Environment minister won't get involved in Esquimalt's sewage dispute with Capital Region District

Update, July 16, 1:30 p.m.

B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak said today she won’t get involved in the dispute between Esquimalt and the Capital Regional District.

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“I have no intention of intervening at this time,” said Polak. “I realize this is controversial between them, and they are in debate as to whether they can resolve it, but I would encourage the parties to get back around the table and find a way that they can resolve this between themselves.

“The idea of intervening in a matter that should be solved at a local level is not something we take very lightly. So I'm encouraging them to be back at the table together and to try and find a resolution here.”

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Original story:

The B.C. government will have to decide the future of a sewage-treatment plant at McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt, after a town council vote Monday night put the community at loggerheads with the Capital Regional District.

Esquimalt refused to pass the CRD’s rezoning application to build a sewage-treatment facility at McLoughlin.

Instead, council passed its own alternate bylaw by a vote of five to two. It allows the CRD to build at McLoughlin only if the regional government offers more amenities, barges all construction material to the site to avoid traffic and safety problems and pays $55,000 a year into an amenity fund.

The CRD has already called Esquimalt’s proposal legally unworkable.

Esquimalt councillors acknowledged the move will bring the provincial government into the dispute, but said recent public hearings showed there’s no public support for the CRD’s proposal.

The province could overrule Esquimalt and force the plant onto McLoughlin on the CRD’s terms.

However, most Esquimalt councillors said they hope the province will see their alternate bylaw as a starting point for negotiation, and involve the town in future decisions.

Coun. Tim Morrison said he couldn’t support something that felt like “a gun is being held to your head saying you have to do this out of fear.

“[The CRD] will go to the province, there’s no question about that,” said Morrison, who voted against rezoning.

“But what the CRD neglects to understand is that the province may not oblige. Be careful what you ask for, I say of the CRD. The province may not like what it sees.”

Passing its own zoning conditions “gives us more leverage with the province,” said Coun. Meagan Brame.

Coun. Dave Hodgins also refused to support rezoning for sewage.

“I’m not prepared, based on how many amenities might be achieved, to compromise my values or my ethics,” Hodgins said. “They are not for sale. And therefore I will not support.”

Mayor Barb Desjardins said rejecting all rezoning would put the town in a “precarious” position with the province.

“Is the CRD bylaw acceptable? No, absolutely not. That was absolutely clear from the public. I don’t know why the CRD would think that they could decide what was best for Esquimalt without our input, our agreement or negotiation.”

CRD chairman Alastair Bryson said he will likely request a meeting with the environment minister on the issue.

McLoughlin Point, at the entrance to the Inner Harbour, used to be an oil-tanker site before the CRD purchased it for a treatment plant.

The CRD’s rezoning bid offered more than $1 million in amenities to Esquimalt, such as upgrades to local electrical and firefighting services, a public walkway, road and bike-lane improvements and a sewage-education centre.

Cash compensation wasn’t offered because of legal advice, the CRD has said.

Esquimalt’s version set several extra hurdles for the CRD.

It calls for mandatory barging of construction materials and a new pier. It also calls for a public open space worth at least $75,000 that includes a children’s playground, a public walkway, reclaimed water use, underground utilities, top-level odour reduction technology and $55,000 a year for a McLoughlin Point Amenity Reserve Fund.

The CRD has said the town lacks the authority to dictate such terms.

The CRD sewage-treatment project is budgeted at $783 million, and expected to be online by 2018.

Esquimalt council also unanimously passed a motion asking the provincial and federal governments to halt funding and the tendering process for the CRD sewage project until an independent audit is completed.

rshaw@timescolonist.com 

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