Esquimalt closes the door on McLoughlin-only plant

Esquimalt is once again ruling out the possibility of a single regional sewage-treatment plant being built at McLoughlin Point.

In a letter to the Capital Regional District, Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins says the township “will not support the placement of a centralized wastewater treatment facility in Esquimalt.”

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Desjardins says in the letter her council has unanimously decided it will consider locating a sewage-treatment plant within its boundaries only if it’s part of a distributed system — two or more plants — with tertiary treatment, the highest level. “We don’t feel we have the space for it,” Desjardins said in an interview, referring to a single centralized plant.

“We’ve heard from our public that they would like to see a more distributed system and that there may be some opportunities from a distributed system. Why should one community take all of the region’s sewage treatment?”

Esquimalt is withholding its approval for putting a plant at the CRD’s preferred sites, McLoughlin Point or Macaulay Point, until conditions have been met, including completion of a public consultation process, the letter says.

Esquimalt will co-lead consultation with the CRD, but only if the CRD pays. It also wants details about treatment technology, environmental impacts, site configuration and financial implications.

The township will develop a set of non-site-specific principles regarding what measures have to be met in order for a sewage treatment plant to be supported.

In 2014, the CRD abandoned a plan that was estimated to cost $788 million for a single regional plant on a former oil-tank farm at McLoughlin Point because Esquimalt wouldn’t approve minor zoning variances.

The CRD’s latest sewage-treatment plan calls for plants to be built at Clover Point in Victoria and at either McLoughlin or Macaulay in Esquimalt at an estimated cost of $1.13 billion.

Victoria Coun. Geoff Young said he found the Esquimalt letter puzzling. If two plants are ultimately built, it’s unlikely the one in Esquimalt will be half the size of the one proposed earlier. It’s more likely to be about two-thirds the size, Young said.

“But that doesn’t seem to be the thrust of their concern. It’s almost as if they don’t want it unless we have one, too, and it’s as simple as that,” Young said.

“That I find pretty troubling because the financial implications for the entire region and for Esquimalt taxpayers from having two plants that are very big, quite apart from the issue of acceptability at Clover Point,” he said.

Desjardins said having gone through a public consultation process once over McLoughlin, Esquimalt is ahead of the game in reading their public. “We heard clearly from our public that environmental issues and high standards are very important,” she said. “We’re saying we’ve pretty much got the information but we’re going to go back and confirm it.”

Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen, former CRD chair, worries that Esquimalt’s conditions could slow the process enough to jeopardize about $253 million in federal grants for the project.

Jensen is also worried about proceeding with a two-plant treatment model.

“We had been told about a year ago by the federal government that if we choose an option that has two equal-sized plants, that we would not qualify under the grants that have been provisionally approved,” Jensen said.

Victoria launched its public consultation for sewage treatment Monday.

About 450 people attended a meeting at the Crystal Garden — many of them opposed to the idea of burying a treatment plant under the popular Clover Point waterfront park.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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