Public asked for input on Victoria-area sewage-plant sites

Victoria, Saanich and Oak Bay will launch an intensive public process Wednesday looking for input on where to build a sewage-treatment plant.

It’s an ambitious agenda. The hope is to get public buy-in on where a sewage-treatment plant or plants should be sited by the end of June.

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It took four years for the Capital Regional District to settle on Esquimalt’s McLoughlin Point as a site for a regional sewage-treatment plant. That plan went off the rails last year, when Esquimalt refused to rezone the site and the province declined to overturn the decision.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps concedes the hunt for a site won’t be easy.

“I anticipate that it’s going to be a hard slog. There’s going to be some hard conversations. But I’m hell bent and determined that we meet this deadline,” Helps told the Times Colonist editorial board Monday.

Helps is chairwoman of both the East Side Select Committee and the Capital Regional District’s Core Area Liquid Waste Committee

“Part of what we need to do is re-frame the conversation, [from] ‘Ooh, yuck not in my backyard,’ to: ‘Yes, please in my backyard because I can see the benefits for the long term,’ ” she said.

The McLoughlin Point plan failed because the site was selected before being presented to the public for input, Helps said. This time, the plan is to ask the public for help in selecting both site and technology.

Since the McLoughlin option went down the toilet, local governments split into two parallel groups to explore options: an east-side group composed of Victoria, Saanich and Oak Bay, and a west-side group comprising Esquimalt, View Royal, Colwood, Langford and the Songhees First Nation.

While the west-side group has been consulting with the public for months, the dialogue on the east side begins Wednesday at the Royal B.C. Museum.

Helps said Saanich, Oak Bay and Victoria have each agreed to submit by May 6 a number of “technically feasible” sites for sewage treatment for consideration by the public.

“Then those will be made public as part of the public-engagement process, where in Saanich, Oak Bay and Victoria, respectively, there will be workshops where the public rolls up their sleeves with the sites that have been identified by their council and starts to weigh criteria and helps to narrow down those sites,” Helps said.

The hope is that the west-side process will come together with the east-side process and sites will be identified by the end of June, Helps said.

Hundreds of millions of dollars in federal grants are riding on the success of the process.

The CRD’s sewage-treatment project has a budget of $788 million, of which the federal government has committed $253 million.

“The potential consequences of not meeting that [site selection] deadline is that the funding starts to disappear,” Helps said.

Helps is under no illusion that the process will be easy, and acknowledges there is “absolutely not” a sewage-treatment site that everyone will endorse.

Wednesday’s meeting begins at 7 p.m. and will involve both a briefing and a workshop.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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