Sewage costs raise hackles at Langford council

Committee looking to open dialogue with other West Shore municipalities

A presentation meant to encapsulate the Capital Regional District’s core area liquid waste management’s committee research left Langford council members voicing concerns over the veracity of the numbers.

Les Bjola, chair of a special sewer oversight committee tasked with finding the best treatment options for the City – even those separate from the current sewage treatment discussions – was forced to intervene at Monday’s council meeting when the Powerpoint presentation showed the cost breakdown per household.

Councillors had a hard time letting the presenter finish and not voicing their concerns, while Mayor Stew Young compared the project to Victoria’s notorious blue bridge replacement.

“This whole process has been like herding cats and every meeting goes exactly like this,” Bjola said to council as he tried to restore order to the proceedings.

“We need you to understand that the decision around (sewage treatment) is by far and away … the largest tax implication you will ever deal with in the City of Langford – ever. And the problem is, everyone is now at the point of total frustration and everyone is so fed up and no one is listening anymore.”

Bjola pointed out that the figures attached to the various plant proposals are generous amounts that have been rounded up, with the intention of having them refined, and are based on population estimates for 2030.

When he opened the discussion to council’s questions, concerns were voiced about existing infrastructure not being utilized, while some questioned the routes of some of the treatment and outflow options.

“They were pushed to put a package together very quickly, and unfortunately when you’re pushed to do things quickly, what you get is a quick number,” Bjola said. “It’s easy to throw stones and be a couch quarterback.”

The oversight committee believes there are a number of ways to help reduce costs, he added, with local knowledge being the key.

“What we’re doing in our study so far, is we’re doing the meat and potatoes. We’re (saying) ‘there’s the location, there’s the pipes to get it to the location.’ Then we would go to private contractors and say, ‘here’s what we need, what have you got?’”

Young warned that the overall numbers could go up, not down. He was careful to point out that grants and government payments were based on the previous project’s roughly $780-million budget. Anything over that amount would be put on the taxpayers’ bill. “We need to be very careful with these numbers … anything over $780 million is in the danger red zone for all of the taxpayers,” he said.

Young and council are not taking the potential for cost overruns lightly. “When we add $500 a year on your taxes, taxes would go up 50 per cent in Langford to the average household just because of sewer,” he said. The municipal tax portion for the average household in Langford is $1,007.

A member of the public attending the meeting asked for clarification on which households would foot that bill. While the oversight committee would not ultimately make that decision, Bjola said, they looked at everyone who could be connected to sewer, now and in the future, and excluded those areas that, under Langford’s official community plan, will remain on septic. That household estimate is based on population estimates for 2030.

Bjola said the committee has had some discussion about an independent treatment system for Langford, but that would require a services review with the CRD. The time factor involved to do so, and resolve any environmental issues, would be significant, he added.

For the past few years the City of Colwood has been pursuing, at their own expense, the option of a tertiary treatment plant. Requirements for this plant would however include additional emergency and overflow connections to a treatment plant and outfall, which would double the costs of the plant, according to the oversight committee’s presentation. That expense would be imposed completely on the City of Colwood because it would be the only municipality served by the plant.

In relation to that, the CRD’s core area committee has put forward an option that includes a combined Colwood/Langford plant with at least a secondary treatment level, with an outfall at Royal Bay. This is one of seven options the CRD is currently considering.

“We believe that the Westside group are like-minded individuals and we’re going to come up with a solution that is very beneficial to the Langford taxpayer,” Bjola said. He asked council to grant the oversight committee permission to begin opening avenues of discussion with other West Shore municipalities and possibly Esquimalt, with the intention of forming partnerships beneficial to the City.

Council asked the committee to bring a budget for the further technical analysis to an upcoming council meeting.

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