Gorge cleanup activist challenges Esquimalt mayor

The quest for the mayor’s office in Esquimalt is a two-way race, with environmental advocate John Roe stepping in to challenge 10-year veteran Barb Desjardins.

Roe, 64, known for his efforts to clean up the Gorge Waterway through the Veins of Life Watershed Society, has also been involved with such groups as the Together Against Poverty Society and the Victoria Working Harbour Association.

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“I’ve been 20 years at it and there’s no committee I haven’t sat on in the past, and [I’m] still continuing to sit on in the future.”

Roe said his major impetus for getting involved in the election is the condition of Esquimalt’s infrastructure, especially aging and polluting storm drains that weren’t built to handle the current volume of water. Cross connections can lead to storm water being contaminated with sewage and polluting the environment.

Roe said that in some older configurations, storm and sewer lines are in the same tunnel, leading to sewage getting into the storm water and reaching the marine environment.

Roe and Desjardins differ about how to spend the $17 million Esquimalt is receiving for having the McLoughlin Point regional sewage-treatment plant located in the municipality.

While council has decided to spend the McLoughlin Point Amenity Reserve Funds on waterfront parks, recreation facilities, public spaces and emergency services, Roe is adamant the money should go to fixing up storm drains.

Desjardins, 62, said council’s decision on where to spend the money was based on “significant” public input, but Roe says the spending suggestions came from the Capital Regional District.

Desjardins, who spent a term on council before taking over the top municipal spot, said good things are happening in the municipality, from the ongoing Esquimalt Town Centre development to the 12-storey seniors’ project at the site of the Esquimalt Dockyard branch of the Royal Canadian Legion.

Over the past four years, council has approved projects that have included up to 1,400 new housing units, Desjardins said. “Going forward for the next four years, it’s hugely exciting and positive.”

Esquimalt is experiencing significant growth, Desjardins said, which brings challenges, including maintaining the small-town spirit of the community.

“We’re like a small town in a big region, and to maintain that while we embrace growth is really important.”

Roe, who has lived in the municipality for much of his life, said Esquimalt is where he feels most at home.

“I’ve always been proud of Esquimalt because I’m a rough-and-tumble guy and I’m a working man, as they say.”

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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