Politicians face another vote on whether to put sewage plan on hold

Greater Victoria’s troubled sewage treatment project will face its latest hurdle Wednesday as politicians vote, yet again, on whether to pause and review the plan.

The Capital Regional District board will consider a motion by Saanich Coun. Vic Derman to launch an independent review of the $783-million sewage project, seek innovative new ideas and pursue a delay from the federal and provincial governments.

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Derman’s motion says the “conduct of the core area sewage treatment project has likely served to lessen public confidence in the capability and viability of regional government.”

The sewage plan offers only limited environmental gains, fails to address climate change and has ignored suggestions from Colwood or Esquimalt that would provide greater environmental and financial benefits, Derman’s motion says.

The motion calls for a new request for expressions of interest to allow any group to bring forward progressive ideas.

The CRD sewage project has survived several similar votes since 2006, when the provincial government ordered the region to provide treatment.

However, this vote comes at a particularly contentious time for the project.

Directors demanded last month that staff find new possible locations for plants, after opposition to a plan for a biosolids facility at Hartland Landfill in Saanich, where sludge — the end-product of sewage treatment — would be processed into fuel or fertilizer.

Some are also considering approaching the provincial and federal governments to push back the project’s 2018 completion date.

The current plan calls for a sewage-treatment facility at McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt, with resulting sludge pumped 18 kilometres to Hartland.

Derman’s motion prompted a lengthy reply from CRD staff, which warned any delay could lead to up to $30 million a year in extra costs, as well as millions more in new planning and consultation.

Outgoing CRD sewage-project director Jack Hull also warned in a report that Derman’s motion could disrupt the current tendering process for the McLoughlin Point site, hurt the CRD’s credibility, open the district to legal action and threaten provincial and federal funding.

Two environmental groups, the Georgia Strait Alliance and T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation, have written to the CRD board to oppose Derman’s motion, calling it “deeply troubling” that some CRD directors “seem focused on undermining the plan rather than strengthening it.”

The two organizations re-iterated a legal position they obtained last fall that said delaying the project could put the CRD at risk of violating federal wastewater regulations, the fisheries act and protection orders for the habitat of resident killer whales.

rshaw@timescolonist.com

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