Capital Regional District takes new tack on sewage treatment

A proposal to develop sub-regional plans for sewage treatment has been endorsed by Capital Regional District directors.

CRD directors approved creation of a subcommittee with representatives from Colwood, Langford, View Royal, Esquimalt and the Songhees First Nation. With CRD assistance, the subcommittee’s job will be to evaluate options and develop a sewage-treatment plan and resource-recovery plan in their region.

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The goal is to produce a conceptual plan for treatment and resource recovery by March 2015 that optimizes existing infrastructure, is environmentally sound and minimizes costs. The first step will be to consult residents.

After months of acrimony and bitter debate at the CRD over sewage treatment plans, the new approach was welcomed by west-side representatives.

“This is a terrific report,” Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins said. “I want to thank staff for all the work that you’ve done in terms of meeting with municipalities’ staff and west-side people to get this to where we are today.”

Victoria Coun. Geoff Young, who chairs the core area liquid waste committee, said the subcommittee represents the new reality, given that McLoughlin Point is not available for a treatment plant.

Desjardins said the new structure will give First Nations a voice in the process.

“That is significant. [First Nations] have been held on the outside. They’ve been consulted, but this will bring them within a full decision-making ability within a subgroup. And we have heard loud and clear that’s very important,” she said.

Work is underway on similar plans for Victoria, Oak Bay, Saanich and neighbouring First Nations. Victoria staff are developing a three-phase business case to explore options for siting and management of a Victoria-only system as well as for another system that would include Oak Bay and Saanich.

The CRD’s plans for sewage treatment stalled when Esquimalt refused to rezone McLoughlin Point for a plant. The province refused to overturn the decision.

Meanwhile, the fate of $500 million in senior-government funding that had been available for what was to be a $788-million sewage-treatment program remains uncertain. The two-thirds federal and provincial funding is envisaged in the CRD’s approved liquid-waste management plan. But that plan was based on a sewage-treatment plant operating at McLoughlin Point by 2018.

A substantial change to the project — such as a new plant location — might require the CRD to reapply for funding, with no guarantees of approval. Even if funding for a modified project is approved, there are no guarantees it would be at the same level.

CRD staff and politicians agreed that meeting completion deadlines while developing a new plan will be challenging at best.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

This story has been edited to correct a factual error.

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