Victoria resident Bryan Gilbert

Westside treatment plans creep forward

First phase of input to be used to create concrete options for public viewing

What’s the best way to approach sewage treatment on Greater Victoria’s west side?

That will be determined using feedback garnered from a series of open houses held recently by Westside Solutions in Colwood, Esquimalt, Langford, Songhees First Nation, and last Thursday at View Royal town hall.

So where do we go from here?

Colwood Mayor Carol Hamilton said now the hard work begins, which is to take that feedback, streamline it and come up with concrete options for the project to present back to the public during round 2 of the consultations.

Despite a good turnout at the open houses, many people struggled to offer feedback because they wanted actual treatment options to choose from, said Michael Baxter, Colwood’s director of engineering.

Given that the process is largely starting from scratch again after a Capital Region-wide plan for sewage treatment fell apart, the Westside program is in the early stages.

“We need to ask them the very general questions up front and get a sense of what they want,” he said.

“Then you take that information and come back to them with, ‘this is what you wanted, here’s the price tag.’”

According to Christine Houghton of Aurora Consultants, the consulting firm tasked with project communication, among other things, aspects of feedback gathered from open houses and surveys will be incorporated into the plan, where possible.

“We’re not taking anything off the table at this point,” she said at the View Royal session.

While the input process is complicated, she added, it’s important to get it right at the start of projects of this size. This new consultation stage is informed by the failure of the larger project and the way it came together.

“If you feel someone is doing something to you,” Houghton said, “your reaction is to push back. But if you feel someone is doing something with you, you’re more likely to; if not to participate; at least feel kindlier towards the initiative, knowing it’s not something that’s being imposed on you.”

Hamilton agreed.

“There were some key steps in the process that were missed during the previous try at this,” she said.

With Colwood having independently researched and consulted with various other treatment facilities over the last number of months, they’d be ready if the city chose to go that route, Hamilton said.

“Right from the beginning we were doing our research and developing a plan to have a facility in Colwood for Colwood,” she said adding that would give them a huge head start on any agreed-upon initiatives down the line.

“We’ve done our homework and we continue to explore, alongside the Westside Solutions discussions, … the factors of what we can and can’t do. Whether it’s just as Colwood or with whatever (Westside Solutions) ends up developing, we’ll be ready when the time comes to get this done.”

Victoria resident Bryan Gilbert brought his own research to the View Royal consultation in an attempt to help simplify the issue for people.

“When we commit ourselves to a billion dollars in capital, and commit ourselves to $15 million of operating costs every year into the future, I think there’s something to be concerned about,” he said. “It’s a complex topic, so I consider it just part of my civic duty to help simplify it for people. I’ve done a lot of research on this, so I’m just here to help people digest the information a little easier.”

Gilbert admitted he “used to be in the camp of ‘let’s not do this at all.’” He said he now realizes this is something that needs to happen and is going to happen, so he hopes others will engage the process positively, rather than looking at the mistakes of past efforts.

“Where we’re at right now is great. We’re being consulted this time,” he said.

“This isn’t just them telling us what they’re going to do, this is a time where the public can – and needs to – get informed and help make the decision. We can actually have a voice this time, if we get ourselves up to speed on it.

“I would like to move forward. I don’t want to go bashing the old stuff. There were lots of mistakes made and it would be nice if people admitted them, but we are where we are right now, so let’s move on. Let’s go.”

The next round of public consultations will take place once there are feasible options to discuss. No timeline has been determined for that stage of input.

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