As opposition grows to a sewage sludge facility in Esquimalt, residents near the next most likely location for the plant, Hartland landfill, say they don’t want sludge near their homes either.
Willis Point residents are pushing back on building a biosolids facility at the landfill, saying it could leak and pollute the many local wells that are the only source of water for nearby homes. The plant would receive sludge that results from sewage treatment and convert it into fuel and fertilizer.
“If something leached into the water table, our wells are done,” said Jeff Irwin, chairman of the Willis Point Community Association.
“These are the sorts of things that really scare us when it comes to having a biosolids plant out there.”
The Capital Regional District board will vote Wednesday on whether to abandon plans for a biosolids facility at Viewfield Road in Esquimalt, after an outpouring of opposition from local residents and politicians who say the site is too close to homes and schools.
If the board votes down Viewfield, where land has been purchased for $17 million, the CRD shifts back to planning a site on the north side of Hartland.
Willis Point residents live near the landfill’s northern border, but their concerns have received far less attention than those of Esquimalt residents.
The community of 500 people is part of the unincorporated Juan de Fuca electoral district, meaning its CRD director lacks a seat on the sewage planning committee, or a vote on the Viewfield decision.
A sludge site would require more firefighting resources and could damage nearby roads with heavy truck traffic, said Irwin. Residents are already on high alert for environmental damage from existing Hartland landfill operations, and adding sewage sludge would just increase the risk, he said.
The residents have allies. “Their concerns are very valid,” said Saanich Coun. Judy Brownoff, a CRD director who attended a recent Willis Point community meeting on sludge. “They aren’t irrational. They aren’t just saying don’t put it in my backyard because I don’t want it.”
A Hartland sludge site would require an 18-kilometre pipe from the planned main sewage-treatment facility at Esquimalt’s McLoughlin Point. There are significant environmental risks at Hartland, but also opportunities to incorporate existing garbage into biogas, a fuel source, and one day look at gasification of the region’s waste, said Brownoff.
Meanwhile, opposition to the Viewfield location is growing.
Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin added his name to those who plan to vote down the Viewfield proposal. He said the social and economic stigma of putting a sludge plant near homes and businesses in Esquimalt outweighs relatively small savings in building and operating costs.
“Based on that, do I believe Viewfield is an option? No,” he said “Hartland is the best option that we have before us.”
Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard said he hasn’t decided how he’ll vote. It’s possible the CRD board could opt to seek more time rather than rush a decision, he said.
The biosolids plant is one of two facilities proposed as part of the Greater Victoria sewage-treatment project, budgeted at $783 million. The main sewage-treatment facility is planned for McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt; it is in the early stages of tendering and is to be completed by 2018.
Esquimalt has been treated “horribly” by the CRD and Viewfield isn’t the right site, said Saanich Coun. Vic Derman, a CRD director. He said Willis Point residents also have legitimate concerns.
The CRD should reconsider the sludge-processing technology it wants to use, said Derman, which could lower the project price, require less land and open more possible locations than just Viewfield and Hartland.