Region rejects sewage review

Greater Victoria’s sewage committee shot down the idea of an independent environmental assessment of its sewage treatment project Wednesday, in a vote that once again exposed deep divisions among local communities on the issue.

Politicians from Victoria, Saanich and Langford flexed their majority control of the Capital Regional District committee to reject a call from Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen for an environmental review.

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“It’s unfortunate, but that’s the will of the majority, and that’s how our democracy works,” Jensen said. “I’m satisfied. Now we can move forward and proceed.”

A review would have allowed taxpayers to compare the environmental impact of the current system of discharging screened sewage into the ocean with the proposals.

Wednesday’s vote — 10 to 5 against the review — was the latest in a series of proposals shot down by the core area municipalities of Victoria and Saanich, who were aided by Langford.

The rest of the sewage committee, including politicians from Oak Bay, View Royal, Colwood and Esquimalt, don’t have enough votes to counter Victoria and Saanich.

“There are four communities really concerned with this plan, and you have to take that into consideration,” said Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins.

Colwood Mayor Carol Hamilton said it seems like the plan’s biggest supporters are the municipalities least affected by the proposal.

Despite the loss, Oak Bay still supports the sewage committee, Jensen said. “We also know how the governance structure of the CRD works, and we accept that. It’s the fairest way to proportion votes.”

The 15-person sewage committee is weighted by population. Victoria and Saanich have a combined nine votes, though Saanich Coun. Vic Derman frequently votes in support of other municipalities that have concerns.

The sewage treatment project is budgeted at $783 million, with an estimated completion date of 2018. The current plan calls for a secondary treatment facility at McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt. Critics have said the plan is too expensive and offers little environmental benefit over the current practice.

The CRD sewage committee also spent Wednesday occupied by a growing stalemate with the provincial government.

The province has agreed to provide $248 million toward the treatment project, but is demanding politicians turn over decision-making to a commission of technical experts.

The sewage committee shot back last month, voting to change the commission bylaw to give itself the power to “approve” certain tendering documents instead of only “reviewing” them.

That led to a rebuke from Community Minister Bill Bennett, who said the change was unacceptable.

CRD staff also warned that contradicting the province could put the funding in jeopardy.

But the politicians refused to back down. They voted Wednesday to keep approval power and wait for Bennett to send an official letter before reconsidering.

rshaw@timescolonist.com 

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