EDITORIAL: Series getting readers involved

Speak up about sewage

From Langford and Saanich, to Oak Bay and Esquimalt, Black Press readers are speaking out.

What is happening is exactly what we hoped would transpire when we sat down to plan out our investigation into sewage treatment in the Capital Regional District.

Since the five-part series launched a week ago, we’ve seen you become even more engaged in the process and provide new insights into a regional problem that has been debated around political committee tables for more than 20 years.

In our introductory story, we inferred that the majority of people support the idea that we need to follow federal wastewater rules and simply get on with finding a way to treat our sewage.

But many of the letters we’ve received in the past week have been statements of both frustration and outright anger at the actions local politicians and Capital Regional District staff have taken in recent weeks, months and years. Readers say those two groups should pay more attention to marine scientists, who argue that the conditions around our outfalls provide enough dilution to limit the deleterious effects of untreated sewage being introduced into the ocean environment.

Some have asked why our decision-makers haven’t made serious inquiries into whether we actually need expensive treatment plants to render our screened sewage safe for human and marine health once released into the ocean.

But we’re not so naive as to think people are solely focused on the science of this situation. The billion-dollar plus cost of the current proposals is weighing heavily on readers’ minds as well, not to mention the prospect of ripping up a popular destination like Clover Point, or retooling the unpopular decision to put a single plant at McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt.

In today’s paper we present stories on both of these topics. We’ll give readers an idea what they can expect to pay under the two-plant program currently on the table, and where the money they’ve already paid for the CRD’s sewage program has gone.

On the adjacent page, we hear from two former University of Victoria marine scientists.

Ocean experts Jack Littlepage and Chris Garrett sat with colleagues in the Black Press boardroom in Victoria in late 2007, asking for help to convince the public and the decision-makers that the measurable benefits of treatment on the local marine environment would be negligible. With such minimal impact, they said, spending a billion or more dollars on treatment plants was a poor use of public money. They continue to assert that today.

While the project cost estimates offered to the CRD sewage committee are rough at best – staff had barely a week to pull them together – the price tag of treatment has people worried. And it’s evident that for some regional residents, the “why” of the need to treat is still not clear enough.

We hope that picture comes more into focus in the coming weeks and months, as more information comes to light.

For certain, we’re going to continue to ask questions, even after our series is done.

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