Operating costs rise by millions for new sewage treatment plant: staff report

Costs to operate and maintain the Capital Regional District’s new sewage treatment project will be millions of dollars a year more than originally forecast, CRD directors are being told.

The approved budget for operation and maintenance costs for 2021, including sewage treatment plant operations, residuals treatment, capital costs, debt servicing and asset replacement/maintenance reserves is $40 million.

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But a report going to the CRD’s sewage committee has increased that estimate to $42.7 million — a seven per cent increase.

That seven per cent would be closer to 12 per cent, except the operating budget proposes deferring a $2-million annual allocation to an asset replacement reserve.

“I’m going to encourage the committee to ask a lot of questions and ask staff to really bring back options that could help reduce these operating costs further,” said Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins, the committee chair.

The staff report says about $2.9 million in the increase is due to higher chemical costs and about $1 million is due to increased costs for disposal of biosolids.

As part of its preliminary approval for the treatment system, the CRD was precluded from building multi-year storage at the Hartland Landfill for biosolids — the treated sludge left over from the sewage treatment process — and instead was required to develop a plan for its beneficial reuse.

The current plan is to transport treated biosolids to the Lower Mainland where they are to be used as fuel for cement kilns.

Desjardins said the chemical costs are directly related to the treatment process so there is likely little that can be done to reduce them.

Biosolids disposal, however, is another matter, she said.

“This is something that we really need to look at. The increase in costs is around the use of the cement kilns and the transportation of the biosolids,” she said. “Are there other options? Maybe we need to look at our policies to provide more options.”

In 2011, the CRD banned spreading biosolids on land over concerns that farmland and the food grown on it could be polluted by pharmaceuticals and heavy metals.

“I don’t think that is a palatable thing to be applying biosolids to land. But are there other solutions to dealing with that end product so that it could be inert to be able to keep it in region and use it to landfill at Hartland or whatever,” Desjardins said.

John Treleaven, vice chair of the Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria, called the operating cost escalation “disappointing” but not necessarily surprising.

“It points to a need for “increased sustained transparency as this project goes forward and a full understanding by municipal governments involved that they’ll have to look at their budgets and their priorities based on what this overwhelming priority is going to cost their taxpayers,” Treleaven said.

The report on operating costs comes just four months after CRD directors approved a $10-million increase to the overall capital budget, bringing the total cost to $775 million — a 1.3 per cent increase over the originally approved $765 million.

Those additional costs were attributed primarily to an over-heated construction market driving up labour and material costs.

The total would have been higher as well had the sewage project board not pared back planned upgrades to the existing sewage system for a saving of about $20 million.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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