The possibility that Esquimalt residents could once again torpedo the Capital Region’s sewage treatment project at McLoughlin Point have West Shore politicians shaking their heads.
View Royal Mayor David Screech and other members of the Capital Regional District’s liquid waste management committee heard from project board chair Jane Bird last week that the board and the Township of Esquimalt have agreed on a timeline for a series of open houses and a Feb. 20 public hearing – necessary steps to see the CRD-owned property rezoned to accommodate the sewage plant.
“I have real concern that once again we’re moving down the same path as last time,” Screech said. “I thought the strength of this (site) this time was that we had a zoned site and we were moving forward with that. I think the risks are enormous. I don’t know why we would feel that the sentiment of Esquimalt council is any different now than it was before.”
Two years ago, the CRD came close to constructing a facility at the same site, but the Township rejected the plan and the rezoning required, citing concerns over the size and environmental impact. The CRD was forced to come up with a different plan, but in the days since, McLoughlin Point was returned as an option due to the cost savings.
The single-plant solution there for the $765-million project was confirmed by the provincially appointed project board shortly before a Sept. 30 federal funding deadline lapsed.
Langford Coun. Denise Blackwell, one of two City reps on the sewage committee and its one-time chair, compared the scenario to the plot of the movie “Groundhog Day” in which the same things keep happening.
“I hope we do not end up in the same place that we were (in 2014) …” said Blackwell, who was away sick for last week’s briefing but is very familiar with the file.
At this point, she added, the project board has essentially followed the same path as the Seaterra Commission that was in charge of the project before the Esquimalt rejection. “My goodness, we will have wasted three years … we could have had shovels in the ground.”
Bird told committee members that the project has a much smaller footprint than the rejected plan for McLoughlin Point. But subsequent sewage plant development guidelines that were put into the zoning for the site by Esquimalt, such as the requirement to ferry supplies to the site by water, and other “fairly quirky” components, prompted a decision to apply for a rezoning, she said.
“It would be incorrect to say that there’s no risk associated with this (rezoning) process, but I am cautiously optimistic …,” Bird said last week. “We are doing everything we can to mitigate that risk and come up with a package that both council and members of the community and the broader DND community think represents a reasonable design, and something that adds value there.”
Esquimalt Coun. Meagan Brame said in an earlier Gazette story later that people shouldn’t be concerned about a repeat of the 2014 scenario.
“Our pushbacks in the past, we have been criticized for them repeatedly. What we’ve gotten back is a project that has better technology, not perfect, but better. It’s coming back at a better cost,” she said.
“We have to see it first and that’s part of the rezoning process. But by (Esquimalt staff) leading it, we’re showing people we aren’t roadblocking it, we are helping it move forward in a proper manner that’s both legal and correct.”
– with files by Don Descoteau