A plan to build a regional tertiary sewage treatment plant at McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt was approved by Capital Regional District directors at a marathon meeting Wednesday.
The OK for an expert panel’s recommendation to build at McLoughlin came after more than five hours of questions and debate — and prompted directors to give themselves a round of applause.
“I’m feeling very relieved and the region will get the project that it deserves,” said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, CRD sewage committee chair, after the meeting.
“It’s a better plan than the last one and more cost effective. It’s better for the environment, better for taxpayers.”
The panel’s proposal has a price tag of of $765 million and is to be built by 2020. The other short-listed options were more expensive: $920 million for a plant at Rock Bay or $1 billion for plants at Rock Bay and McLoughlin.
A previous plan for McLoughlin was shelved when Esquimalt council refused to allow necessary zoning variances.
Tertiary is the highest level of sewage treatment, where enough contaminants are removed to yield water that can be safely used for such things as landscape watering and industrial cooling.
Sludge created by the treatment process is to be piped to Saanich’s Hartland landfill where it will go through anaerobic digesters to create what is known as class A biosolids. The biosolids will be stored at Hartland while the region develops plans to use biosolids, garbage and food scraps as a resource. By not further processing the biosolids, the panel is shaving about $100 million in costs from the previous plan.
The CRD will submit the revised plan to the provincial and federal governments for financial and regulatory approval. They are providing grants for the project.
Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins, CRD chair, voted in favour, saying it’s a better deal for her residents than the plan rejected by Esquimalt council in 2014.
“I think the residents of the region, and I can’t speak for my councillors, but the residents of the region are going to be happy and there are many residents of Esquimalt who are going to be happy that we’ve made this decision.”
The selection of McLoughlin will be discussed by Esquimalt council Monday. The expert panel said the new plan meets Esquimalt’s zoning and design requirements, meaning Esquimalt council would not be able to block the plant even if it wanted to.
Desjardins said her council can, however, work to make sure the project meets community needs. The plan includes $20 million in amenities for Esquimalt, including an annual payment of $55,000, landscaping, a waterfront pathway, a smaller plant footprint with a tiered green roof and barging of materials to save disruption and wear on Esquimalt roads.
The proposed budget includes $5 million for refinements to the exterior of the plant and landscaping or other design issues that might arise during Esquimalt’s development permit process.
Property in Rock Bay will be leased from First Nations, providing a spot to amass construction materials that will be barged to McLoughlin.
The report also recommends spending $2 million to study a sewage treatment proposal for Colwood and Langford.
Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell was the only director to vote against the McLoughlin recommendation. Atwell said that under the panel’s business plan, costs to CRD taxpayers increase about $30 million while grants from senior governments decrease by $47 million even though it’s essentially the same as what was proposed two years ago. “As a business case, I think it’s better for the province and better for the federal government, but I don’t think it’s better for us,” Atwell said.
But panel vice-chair Don Fairbairn told Atwell he was comparing apples to oranges and costs for CRD residents will be lower than the previous plan. He said the cost of the earlier plan had it included tertiary treatment would have been between $865 million to $880 million in 2016 dollars.
Deducting provincial and federal grants from the lower $865-million figure would have left $382 million to be picked up by local taxpayers. Under the current plan, that figure is $311 million, Fairbairn said
“In fact we are saving money, not increasing as you assert. You cannot compare 2012 dollars with 2016 dollars,” Fairbairn said.
If the plan proceeds, the estimated annual costs for homeowners are: Oak Bay, $344; Saanich, $208; Victoria, $296; Esquimalt, $258; View Royal, $248; Colwood, $146; and Langford, $239. The costs take into account such things as the need to replace sewage pipes and the amount of sewage flow.