Promise not to override Esquimalt on sewage could set precedent, Saanich mayor says

Provincial politicians promising not to override Esquimalt if it refuses to rezone property for regional sewage-treatment facilities could be setting a worrisome precedent, says Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard.

“Even if it is not a precedent, people might just try to draw it in. We’ve just got to think through how that might change things,” Leonard said.

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Waste-management facilities such as landfills and sewage plants are notoriously difficult to locate, Leonard said. But municipalities reluctant to approve them know the province has the ability under the Waste Management Act to override their decisions.

“That motivates a council to compromise, because you can say: ‘We’re better to have some influence on this outcome than none.’ ”

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Last week, New Democrat platform chairwoman Carole James said an NDP government would not consider overruling Esquimalt if the township refused to rezone a Viewfield Road property to allow a sewage biosolids facility.

Esquimalt-Royal Roads Liberal candidate Chris Ricketts also has said he is opposed to the provincial government overruling Esquimalt’s wishes, but acknowledges he doesn’t speak for his party.

But if the province were to refuse to override Esquimalt, Leonard wonders if it would also refuse to use its authority under the Waste Management Act in other jurisdictions.

The Capital Regional District announced last month it had negotiated to buy a Wilson Foods warehouse site on Viewfield Road in Esquimalt for $17 million, as a potential location for the region’s sludge-treatment plant.

The announcement sparked outrage from Esquimalt councillors and residents. Not only is the Viewfield site located near houses and schools, but because the main treatment facility is to be located at Esquimalt’s McLoughlin Point, the township believes it is bearing an unfair share of the CRD’s $783-million sewage-treatment system.

The CRD had originally proposed to treat sewage sludge at Hartland landfill in Saanich and still might opt for that option.

Leonard said provincial inaction in Esquimalt could have repercussions in Saanich.

“If the folks at Hartland and Willis Point find something objectionable, they might be saying: ‘Why was Viewfield Road ruled out by the province and not ours? [Or saying to Saanich council] ‘Why are you even considering this. Why don’t you just say no like Esquimalt did?’ ” Leonard said.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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