‘Free’ sewage-treatment plant offer an insult, Esquimalt mayor says

Esquimalt taxpayers could have a sewage treatment system built at no cost if Esquimalt council reverses an earlier decision and allows the Capital Regional District to build a treatment plant at McLoughlin Point.

But Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins called the offer an insult to residents.

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Members of the CRD’s liquid waste management committee are recommending the regional district offer Esquimalt $19 million to cover its share of capital costs for allowing the plant at McLoughlin Point.

Desjardins said rejection of McLoughlin Point was never about money. She said hundreds of residents spoke at four nights of public hearings in opposition to McLoughlin over issues ranging from the site being too small and at risk of a tsunami to inadequacy of secondary treatment.

“So to bring this back at this point is to say to the public: ‘Are those concerns that you brought forward not real? You’ll take the money and run?’ I think it’s insulting. I think it really is disrespectful of the public,” Desjardins said. She said putting a plant at McLoughlin is like “putting a size 15 foot in a size 8 shoe.”

With a number of deadlines looming and about $500 million in senior government funding for the project potentially at risk, the CRD is scrambling to find a way around its impasse with Esquimalt over McLoughlin Point.

B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak last month said she would not overturn Esquimalt’s refusal to rezone the former oil tank farm site for a sewage treatment plant.

Victoria Coun. Geoff Young, chairman of the CRD’s core area liquid waste management committee, said many Esquimalt residents might find the offer attractive, especially since the federal and provincial governments are insisting that sewage treatment be built.

“We’re offering essentially a free plant at McLoughlin plus [Esquimalt’s share of a biosolids plant] at Hartland [landfill] because that’s part of the system, versus another plant, albeit a smaller one, in Esquimalt somewhere that they are going to have to pay for,” Young said. “I think it’s an attractive offer and I really think the people of Esquimalt should decide whether it’s a good offer and let their council members know.”

The offer came in a last-minute motion from CRD chairman Alastair Bryson, who said it not only represents excellent value for Esquimalt taxpayers but is based on the fact that Esquimalt council now has information that wasn’t available when it held public hearings into rezoning McLoughlin, including artist renderings of the plant and assurances that an advanced oxidation process is to be included to help mitigate substances of emerging concern.

Committee members are also recommending the CRD concurrently:

• See if any municipalities or First Nations in the CRD will provide a site for a centralized plant.

• Examine the cost of a decentralized system with several smaller treatment plants.

• Ask the province to consider making the project a provincial one so that it is responsible for implementing sewage treatment.

CRD directors asked Esquimalt to respond to the offer by July 16 because there’s a bid to build the treatment plant that expires July 26. Desjardins said the July 16 deadline is not possible because time is needed for a full public process and her council is about to go into summer recess.

“I would expect you will have your answer sometime in the fall,” she said.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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