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Victoria’s Plan B — going alone on sewage

Given the apparent collapse of the Capital Regional District’s sewage treatment plan, Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin and Coun. Marianne Alto say it’s time for the city to look at doing it alone.
Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin: "Right now, it's almost an underground economy, and one of the things that is very important to the City of Victoria and other cities is each hotel room contributes a small tax toward marketing the destination."

Given the apparent collapse of the Capital Regional District’s sewage treatment plan, Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin and Coun. Marianne Alto say it’s time for the city to look at doing it alone.

The two — both CRD directors — will seek city council support next week for a resolution calling on city staff to “on a priority basis” provide council with information on the implications, including both risks and opportunities, on the city building its own sewage treatment plant.

“I’ve worked really hard to be a regional player. But what do you do with a region that will not play?” Fortin said Friday.

“It’s time to be leaders. It’s time to grant that our residents do support sewage treatment and they are not waiting any longer,” Alto said.

The two said it’s only prudent to have a Plan B after Environment Minister Mary Polak announced this week that she would not overturn Esquimalt’s refusal to rezone McLoughlin Point for a regional sewage treatment plant.

With McLoughlin off the table, CRD bureaucrats are scrambling to recommend options and local politicians are wondering what to do next.

The province has ordered the CRD to have a plant up and running by 2018. The federal government has set its own deadline of 2020 and Polak said she still expects those deadlines to be met.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on $500 million in senior government funding for the regional treatment plant, which some fear may be lost. Fortin said he has been in contact with government officials to make the case for the city’s share of grant money should it go it alone on sewage treatment.

Victoria Coun. Geoff Young, chairman of the CRD’s core area liquid- waste management committee, called Fortin and Alto’s motion “regrettable but necessary.”

“I think all of the municipalities will have to be thinking along these lines,” Young said.

Victoria would not be the first municipality to express a desire to build its own treatment plant as the CRD’s protracted efforts to get the job done have ground to a halt.

Earlier this year, CRD directors gave Colwood the green light to investigate building a treatment plant near Juan de Fuca Recreation Centre. With only about 25 per cent of Colwood residents on the sewage system and the rest using septic tanks, the municipality argues that it makes more sense for it to take a modular approach — building capacity as needed.

Esquimalt had already been examining the possibility of a waste-to- resource centre as part of its village revitalization project. “The potential there is that it would be able to treat our sewage, certainly, but also the possibility of treating View Royal’s sewage,” Mayor Barb Desjardins said.

She said it was “fantastic” Victoria would consider building on its own.

Young said that with Polak’s refusal to intervene, “it’s a whole new world.”

“Now that we know everything has to be done by consensus in terms of locating facilities, it really means that different municipalities will be going in different directions,” Young said.

If municipalities go it alone, each will have to get its own waste management plan approved — a time- consuming process, Young said.

He is convinced that a multiple plant approach would be very expensive.

“I think if the local taxpayers get away with paying twice as much as they were scheduled to pay under the plan that could have been approved, I think they should consider themselves fortunate.”

Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard hopes to persuade CRD directors at their next meeting June 11 to appeal to Minister of Community Sport and Cultural Development Coralee Oakes for help through arbitration, mediation or facilitation.