Victoria),” Jensen said. “The only way we’ll be heard is if we collaborate and work together with the seven communities who have a stake in this.”

Information on the Liquid Waste Plan can be found at crd.bc.ca/wastewater.

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