Political interference in sewage project ‘is not helpful’: Desjardins

Capital Regional District chairwoman Barb Desjardins admonished board members Wednesday, telling them not to interfere with the new arm’s-length process put in place to guide the region to a sewage treatment solution.

Referring to “recent media on the core sewage treatment project and our role as CRD board directors,” Desjardins reminded directors that over the past month — at the urging of the province — an independent board has been appointed to develop a business plan for core-area sewage treatment, and to help retain funding from the provincial and the federal governments.

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The panel’s membership, expected to be finalized this week, has not been announced.

People on the panel will be “the highest calibre,” Desjardins said.

“They are independent. They will be objective, and they will deliver a business case to us at the CRD board in September,” she said.

“Political interference at this point is not helpful.”

Her comments came on the heels of media reports that Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell was being accused of attempting an end run around the new panel and lobbying for a private company’s proposal to build a sewage-treatment plant at Victoria’s Clover Point.

Atwell met Monday with the Fairfield Gonzales Community Association board, seeking meeting space to make a presentation about sewage treatment.

During the meeting, Atwell proposed bringing in John Knappett as part of that presentation. In January, Knappett suggested building an underground sewage-treatment plant at Clover Point. CRD technical experts recommended against it, saying the site is too tight for the proposed technology.

Atwell, who maintained he was doing nothing wrong and simply trying to engage with residents to continue the discussion about sewage-treatment options for Clover Point, said the CRD only gave a cursory look at the Knappett proposal.

But Atwell’s request shocked some residents — including Victoria Mayor Victoria Lisa Helps, who called the Saanich mayor’s actions inappropriate and “beyond ridiculous.”

Helps said now is the time for municipal politicians to stand aside and let the independent panel do its work.

In her remarks, Desjardins agreed.

“Provincial recommendations came forward. They were accepted. The project board has been approved and our role in developing and approving the terms of reference for this board is complete,” she said.

“Our role as directors now is clear. It is to ensure that the project board is allowed to do their job. We have approved their terms of reference. They have all of our data and they have the public input that we have gathered. And we have appointed those members.

“Support for the board decision in that process is imperative to ensure interest and inquiry from potential proponents when that time comes.”

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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