Is sewage mail-out plan to Esquimalt residents down the tube?

The Capital Regional District has hit the pause button on plans to mail out a flyer that asks Esquimalt residents to reconsider their rejection of a sewage treatment plant at McLoughlin Point.

Esquimalt council refused to approve a CRD proposal for a sewage plant at the site, and the B.C. government declined to overrule the township. So CRD directors voted last month to go directly to Esquimalt voters and offer to cover their share of building costs.

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In exchange for hosting a plant at McLoughlin Point, Esquimalt residents would save $19 million or about $200 a year over 25 years for every household, the CRD says. But support for the offer and the mail-out appears to be crumbling. The offer requires the support of five of seven municipalities on the Core Area Liquid Management Committee that includes Esquimalt, Langford, Oak Bay, Saanich, Victoria, View Royal and Colwood.

Langford has already said it opposes the strategy, while Esquimalt has sent the CRD a scathing letter calling the offer “misleading and without legal authority.”

Esquimalt council passed a resolution last month opposing any use of taxpayers’ money to send mail-outs to residents in an apparent effort to undermine the decisions of duly elected officials.

“The township views such actions by the Capital Regional District to be highly inappropriate,” the motion said.

In light of the opposition, CRD board chairman Alastair Bryson put a hold on the flyers until the board and sewage committee have confirmed their support for the strategy.

The matter is slated to come up for debate Wednesday.

CRD staff is recommending the board push ahead, but Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins said the CRD has no business making an offer to Esquimalt residents until it has the authority to do so.

“Are they going to get the authority to actually go forward and make that offer?” she said. “Don’t do something that provides information to the residents until you actually have an offer to provide to residents.”

Colwood, meanwhile, is the latest to signal that it’s unlikely to support the $19-million offer. Mayor Carol Hamilton said her council considers it a poor strategy.

“Primarily, those monies offered up to Esquimalt would come at the [expense] of taxpayers of Colwood and Langford and View Royal and those municipalities,” she said.

Victoria Coun. Geoff Young, who chairs the CRD liquid waste committee, acknowledged that other municipalities will cover Esquimalt’s share. But he noted that some of the amenities previously promised to Esquimalt are “off the table.”

For instance, the CRD would no longer have to spend large sums of money to barge materials to McLoughlin Point for little benefit. “So there’s really a substantial savings in real costs that can be devoted to providing a direct benefit to Esquimalt citizens,” he said.

Young also argued that Langford, Colwood and other municipalities could end up paying far more for a replacement site if McLoughlin Point falls through.

“I would say to the Langford council: ‘It’s too soon for you to say this is not a good offer. You may find, and I suspect you will find, that the cost to you of making this offer is very, very small relative to the costs you will be bearing under those other scenarios.”

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