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Region looks to add $13.7 million to sewage bill

The cost of Greater Victoria’s sewage treatment project could increase by $13.7 million to cover the costs of barging construction materials to Esquimalt and adding advanced oxidation to the treatment process.
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McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt, which has been rejected as a site for a sewage treatment plant.

The cost of Greater Victoria’s sewage treatment project could increase by $13.7 million to cover the costs of barging construction materials to Esquimalt and adding advanced oxidation to the treatment process.

The current budget estimate is $783 million.

Seaterra, the commission overseeing the project, and Capital Regional District staff are recommending CRD directors approve the additional spending.

Barging, estimated to cost $8.5 million, up from an earlier ballpark of $2.3 million, was considered a “deal breaker” by Esquimalt in negotiations to allow a treatment plant to be built at McLoughlin Point, says a staff report.

Adding advanced oxidation to the secondary treatment process at a cost of $5.2 million would address so-called substances of emerging concern, such as pharmaceuticals, endocrine disrupters, personal care products and household cleaners, a separate staff report says.

Given that her municipality has rejected McLoughlin Point as a potential sewage treatment plant site, issues like barging and advanced oxidation are moot, Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins said.

“In my view, Seaterra is managing a project that is not a project at this point. There is no project. There is a plan,” Desjardins said.

“Seaterra and CRD should not be pushing forward on these things without the authority of that site. They don’t have it.”

The CRD has written to B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak asking the province to override Esquimalt’s decision.

Desjardins plans to introduce a motion at the CRD Wednesday calling on Seaterra to be suspended for six months or until the province responds and, until that time, Seaterra should spend no more money, neither issue nor accept any requests for proposals and enter into no contracts.

Victoria Coun. Geoff Young, who chairs the CRD’s core area liquid waste management committee, agrees that a decision is needed quickly from the province. He said Desjardins’ motion may be premature, but said it underscores the need for the province to step in.

“But if the answer is no and the province decides that this plan is off the table, then I don’t think six months is nearly long enough,” Young said, adding that finding an alternative site or sites if McLoughlin is rejected will be extremely difficult.

“Once you’ve established that any municipality can reject a site if it doesn’t want it, I think the reality is it would take a long time to develop a new plan,” Young said.

Desjardins stressed the hundreds who spoke at an Esquimalt public hearing in opposition to the McLoughlin rezoning were not just Esquimalt residents but from around the region, meaning there has been a regional rejection of the CRD’s sewage treatment plan. “It is time for us to really re-look at this. We’ve lost the public confidence,” she said.

Meanwhile, Young said he was surprised at the “relatively modest” estimated cost for including advanced oxidation in the treatment process.

“I always assumed that we would eventually have to move to higher levels of treatment, but that the costs would be in the tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars and we would have to find an additional site,” Young said.

Young noted many of the people who spoke at Esquimalt’s public hearing into the McLoughlin rezoning expressed concerns about substances of emerging concern, but very few raised the issue of barging or construction traffic.

The staff report says that including advanced oxidation would mean an additional $1.33 million a year in operating costs.

Under the funding arrangement, the federal and provincial contributions to the sewage treatment program are capped at about one third each. Any additional costs over the $783-million estimate fall to the CRD.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com