In the face of a public backlash, Capital Regional District directors have dropped a proposed tour of European and North American sewage-sludge processing sites.
Last week, CRD directors at a meeting of the integrated resource management committee voted to send two staff and three directors, at an estimated cost of $8,500 each, to tour plants in Spain, France, Germany and Belgium.
The aim was to help determine criteria for local integrated resource management, which processes different types of waste together to create a beneficial end product — and, hopefully, revenue.
But on Wednesday, members of the environmental services committee, in a move later endorsed by the CRD board, rejected that idea and passed a resolution saying there would be no travel associated with developing such a plan.
“I think the waters have been so poisoned it doesn’t matter who you contemplated sending, the public is not going to buy into it,” Sooke Coun. Rick Kasper told the committee. “That’s the sad reality.”
Kasper said the idea of the European trip had become fodder for coffee-shop humour in Sooke.
“It was a lightning rod everywhere. It was a laughingstock in our community, in our municipality at the coffee shops. … ‘What’s going on down there [at the CRD]?’ That’s what was being said loud and clear.”
Instead, CRD staff have been directed to gather all the technical reports and work by the integrated resource management committee and task force and to report back on development of criteria that will move the project forward.
Plans for the $765-million sewage project call for sludge — leftovers from treatment — to be pumped about 18 kilometres from a treatment plant at McLoughlin Point to Hartland Landfill.
At Hartland, micro-organisms will digest the organic material in the sludge, turning it into what is known as Class-A biosolids, a soil supplement.
As part of the provincially approved sewage plan, the CRD has been charged with developing beneficial reuse of the biosolids.
The biosolids or the raw sludge could be mixed with solid waste such as food scraps and processed to create revenue by, for example, generating electricity, heat or fuel.
CRD chairwoman Barb Desjardins, who earlier supported the tour but then changed course, said the CRD already has much of information it needs. “There are other ways to go about that information and, in fact, we’ve already collected a lot of that information through both the [integrated resource management] task force and the integrated resource management committee. Our consultant also has a lot of that information,” Desjardins said.
Saanich Coun. Dean Murdock agreed. “I believe that there are mechanisms that would allow us to achieve finding that information without the need for travel,” Murdock said, adding that the European trip was not “an appropriate use of taxpayers’ money.”
“I believe strongly that in this day and age, there is technology that would enable us to learn without the expense of travel,” he said.
Victoria Coun. Geoff Young said it should be frightening to taxpayers that the CRD was prepared to base its decision on the views of a few directors who walked through a European plant.
Another major concern is that the CRD has already decided integrated resource management — which he called “a euphemism for incineration” — will be how the region deals with biosolids and solid waste.
A better approach would be to assess objectives, weigh environmental impacts and moving forward from there, he said.
“Instead of that, we’re starting at the end with a quasi-religious belief that [integrated resource management] is something we have to achieve, and every other goal and objective and method is subordinated to reaching that final goal,” Young said.