Greater Victoria politicians debate sewage project deadline extension

Greater Victoria politicians are once again debating whether to extend the deadline for the region’s sewage treatment megaproject.

The Capital Regional District should ask the B.C. government if it will consider pushing back a 2018 deadline for the $783-million project until 2020, Victoria Coun. Marianne Alto said Wednesday.

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The extra two years may not be needed, but formally asking the province would “explore the notion of having a bit of a cushion” on the controversial project, Alto told the CRD sewage committee during a meeting.

“There’s no harm I can see at all in simply asking the question and say we’re going ahead we’re doing what you asked us to do … but at the same time, we need a little more time,” Alto said.

“If you gave us a little more time, we’d be able to do a better job.”

After a lengthy debate, in which some politicians worried any hint of a delay would confuse the public, the committee voted to reconsider the idea next month once Alto had written a draft letter to government.

It’s the latest twist in the project’s long-running development, which has so far survived numerous votes for delays and reconsideration.

It comes as the civilian commission in charge of procuring the project warns that the tight timeline to finish by 2018 is already at risk of being blown by squabbling politicians, who have yet to agree on zoning for a treatment plant site in Esquimalt.

The commission has also warned of up to $1 million a month in delay costs if the project falls behind schedule.

The B.C. government ordered the CRD to treat its sewage in 2006.

Major construction has yet to begin.

The federal and provincial governments have pledged $501.4 million, or two-thirds of the project’s budget. But CRD staff told politicians Wednesday that’s contingent on a 2018 deadline, and there’s no evidence either level of government would support a delay.

Alto said she’s not necessarily asking for a delay, but wants the CRD to ask the province if it would consider one.

The project’s tight timeline is a result of seven years of wasted time and energy by CRD politicians debating the issue, said Saanich Coun. Leif Wergeland.

“If we had an extension to 2025, I’d venture to say we’d be sitting there and debating … all these issues and reports and we’d be where we are today and saying, ‘We’re under a tight timeline, can you help us?’ ” Wergeland said.

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins, Saanich Coun. Vic Derman, View Royal Mayor Graham Hill and Victoria Coun. Pam Madoff expressed support for the idea, saying it could help address public concern over the treatment project.

Victoria Coun. Geoff Young said he might support a delay in the future if it’s needed for a specific reason or could reduce project costs.

Langford Coun. Denise Blackwell said any delay would put fear into companies spending millions to prepare bids on the project.

Also on Wednesday, CRD directors voted to appoint Young sewage committee chairman, replacing Blackwell.

rshaw@timescolonist.com

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