CRD delays public talks on sewage plans

 

Residents will have to wait a few extra weeks for public consultations on Victoria’s sewage options, which range in price from $1 billion to $1.3 billion.

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Municipal politicians on the Capital Regional District’s core area liquid waste management committee panicked at the suggestion they were ready to take the proposals to the people.

After three morning presentations, one from its technical oversight panel, another from a consulting engineer and another from CRD staff, the politicians complained they weren’t ready for the public.

“There are so many unanswered questions that if a member of the public asks me for an answer on anything, I’d be hard pressed to give it,” Saanich Coun. Vic Derman said.

“It would open us up to skepticism and scorn.”

CRD bureaucrats were instructed to come back with information on topics such as costs, water flow and solid waste recovery. Answers are expected early next month.

The politicians sitting on the committee were earlier presented with reports outlining various proposals to treat sewage in Greater Victoria as required by the province and the federal government by 2020.

The plans include:

• One treatment plant in Victoria’s Rock Bay area, ranging from $1.031 billion for a secondary plant to $1.139 billion for a higher-level, tertiary treatment plant.

• Two separate plants, offering secondary and tertiary treatment, one in Rock Bay and one in Colwood, for $1.088 billion.

• Four plants — Rock Bay, Colwood, Esquimalt First Nation and East Saanich — offering secondary and tertiary treatment, for $1.195 billion.

• Seven plants — Rock Bay, Colwood, Esquimalt, East Saanich, View Royal, Langford and Saanich core — offering secondary and tertiary treatment for $1.348 billion.

Annual costs per household for the projects vary, depending on the plan, and from municipality to municipality from a low of $252 in Colwood to a high of $583 in Oak Bay.

A new wrinkle appeared Wednesday with information presented suggesting Rock Bay be used to partially treat the sewage. Solid-waste sludge, an end product of secondary and tertiary treatment, would be removed at another operation at Hartland Road Landfill.

At Hartland in Saanich, cheaper land, extra space and the existing dump operation allow for lower costs and a combination of operations.

Not all politicians on the committee were as fearful as Derman about taking plans to the public.

Victoria Coun. Marianne Alto said committee members will never get every question answered ahead of time. But a conversation with the public is still a vital part of decision-making.

“If we wait for answers to every question, we are just not going to get anywhere,” said Alto. “Public consultation is not a one-shot deal, it’s a constant process.”

The CRD is also under a March 2016 deadline if it wants to receive $253 million in federal funding.

After the meeting, committee chairwoman Lisa Helps, mayor of Victoria, said sooner or later the CRD will have to get going if it wants senior governments to help at all.

“This funding has been sitting in our laps since 2012,” Helps said. “If I were a funder, I wouldn’t give us another cent until we have a plan.”

At the meeting, Victoria Coun. Geoff Young said the one question the public would likely ask was how sewage treatment nearly doubled in cost in one year.

Last year, the CRD was forced to abandon a $788-million plan that was well underway. Esquimalt councillors decided to overturn an earlier decision to put a treatment plant at McLoughlin Point, site of an abandoned gasoline tank farm. Esquimalt councillors refused to rezone the property to allow construction to proceed.

“Whether we like it or not, the public is going to compare what the previous plan was going to do with what this new plan is going to do,” Young said.

rwatts@timescolonist.com

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