Councillors trying to block a Malahat bypass from going through watershed

Update: Water commission unanimously opposes Malahat detour in watershed

Punching an emergency Malahat detour route through Capital Regional District water-supply lands or park wilderness reserve is a non-starter, say some CRD directors.

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Regional water-supply commissioners will debate a motion today introduced by Victoria Coun. Jeremy Loveday and Saanich Coun. Nathalie Chambers opposing any highway construction on water-supply-area lands.

It calls on water commission chair Rebecca Mersereau to write to the province advising that the commission has no interest in such development on water commission lands or in the drinking-water protection zone.

A similar motion from CRD environment and parks committee chair Ben Isitt opposing any highway construction in the CRD’s Sooke Hills Wilderness Park lands is expected to go to that committee next week. If successful, the motions essentially do an end-run around an in-camera decision made by the CRD board last week directing staff “to form a working group with Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure staff to evaluate and report back on options for an emergency bypass route for the Malahat section of the Trans-Canada Highway.”

Loveday said his motion, which is submitted with the concurrence of eight other commissioners, is designed to protect Greater Victoria’s drinking water.

“It’s not directly counter to the CRD’s commitment to being part of a working group, as the CRD hasn’t taken a position to this point on any alternate route that could be through the CRD’s jurisdiction,” he said. “This would potentially shift the position of the CRD, as they will see that the water supply commission, which is tasked with keeping our water supply safe, would then be opposed to any construction of a highway or roadway through the water-supply area.”

Isitt was unavailable for comment, but parks and environment committee vice-chair and View Royal Mayor David Screech confirmed a similar motion regarding the Sooke Hills Wilderness Reserve is in circulation. Screech agreed the two motions appear to be contrary to the board’s motion to work with the province on an alternative route. “My personal preference is to let it play through and see what the working group comes up with in terms of recommendations and then make final decisions,” Screech said.

The in-camera CRD decision didn’t specify the region would consider use of CRD lands, he said. “But it did direct staff to be part of a working group, so I think some directors are concerned that that is kind of saying we will consider these lands and they are trying to shut the door on it,” Screech said. “It’s not that I necessarily disagree with the sentiment, because at a gut level I do kind of agree that we don’t want to see roads built through our watershed and through our parkland, but I do think we have to go through the process and look at it.”

Meanwhile, CRD chair Colin Plant is not convinced the water commission has the authority to directly lobby the province on behalf of the CRD. “It’s my take on this motion that it’s not appropriate for the water commission to reach out to the government on this matter because that is the CRD’s in its highest form — the board [prerogative] — that would undertake that discussion.”

Plant said he would rather see what comes out of the working group before shutting the door on any recommendations. “I don’t wish to see us not even have the discussion because we already know the answer. I think that is not advisable. The board has said we will have that discussion with the province and we want to work with them,” Plant said. “I don’t want transportation to be done to us. I want transportation to be done with us.”

Meanwhile, lobbying to stop any new road construction is gearing up, with more than a dozen people signed up to address the water commission on the issue today.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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