Province will honour funding for sewage project, Premier Christy Clark says

Greater Victoria is not in danger of losing provincial funding for the region’s sewage megaproject, says Premier Christy Clark.

Clark said Tuesday she can’t foresee the provincial government choosing not to honour its $248 million funding promise — which represents about one-third of the $783-million sewage plan budget — when the project is complete in 2018.

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“There’s no scenario that would involve that,” Clark told the Times Colonist. “But it’s not going to increase past $248 million. So there’s also no scenario where [the provincial contribution] becomes $500 million.”

The premier’s recent public comments on sewage treatment have caused ripples of concern and confusion about the largest and most expensive project in the region’s history.

Clark reiterated Tuesday that she has concerns “about the growing costs of this project.”

But the current $783-million budget — set in June 2010 —  is less than the $1.2 billion and $1-billion treatment systems proposed in previous years. The current plan may result in a per household tax hike of between $232 and $391 a year, depending on the municipality.

“We are going to set milestones, fiscal and performance milestones, that the project needs to meet along the way,” Clark said.

“That was the substance of the Treasury Board decision [and] the cabinet decision that we made last year. That remains the same. So the project has to meet those milestones.”

The B.C. government ordered Greater Victoria in 2006 to install sewage treatment and formally agreed to one-third funding in July.

But the initial funding agreement makes no reference tomilestones, said Jack Hull, the interim wastewater project director.

It does say that the Capital Regional District can’t claim provincial money before March 2017, or after March 2020, and that the treatment project has to meet certain effluent and resource-recovery criteria. Those requirements are all addressed in the current plan, Hull said.

The premier may also be referring to the required public-private partnership for a proposed biosolids plant at Hartland Landfill in Saanich, as well as the provincially required independent sewage commission of experts who will soon take over day-to-day decision-making on the project, said CRD board chairman Geoff Young.

“The province has been very clear on the conditions,” Young said.“They have pretty much said from the beginning, ‘these are the conditions we are going to put on and, if you want the money, you have to agree with them.’ ”

The premier reiterated that the project needs the discipline of the private sector. “The bottom line is the provincial taxpayer contribution to this is $248 million today, it was $248 million last year and five years from now it’s going to be $248 million. That’s it. That’s all.”

NDP leader Adrian Dix said he supports sewage treatment, and a future NDP government would honour the funding promise.

“I know that we have a government that responds daily to every change in public opinion that it sees, but at a certain point their long-standing approval of this project … has to apply or else I don’t know how anything happens,” Dix said in an interview.

The CRD’s sewage committee meets today to vote on a motion by Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen that would launch an independent environmental assessment of the plan.

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