Politicians of all stripes have united in opposition to a Capital Regional District proposal to build a sewage sludge plant near houses, schools and small businesses in Esquimalt.
Green and Liberal party candidates for the Esquimalt-Royal Roads riding in the May 14 provincial election blasted the decision on Friday, as did federal NDP MP Randall Garrison, a former Esquimalt councillor.
“Normally, as an MP, I haven’t got involved in the local decision-making on sewage treatment,” Garrison said. “But having been a councillor and having been around during the consultation process, I’d have to say it’s a betrayal of the process.
“Putting the whole thing in Esquimalt was never on the table.”
The Capital Regional District announced this week that it had paid $17 million for the 4.2-acre Wilson Foods warehouse site on Viewfield Road as a potential location for a sewage treatment biosolids facility. The deal was negotiated in private and announced after it was signed.
Under the proposal, sludge would be piped two kilometres from the planned sewage treatment plant on McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt to a biosolids facility on the Viewfield site, which is in an industrial zone across the street from family homes, next door to a grocery store and blocks from Esquimalt High School and L’École Victor-Brodeur.
The CRD originally planned to pipe the sludge 18 kilometres to a plant at the Hartland landfill in Saanich. But after people criticized that plan, the regional district began looking for a site closer to McLoughlin point.
The Viewfield property was all it could find, CRD sewage committee chairwoman Denise Blackwell said in a statement on Friday. The district tried to negotiate an option to purchase the land so that public consultations could be held in advance of a sale, but the owners were unwilling to enter into such an agreement, she said.
Blackwell said the CRD negotiates land deals in private so as not to alert speculators to the district’s interest in a piece of property and thereby drive up the price.
Reg Owens, part owner of Wilson Foods, said the CRD approached his company “within the last month” about selling its Viewfield Road property.
“They just came out and wanted the site and made an offer,” Owens said. “We accepted it. We’re looking at other places now. … It was pretty well done overnight.”
Blackwell insisted that the Viewfield site is one option being considered by the CRD. Public consultations will be held in late May, after the provincial election, she said.
“I think people are trying to make it more than it is,” she said in an interview. “We’ll go out to consultation on the two sites, and then we’ll make a decision.”
But Liberal candidate Chris Ricketts accused the CRD of turning Esquimalt into a “dumping ground” for the region.
“I don’t think it’s equitable. I think the CRD is bulldozing this ahead. … They’re saying, ‘We’re buying first, we’ll consult later.’ Well, that’s not the way of doing it.”
Green party candidate Susan Low agreed.
“I think it’s one of the worst decisions the CRD has made in quite some time,” she said.
“To do it as an in-camera, secret process and then say after the fact that there will be public consultation on it kind of shows how much the CRD actually respects public consultation.”
NDP MLA Maurine Karagianis criticized the Viewfield Road proposal earlier in the week.
Two protests against the plan have been organized for today. The first, organized by the Association for Responsible and Environmentally Sustainable Sewage Treatment, or ARESST, will take place at 11 a.m. in Saxe Point Park.
Another rally is scheduled for 1 p.m. at Hereward Park on Hereward Road, between Devonshire and Viewfield roads.
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