McLoughlin, Clover, Macaulay points back on table for sewage

Esquimalt’s McLoughlin Point and Macaulay Point, and Victoria’s Clover Point are once again in the mix as possible sewage treatment plant sites.

After three hours of debate Wednesday, Capital Regional District directors asked staff to examine the feasibility of the three sites.

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Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen was behind a push to revisit McLoughlin — the CRD’s former preferred site for a treatment plant that was rejected after Esquimalt council refused to approve minor zoning amendments to allow the plant to be built.

Jensen argued potential cost savings of building at McLoughlin in conjunction with a second facility, likely in Colwood, were too big to be ignored.

He noted that the estimated cost to local taxpayers to build a plant with capacity to last to 2045 at McLoughlin was $281 million. The current lowest cost option for sewage treatment — a single treatment plant at Victoria’s Rock Bay— would leave local taxpayers on the hook for $548 million, Jensen said. Those costs don’t include an additional $200 million that might have to be spent in 2030 to expand capacity, he said.

“It’s huge. It’s enormous,” Jensen told members of the CRD liquid waste management committee Wednesday.

Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell said Jensen’s financial comparisons were suspect. The McLoughlin estimates are 2010 figures that have not been updated and were derived when the Canadian dollar was at par with the U.S., he said.

“There is no saving in going back to McLoughlin. It simply isn’t there,” Atwell said.

One of the major shortcomings of the Rock Bay site is that an estimated $244 million would have to be spent on pipes and pumps to move untreated sewage there and then move the treated water to outfalls going into the ocean.

With potentially millions of dollars to be saved by building a treatment plant closer to outfalls, directors ultimately agreed with Saanich Coun. Colin Plant’s compromise recommendation to examine McLoughlin, Macaulay and Clover.

Plant said looking only “backward” to McLoughlin as an alternative to Rock Bay didn’t make sense.

Last month, Knappett Projects pitched building an underground sewage plant for $177 million at Clover Point. CRD technical staff recommended against it, saying the site was too tight for the proposed technology.

Wednesday’s decision came as the CRD nudges precariously close to a March 31 deadline to select a site for sewage treatment to secure $83 million in funding from a federal agency, PPP Canada.

The CRD began looking for alternatives to McLoughlin that would have community support after Esquimalt’s decision in April 2014 to reject rezoning.

According to the project charter, municipalities would recommend sites within their boundaries, and only those sites would be considered.

But Jensen argued the CRD has the responsibility and the social licence to revisit McLoughlin given that Esquimalt council originally told the CRD that it preferred McLoughlin Point for a sewage treatment plant. After the CRD bought the site, he said, Esquimalt council voluntarily agreed in 2013 to rezone the property for sewage treatment. “What’s more important, the process or the taxpayer?” Jensen said.

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins said Jensen’s suggestion that the project charter is an artificial process is appalling.

Atwell said that Jensen was misrepresenting the facts. When Esquimalt council endorsed McLoughlin as a potential site, it was envisioned as having a small plant as part of a distributed treatment system.

“I think it is disingenuous to make the claim that the whole Township of Esquimalt selected McLoughlin Point for a single plant. That was not the case,” Atwell said.

Victoria Coun. Ben Isitt supported a new analysis of McLoughlin.

“We owe it to residents, if we’re going to exercise our financial obligations and our due diligence to residents, to have two bona fide options so we can have an apples- to-apples comparison,” Isitt said.

Victoria Coun. Geoff Young noted Victoria council might be in for a rough road getting the Rock Bay site rezoned to allow a treatment plant.

He said the site “is far more expensive, far more disruptive to the city and far more disruptive to adjacent residences and workers,” than McLoughlin.

“I’m concerned … the only reason we can give for approving that is: ‘Well, Esquimalt council refused to do it so we have to,’ ” Young said.

Despite the fact that the committee has not endorsed a treatment site, its committee chairwoman, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, said progress is being made.

“We’re taking a step in two directions, but I think we’re making progress,” she said.

The committee meeting will reconvene Friday afternoon.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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