When Justine Semmens learned she was pregnant seven and a half months ago, she and her husband stepped up their hunt for a family home.
One thing they knew for sure: they wanted to stay in the Vic West-Esquimalt area where they have rented for the past five years.
“We absolutely fell in love with the neighbourhood,” Semmens said.
The young couple finally found a suitable house on Hereward Road earlier this year. But before buying, they did some research, even checking out the Capital Regional District’s plans for a new sewage treatment plant on McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt.
Semmens said she and her husband, Walter Ash, were concerned about plans to truck or pipe leftover sludge from the plant to Hartland landfill, where a biosolids facility would convert it into gas or solid fuel.
“Our thought was [the] trucking or will they be tearing up the road to put in the pipe?” Semmens said Monday. “How do we feel about that? Is that a problem for us?”
Ash contacted the CRD on Feb. 4 and was directed to a couple of websites that explained plans for the two sites. The couple then sank their life savings, as well as money from Semmens’s grandmother, into their first home. They paid $390,000 for the house, which the bank assessed at $408,000, Semmens said.
They took possession March 15.
Five days later, as Semmens was making supper, she heard on the radio that the CRD had paid $17 million to buy the Wilson Foods warehouse site across the street as a second potential site for the sludge plant.
“They gave the address and I thought, ‘No!’ ” said Semmens. She has a clear view of the site on Viewfield Road out her front window.
Semmens, who is finishing her PhD in history at the University of Victoria, and Ash, a software developer, called the CRD last week to find out why officials withheld such crucial information. They were told the land deal was negotiated in-camera, which prevented officials from releasing any details until it was finalized.
Denise Blackwell, chairwoman of the core area liquid waste management committee, issued a statement Monday saying there was, unfortunately, nothing the district could do. “We were in a legal agreement with the vendor that included non-disclosure until both parties finished the agreement.”
Blackwell said it was known for years that the district has been looking for another potential biosolids site closer to McLoughlin. But she said no final decision has been made and that the Viewfield Road site is one of two options being considered. A public-consultation process is slated to begin in late May.
Esquimalt residents have reacted with outrage to plans to put a sludge plant near family homes, small businesses, schools and a grocery store.
Semmens believes officials have failed in their duty of care to her family specifically and the neighbourhood in general.
Besides plummeting property values, she’s worried about raising a child across from a sludge plant with the potential for foul odours, spills and leaks.
“[From] all of the research I’ve done on these sorts of sites, there is a release of gas,” she said. “So, unless they’re inventing an entirely new strategy that I’ve never heard of, there’s going to be a smell.”
She puts little stock in the CRD’s reassurances that such plants can be built with minimal impact on surrounding neighbourhoods. “My sense is that the ‘scent-less’ sludge treatment is probably more expensive than the CRD can or will pay for.”
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