Esquimalt gets what it wants in sewage pact

Greater Victoria politicians approved a multimillion-dollar sewage compensation package for Esquimalt Wednesday, but took so long dickering over the details that they might incur $1.8 million in extra expenses.

The Capital Regional District sewage committee voted to approve a new rezoning application for a treatment plant at McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt — one of the last major hurdles before the contentious megaproject can begin construction.

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The proposal includes up to $13 million in amenities, such as barging construction materials to the site, as well as previously promised oceanfront walkways, bike lanes and road improvements.

However, the CRD needs Esquimalt council to approve the deal. Esquimalt says it can’t hold a required public hearing until mid-February at the earliest.

That pushes the project at least two months behind schedule, at $900,000 per month in extra management and inflationary costs, said project director Albert Sweetnam.

However, CRD politicians appeared more concerned with whether the proposal to Esquimalt was too rich, and if the municipalities they represent should also be compensated for truck traffic caused by building the plant.

Barging materials to McLoughlin Point will remove 2,885 truckloads of excavation material and 1,105 truckloads of concrete over several weeks, CRD staff told the politicians. That equates to 60 trucks a day that aren’t rumbling through a residential neighbourhood and near École Macaulay Elementary.

Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin questioned where the barge would be loaded and if other municipalities would be compensated for truck traffic.

Oak Bay director John Herbert echoed the concern and queried the costs. “What we are providing to Esquimalt in my mind is too rich,” he said. “Oak Bay loses about $1.6 million in taxes to a variety of organizations and facilities that don’t pay taxes and we’re a pretty small municipality but we’re not running around saying give us more money.”

Victoria Coun. Geoff Young, the only director to vote against the deal, said the costs were “at the very outer limit of what I think is reasonable.” Young proposed capping the barging bill at $1.5 million, with overruns covered by eliminating amenities. CRD staff said that would probably fail a legal challenge.

Several other directors raised concerns that barging, estimated to cost as much as $2.3 million, remained an uncertain and expensive proposal. However, they also argued for a quick deal with Esquimalt; there have already been several months of negotiation, and a proposal was rejected last month.

Politicians voted against a staff suggestion that they prepare to appeal to the provincial government for help, if an impasse is reached with Esquimalt. Instead, they said they first want to let Esquimalt residents speak their minds on the proposal.

Acting Esquimalt Mayor Linda Hundleby said she was mostly pleased by the CRD vote.

Esquimalt was ready for a public hearing in November, but has been waiting for the CRD, she said.

“I was concerned we weren’t going to get this far, so I’m happy from that perspective.”

Esquimalt council will meet in January to vote on a public hearing date.

The idea of a sewage plant at McLoughlin Point remains deeply unpopular with some Esquimalt residents and members of council, no matter the amenity package.

The sewage project is budgeted at $783 million, with an expected completion date of 2018.

rshaw@timescolonist.com

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