Region’s waste water options to be opened up for public scrutiny

Some question the move for public input at this time

The Capital Regional District seeks feedback on approaches to wastewater treatment and resource recovery with outreach expected to start any day.

At its meeting last week the core area liquid waste management committee approved heading out for public feedback, a process that will include online surveys and an option to email comments.

“We’ll never have perfect information but we have enough information. I think it’s time we ask the public. This will not be a referendum,” said committee chair, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps. “I think director (Ben) Isitt said it best, there’s still lots in flux.”

There are five options to wastewater treatment for the core area – some with multiple subset options – and each offers a representative approach for developing a more refined plan.

“I really have to question why we’re going out to the public at this time with what information we have,” said Director and Saanich Coun. Vic Derman, who noted the public found a “dearth of information” last time. “We don’t have solid information here. We have five (options) or whatever it’s morphing to, mostly centred around Rock Bay. We already know there are other options.”

The committee deferred going out last month to consult the public, asking staff to gather more information. Those details are either available now or coming soon to the CRD website.

“We have all acknowledged it can change and that’s the thing some of us were concerned with,” said Director Colin Plant, a Saanich councillor.

Some voiced concern the public couldn’t comment on options not included, such as the “deep shaft” treatment recently investigated by the technical oversight panel.

Helps noted the survey will be designed to offer “other comments” for the savvy public who follow all the technical options, or prefer to see a hybrid solution. The public expects to be consulted, but the final stages will be “a hard political decision” she added.

“In any multi-faceted complex project, you’re never going to get to the point of perfect information. If we were to await exploration of each and every permutation we would be waiting for many decades,” said Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen.

He sought support for a plan to include information on the potential to lose grant funding.

“Part of the information that’s given to the public has to do with grants. Grants can form a very important funding mechanism if we can obtain them,” Jensen said, adding federal authorities have previously stated the multiple-plant system is not eligible for currently earmarked funding. “They indicated that should we go to that model we would have to reapply. There is the potential for the loss of $500 million for these multiple plant proposals.”

There is an existing funding agreement, Helps said, and there are uncertainties around moving from one plant to two or three or four, but it’s important to go to the public with a balanced view.

“I don’t think anyone around this table wants us to lose the funding,” she said. “We’re working really hard to build a relationship with the new minister … We’re in very continual dialogue with Ottawa.”

Information should be strictly factual and based on technical memos, said director Richard Atwell, Saanich mayor. “I don’t think we want to put any doom and gloom in that we might lose funding,” he said.

“It’s really important what we go out to the public with, and it is really important that we go to them with the information we have, not supposition, not fear-mongering,” agreed Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins.

Near the end of the lengthy committee meeting Jan. 13, Saanich Coun. Susan Brice observed, “We’re not at the end. We’re not even at the beginning of the end. We’re making a teeny tiny decision … to go out and have conversation with our public.

“I really hoped that after hearing everything and not expecting perfection and knowing it’s fluid … that this would be something that would be quite frankly unanimously supported.”

Visit crd.bc.ca/project/wastewater-planning to view the option sets and other information as well as provide feedback online.

editor@goldstreamgazette.com

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