Here we go again: Sewage plant site needs Esquimalt rezoning after all

The proposed sewage-treatment plant site at McLoughlin Point will have to go through a rezoning process after all, meaning approval of the mega-project once again will be up to Esquimalt council.

It’s an unexpected turn of events that’s made some local politicians uneasy, especially given Esquimalt council’s previous unanimous opposition to locating a plant at McLoughlin. “I thought the strength of this [site] this time was that we had a zoned site and we were moving forward with that. I think the risks are enormous and I don’t know why we would feel that the sentiment of Esquimalt council is any different now than it was before,” said View Royal Mayor David Screech.

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“We’re moving down the same path as last time, from what I can see. We’re hiring people. We’re setting things up and we still have a rezoning process to go through.”

It was Esquimalt council’s unanimous rejection of minor variances to McLoughlin’s zoning in 2014, and the province’s refusal to override that decision, that sent the Capital Regional District on an 18-month search for different sewage-treatment options.

In May, with senior-government funding deadlines looming and the CRD spinning its wheels, B.C. Community Minister Peter Fassbender stepped in. He took the process out of the hands of local politicians and turned it over to an expert panel called the Core Area Waste Water Treatment Project Board, headed by chairwoman Jane Bird.

After examining all the data and public input collected by the CRD, that panel again recommended a single regional treatment plant at McLoughlin Point.

Bird told CRD directors Wednesday that it was originally believed McLoughlin would not need rezoning for the plant.

“We sat down with staff and went through it line by line; it was clear that there wasn’t complete alignment,” Bird said. For example, one of the requirements is for a ferry service to McLoughlin Point to carry supplies.

“So it became clear that the best way to deal with the lack of alignment on some of the technical points and on things like that ferry might be for [Esquimalt] to initiate a rezoning,” Bird said.

Undergoing a rezoning “is not without risk,” she said. “But I think the best way to mitigate that risk is to try to come up with something that staff can strongly recommend and that’s the direction we are headed.”

Bird praised Esquimalt staff, and called it “a positive sign” that Esquimalt council has approved working toward a timetable that includes holding a public hearing Feb. 20 and having the rezoning considered by council by Feb 27.

Esquimalt Acting Mayor Lynda Hundleby said after the meeting that staff are continuing to address issues raised by council members. Most of the meetings on zoning issues have been held in-camera. “We are still negotiating things.” She would not be specific.

The municipality would consider moving toward a rezoning process once certain matters have been worked out, she said. But that would not represent an endorsement.

Hundleby is interested in hearing from citizens through a public hearing, which is part of a rezoning process.

She made no predictions about the outcome. As council members, “we don’t agree on everything.”

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, who chairs the CRD sewage committee, disagreed with Screech “about this is the same thing that we had last time.”

“We have a very willing Esquimalt council — of course, we don’t want to fetter their discretion — that’s been working really hard, both at a staff level and at a political level with the project board,” Helps said. “I think it makes sense to have a zoning bylaw that actually fits with the project that everybody wants, not trying to have ferries that are unnecessary and so on,” Helps said.

The current sewage plan includes amenities valued at $20 million, including an annual payment to Esquimalt of $55,000. Neighbourhood amenities include a walkway, green roof, road improvements and recreational area.

Upgrades at the Macaulay Point pump station and a commitment to barge construction materials to Rock Bay are also part of the plan.

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