Sewage treatment upgrade adds $5.2 million to budget

The cost of the Capital Regional District’s proposed sewage treatment plant, if it ever finds a home, will increase by $5.2 million to add another stage to the treatment process.

CRD directors agreed to increase the cost of the $783-million sewage treatment program by $5.2 million — about $15 a household — to include advanced oxidation to the treatment process to address so-called substances of emerging concern, such as pharmaceuticals, endocrine disrupters, personal care products and household cleaners.

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Directors postponed, however, a decision on whether or not to spend $8.5-million to barge material to Esquimalt’s McLoughlin Point, should that site be approved as a treatment plant site.

Barging was seen as one of the key elements by Esquimalt when it was negotiating to allow a treatment plant at McLoughlin. But the $8.5-million cost was more than three times the original ballpark figure of $2.3 million. If McLoughlin Point is approved and barging rejected, an estimated 6,322 truckloads — the equivalent of 18 round-trips a day over 18 months — will rumble on Esquimalt roads during construction.

Seaterra project director Albert Sweetnam stressed neither barging nor advanced oxidation were ever part of the project’s $783-million budget.

The status of the CRD’s sewage treatment project seems almost as murky as the millions of litres of raw sewage it’s supposed to treat. Esquimalt has rejected rezoning the McLoughlin site and is in the process of down-zoning it to prohibit a sewage treatment plant from being built there.

The CRD has appealed to the province to intervene and override Esquimalt’s decision but so far Environment Minister Mary Polak will only say the request is under consideration.

Members of the CRD’s core area liquid waste management committee, arguing $8.5 million was too rich, voted Wednesday to withdraw the offer to barge materials. But when the item hit the CRD board table later in the day, directors decided to postpone the decision until they had heard from the province.

Observers broke into applause when Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins told her colleagues McLoughlin is not available so there was no point in talking about barging.

“We shouldn’t be making decisions with respect to what will happen at that site because we don’t have that site,” she said.

Several directors worried that reneging on the commitment to barge would send the wrong message to the province given the CRD in appealing to the minister had agreed to make good on the negotiated amenity package.

“I think that to veer from this would have very serious ramifications,” said Saanich Coun. Susan Brice, adding that even at the $2.3-million barging estimate, it was never about the money.

“If indeed we are backing off from an obligation to provide barging, I say that weakens our position and in any negotiations I do not think this is the time to blink.”

Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin said barging might have been a deal breaker but with Esquimalt’s rejection of McLoughlin’s rezoning, “the deal didn’t work. There is no deal there.”

Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard asked how would a mayor and councillor respond to a developer who unilaterally decided to withdraw an amenity after a public hearing.

“We would not be sympathetic. If a developer makes commitments at public hearings, mayor and council hold them to it,” Leonard said.

Meanwhile, Desjardins’ planned motion to suspend Seaterra’s operations for either six months or until the province makes a decision, will not be debated for another month as it failed to get the needed two thirds majority it needed at committee to waive notice.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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