Colwood free to go it alone on sewage, except ...

There’s no reason why Colwood shouldn’t be allowed to explore going on its own for sewage treatment, as long as other municipal partners’ interests are protected, says Geoff Young, chairman of the Capital Regional District’s wastewater committee.

“We have to leave our taxpayers whole,” Young said. “If they can get the approvals, if the province is good with it and if it’s not costing us any more, then there’s no particular reason why they shouldn’t be able to do it. But those are tough conditions.”

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Getting the necessary approvals to build and operate its own tertiary treatment plant by 2016 would be a long and complicated process for Colwood, CRD staff say in a report to be considered by CRD directors Wednesday.

CRD staff are recommending that the region support in principle Colwood’s application, but only the municipality can get assurances from the province by the end of this year that going it alone won’t jeopardize existing funding agreements that have senior governments paying two-thirds of the estimated $783-million cost of the current sewage treatment plan.

In addition, CRD staff recommend a number of other conditions that would have to be met by Colwood by the end of 2015.

The current liquid-waste plan permits effluent discharge at only three places: Clover Point, Macaulay Point and McLoughlin Point. Colwood’s proposed tertiary plant would discharge treated effluent into the ground for uses such as irrigation.

Getting provincial approval for ground discharge wouldn’t be easy, staff say, and would require completion of an a complex series of environmental and technical assessments that could take more than two years to complete.

The province might also require Colwood to retain a connection to the CRD sewer infrastructure as a redundancy in the event of an emergency. As such, Colwood would have to negotiate a funding formula with the CRD to keep that capacity open, the CRD staff report says.

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 to sewage treatment — building capacity as needed.

The preferred location for a tertiary treatment plant would be under the parking lot at the transit exchange near the Juan de Fuca Recreation Centre.

Colwood’s current proposal is long on optimism and short on specifics.

In a question-and-answer sheet, the municipality says it has the resources to build and operate its own plant but it doesn’t provide any details of what those costs would be.

Colwood chief engineer Michael Baxter said that while the city has seen a number of different estimates, costs haven’t been nailed down.

“We’re not going to go out and do all of the work necessary to come up with the different solutions in detail until the CRD board has said: ‘Yes, we recognize that this is a good solution. Colwood, go ahead and try it,’ ” Baxter said.

Colwood’s background material says the plant would be publicly owned and operated by city employees.

Colwood also maintains that the funds it has contributed to the CRD project to date would be retained by the CRD. The municipality says it would not seek a share of the two-thirds funding the CRD is receiving from the federal and provincial governments for the regional sewage-treatment program.

bcleverley@timecolonist.com

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