In face of delays, Greater Victoria groups push for sewage cleanup

Local politicians arguing over how to best treat Greater Victoria’s sewage shouldn’t lose sight of the environmental damage being caused by current practices, says a lawyer for several environmental groups.

Ecojustice lawyer Margot Venton recently wrote to Esquimalt council warning that its plan to rezone McLoughlin Point to prevent sewage treatment could mean local municipalities would have to bear the costs of additional environmental cleanup around sewage outfalls.

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“It’s a reminder that there is a real environmental problem here. This is not just a bell and a whistle that is needlessly being tacked on to a city that is already doing a fine job of dealing with its sewage,” Venton said.

“This ongoing dumping of sewage into the ocean has caused an identifiable problem. It needs to be dealt with and also there is no cheap way of dealing with this problem.”

About 129 million litres of raw, screened sewage is pumped daily through long outfalls at Macaulay and Clover Points. A 2005 assessment of the seabeds around the outfalls found they legally qualify as contaminated sites under provincial law, Venton said in a letter to Esquimalt council on behalf of the Georgia Strait Alliance, the T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation and the David Suzuki Foundation.

While remediation of the contamination was not part of a 2006 provincial Environmental Act order, the Capital Regional District was directed to create a plan for sewage treatment.

If Esquimalt now blocks implementation of the CRD plan by down-zoning the McLoughlin site, the environmental groups will press the province for cleanup, Venton said.

Venton said her clients don’t want the underlying contamination being caused by lack of sewage treatment to be lost in the ongoing debate.

“To date, our clients have seen the implementation of a plan for sewage treatment as a reasonable means to address ongoing pollution at Macaulay and Clover points — however sewage treatment alone will not necessarily address the historical contamination,” Venton said in her letter.

“Should the mayor and council continue to delay implementation of the sewage treatment plan, our clients fully intend to press the government to also require remediation of past contamination at Macaulay and Clover points. The cost of any such remediation would likely be the responsibility of the municipalities.”

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins said her municipality’s refusal to rezone McLoughlin and its plan to rezone the site to prohibit a sewage treatment plant there are not a rejection of treatment.

“We all want to get to sewage treatment. Esquimalt wants that as much as anyone else, which is why we all need to move forward,” Desjardins said, adding that a number of municipalities are now looking for alternatives to the CRD plan.

But Venton said her clients would take a dim view of the bylaw to down-zone McLoughlin.

“In our view, if mayor and council approve the motions before them, effectively blocking the implementation of the sewage treatment plan, they would effectively announce to the province a clear intention to not comply with the order,” her letter said.

The fact that the current CRD plans have now stalled is not Esquimalt’s fault, Desjardins said.

“The process has occurred the way it has,” she said.

“The CRD required zoning. They have zoning but it doesn’t meet their requirements. The province has said they will not force us. So the [Ecojustice] concern, they need to take to CRD or wherever, but it’s not an Esquimalt issue per se.”

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