If Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins is feeling dumped on, it’s quite understandable. She and many others in Esquimalt were not happy that their municipality was chosen for the new regional sewage-treatment plant. Now the Capital Regional District wants to build a second component of the project in Esquimalt.
The CRD paid $17 million for a site along Esquimalt’s Viewfield Road with the idea of using it for the project’s sludge-processing facility.
The move seems heavy-handed, given Esquimalt’s doubts about the project and given that the decision to buy the land was made behind closed doors. It became public only after the deal was done.
The CRD has already decided Esquimalt will receive no compensation for the plant to be built on McLoughlin Point. Now a commercial site will be taken out of Esquimalt’s tax base, cutting further into the municipality’s revenues. Worse, the second facility has the real potential to depress property prices, diminish residential quality of life and drive businesses away.
The facility will be known as the Biosolids Energy Centre, and its purpose will be to extract byproducts such as biogas, biofuel and fertilizer from the sludge left over after the sewage is processed at the McLoughlin Point plant.
The original plan was to pipe the sludge 18 kilometres to the Hartland landfill. Building the biosolids facility in Esquimalt would not significantly lower the capital costs, given the price of the land, but operating costs would be lower.
A two-kilometre pipeline would also be less disruptive, says CRD sewage committee chairwoman Denise Blackwell. The disruption from pipeline construction would be considerable, but temporary. The effect of establishing the sludge plant in Esquimalt would be permanent.
It sounds like short-term gain for long-term pain.
“Biosolids” has an environmentally friendly ring to it, and extracting resources from it is the direction to go, but it’s still sewage sludge and it’s a hazardous material. The plant site is on a commercial/light-industrial street, but it’s one street away from historic Old Esquimalt Road.
You can be sure any plan to put such a facility near an upscale neighbourhood would not get to first base. Yet sewage from expensive houses is just as malodorous as that from humbler homes. Why not distribute the consequences of disposing of it more evenly?
Last December, the CRD rejected the idea of an independent assessment of the project. Oak Bay, View Royal, Colwood and Esquimalt — the communities calling for the assessment — didn’t have enough votes to counter those of Victoria and Saanich. Representation on the sewage committee is weighted by population, and that’s how it should be.
Yet Colwood Mayor Carol Hamilton made a good point when she said it seems as if the plan’s biggest supporters are the municipalities least affected by the proposal.
Of course, it makes sense to process the sludge near the treatment plant — the nearer the better. More pressure should be exerted on the federal government to give up some Department of National Defence land, perhaps on Macaulay Point, which is close to McLoughlin Point.
Sewage processing is essential, but no one likes the idea of living next door to the required infrastructure. We like to put our privies at the far end of the back yard. However, sacrifices must be made, and sometimes those sacrifices are required of a few for the good of all.
But forcing two major sewage facilities on Esquimalt is asking too much.
The plan is not carved in stone — the CRD will seek public input on the proposal before making a final decision.
The public will likely tell the CRD to back up and try again, this time with more consultation and less secrecy.
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