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The never-ending sewage conundrum

The Capital Regional District is closer to a decision on the sewage-treatment issue. But many hurdles remain.
Clover Point is being considered as a site for a sewage-treatment plant, along with McLoughlin Point or Macaulay Point. Rock Bay is also in the mix.

The Capital Regional District’s two-plant sewage solution is a compromise not many people saw coming and is almost guaranteed a bumpy ride on any road that leads to final approval.

After more than a year of study and consultation, CRD directors decided last week that building two tertiary-treatment plants — one buried at Victoria’s Clover Point and the other at Esquimalt’s McLoughlin Point — presents the best option for moving forward with this troubled mega-project.

(Tertiary treatment refers to cleaning sewage to a point that it becomes usable water.)

But even with the March 31 deadline for $83 million in federal government funding only weeks away, this is no done deal.

While Esquimalt’s McLoughlin Point, a former tank farm, is already zoned for a sewage treatment plant, there’s certainly no guarantee the township will allow one to be built there. Remember, McLoughlin was the site the CRD settled on two years ago as the best spot to build a single regional treatment plant. That plan was abandoned after hundreds of people at days of public hearings urged Esquimalt council not to approve necessary zoning variances.

Esquimalt rejected the variances and the province refused to override the decision. Several councillors said at the time they would never approve a treatment plant there. The question now is whether they will be more amenable to allowing a smaller plant.

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins, who also chairs the CRD, supported moving the two-plant option forward, even though she has repeatedly said it breaches the project charter in that McLoughlin and neighbouring Macaulay points were not sites put forward by her municipality for treatment facilities.

And Esquimalt doesn’t appear to be in any rush to make a decision. While Victoria councillors were debating the merits of a plant at Clover Point on Thursday — a day after the CRD decision — Desjardins said she doesn’t expect the issue of Macaulay or McLoughlin to hit an Esquimalt council agenda until March 21.

Victoria councillors have asked the CRD to meet the Fairfield/Gonzales land-use committee to explain what’s planned as a first step prior to consideration of approval in principle of Clover Point.

Approval in principle is just that, said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, who chairs the CRD sewage committee.

“All we’re agreeing to at that point is to enter into negotiations with the CRD, and you can imagine that we will be negotiating pretty hard to make sure that our residents, should a plant go there, get the amenities that they would want to see. It will be returned to park land, there’s no question about that,” Helps said.

But there’s no time to waste. Approval in principle is needed from both councils by the end of the month — the deadline for federal PPP Canada funding for the project.

Costs for a system with tertiary treatment plants at Clover and McLoughlin points is estimated to be marginally cheaper than a single plant at Rock Bay, coming in at $1.052 billion. A single Rock Bay plant is estimated at $1.077 billion.

Both are hundreds of millions of dollars more than the $788 million the region was looking at several years ago to build a single plant at McLoughlin.
Helps expects current estimated costs to be reduced as the CRD, having identified sites, seeks expressions of interest from the private sector on what it can build to meet the treatment objectives.

The idea is to see what the private sector could build on the proposed sites or what innovations companies could bring to the table that might not even involve the sites but could bring down the costs, Helps said.

“Probably most people who are putting in requests for expressions of interest will focus on those two sites: What cost-effective solutions can be brought in when the plants are right at the two outfalls. But we’re going to cast widely to see what comes back because we don’t want to miss anything,” Helps said.

The province, meanwhile, has offered its expertise to facilitate the process, and Helps is confident cost estimates will come down.

“No one wants to pay $200 million more [than the single plant at McLoughlin option]. No one does and no one is going to be satisfied with that — not one director around that table.

“So we’ve heard the private sector has innovative technologies that are cheaper than they were when this was costed six years ago. Bring it on. Let us see what you’ve got,” Helps said.

Four sites, three options for a billion-dollar project

Consultant Urban Systems looked at three options for sewage treatment plants that would meet capital region needs to 2030.

One plant: Rock Bay

Central, tertiary plant at Rock Bay.

Possible ways to reduce costs:

• Put off installing systems to reuse treated water until they are needed
• Put off upgrades to existing 1,500-metre outfalls; instead, install 250-metre outfalls for treated water
• Possibly reduce pumping and piping costs
• Cost reduced by $54 million
Capital cost: $1.077 billion

Three plants: Clover Point, McLoughlin Point and Rock Bay

Tertiary plants at Rock Bay and McLoughlin Point, and one primary plant at Clover Point.

Possible ways to reduce costs:

• Reduce size of pipes and pumps from Clover Point to Rock Bay by up to 45 per cent
• Eliminate one pumping station
• Put off installing systems to reuse treated water until they are needed
• Put off upgrades to existing 1,500-metre outfalls; instead install 250-metre outfalls for treated water
• Suitable land exists at all the sites; primary treatment at Clover has a projected footprint of 0.4 hectare
Capital cost: $1.089 billion

Two plants: Clover Point and McLoughlin Point

Two tertiary plants at sites adjacent to the outfalls.

Possible ways to reduce costs:

• Eliminate pipes and pumps from Clover or Macaulay points through urban areas
• Put off installing systems to reuse treated water until they are needed
• Put off upgrades to existing 1,500-metre outfalls; instead install 250-metre outfalls for treated water
• A tertiary plant at Clover Point requires 1.25 hectares; analysis and design work could reduce the footprint
Capital cost: $1.052 billion

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