Environment minister avoids taking role in sewage dispute

B.C.’s environment minister remains unwilling to get involved in Greater Victoria’s sewage treatment dispute, after meeting with the Capital Regional District and Esquimalt on Monday.

Both sides argued their case to the minister at the legislature but left without persuading her to wade into the disagreement over a treatment plant at McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt.

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“It’s our aim to have the parties back together and discussing how they can move forward,” Polak told the Times Colonist.

“We are going to give them every kind of assistance we can, but it’s important for this decision to made at their level and not to have the province interfere.”

The CRD’s $783-million sewage treatment plan calls for a secondary treatment plant at McLoughlin Point. However, Esquimalt council this month refused to pass the CRD’s rezoning bylaw to allow the plant’s construction.

Instead, the township passed its own bylaw, which calls for more amenities from the CRD, including a public park and annual cash payments into an amenity fund, before allowing the plant.

The CRD has said several of Esquimalt’s demands, such as cash payments in exchange for rezoning, may be illegal and it won’t comply.

Polak has the power to override Esquimalt’s zoning and force the plant but has said she won’t do so.

“I don’t see any need for us to be coming in with a heavy hand at this point,” Polak said.

“Certainly one of the things that’s become clear is that, for some, the discussion around McLoughlin Point has really been more of a discussion around the overall [sewage treatment] plan itself.

“It’s important to emphasize for people, the plan is no longer in question. The plan is the plan. And it will remain. What is to be discussed is the issue of location, and we’re trying to get the parties to focus on that.”

There is some flexibility on provincial timelines and the government’s one-third share of the sewage project budget, but the CRD is still required to meet a 2020 federal deadline for treatment, Polak said.

The CRD asked the government “to please provide us with some advice on next steps,” said vice-chairwoman Denise Blackwell, who attended the meeting with chairman Alastair Bryson.

“We made the position that if we had to comply with Esquimalt’s extra [rezoning] request, then we’d certainly be looking to the province for additional money to accomplish that, because there’s only so much money in the plan,” Blackwell said.

“[Polak] said she understands there’s no additional money floating around.”

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins also met with Polak, as well as Community, Sport and Cultural Development Minister Coralee Oakes at the legislature on Monday.

“The ministers were very good in listening to us and certainly are supportive of the CRD and ourselves having some dialogue,” Desjardins said.

Desjardins said it’s good for Esquimalt that the province won’t wade into the issue and automatically back the CRD in the zoning dispute, and she expects to start negotiating with the CRD soon.

rshaw@timescolonist.com

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