B.C. environment minister loath to take on sewage mess

The Capital Regional District will ask the province to set aside Esquimalt’s bylaws so the CRD can build a sewage treatment plant at McLoughlin Point.

But Environment Minister Mary Polak said she’s unlikely to get involved.

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“Certainly, we will review whatever request they forward to us, but I am not inclined to intervene in what is, ultimately, a decision that should be made by local governments,” Polak said.

Polak said she has already offered to extend the provincial deadline, if needed. But she noted there is a federal requirement to begin treating sewage by 2020.

“They are obligated to find a way to comply with that,” she said. “That is a decision for the local government. They need to determine how they are going to meet that obligation.

“No provincial government should take lightly the idea of interfering when it comes to something that is legitimately within the bounds of a local government.”

A two-part resolution passed by CRD directors Wednesday asked for the province to intervene and, if it refused, to offer direction on how to proceed.

The CRD’s decision to ask the province for help came after Esquimalt council Monday voted against rezoning changes necessary to accommodate a treatment plant. Esquimalt councillors also asked staff to prepare a zoning amendment that would remove a sewage treatment plant as an acceptable use of the waterfront site — a former oil tank farm. Esquimalt’s decision came after public hearings in which more than 117 people spoke against the treatment plan.

But Esquimalt’s decision left the CRD in a bind. Under provincial order to build sewage treatment, about $9.6 million has already been invested in the McLoughlin Point, which is considered the best site for a plant.

Some CRD directors, including Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins, argued the decision on whether to go to the province should be postponed to give the public a chance to weigh in. She said it was clear from Esquimalt’s public hearing into the rezoning that there is regional opposition to the sewage plan.

“Please understand this is your public that spoke. Don’t make a bad decision here,” she told directors.

But the motion to postpone failed both at committee and later in the day at the CRD board levels.

Victoria Coun. Marianne Alto recommended that rather than asking the province to set aside Esquimalt’s bylaws, the board should instead ask the province for recommendations on what to do next. After all, she said, the province created this situation by ordering sewage treatment.

“The province has dictated this years ago and given us very prescriptive rules which we have tried very hard to follow and we are now at an impasse,” Alto said. “I think it’s time now to go back to the province with an open-ended question. We agree with you. We need sewage treatment. We have tried everything we can imagine. We’re not there. What do we do now? Over to you guys. Tell us what to do now. We’ll do it.”

But with delays estimated to be adding $1 million a month to the cost of the project and the clock ticking on completion, directors felt they had no other option.

Victoria Coun. Ben Isitt said the dance with Esquimalt over McLoughlin has gone on too long.

“If we look at McLoughlin Point, it’s buffered from the residential areas of Esquimalt by federal land. It has the appropriate zoning. It’s former industrial lands and that’s why this committee purchased that parcel,” Isitt said.

NDP MLA Maurine Karagianis, who represents Esquimalt-Royal Roads, said she agrees with Polak and would “vociferously oppose” any attempt by the provincial government to overrule Esquimalt.

“The municipalities have a right to make their own decisions on zoning,” she said. “Really, this is back to the CRD to sort out their situation, and I stand by Esquimalt’s decision to re-zone the property and to make that determination and for the province to stay out of it at this point.”

Karagianis said the CRD needs to “go back to the drawing board” and either have more discussions with Esquimalt or look for other sites.



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