Seaterra sees ‘irreconcilable gulf’ in plan for sewage plant

After months of delays, officials are increasingly looking toward the legislature for help in getting Esquimalt’s McLoughlin Point rezoned for a sewage treatment plant.

“Given there seems to be an irreconcilable gulf between the parties, and that timely conclusion is appearing more and more remote, we respectfully suggest the CRD consider moving this issue to a forum where a resolution can be reached,” Brenda Eaton, chairwoman of the Seaterra commission, said in a letter to Capital Regional District board chairman Alastair Bryson.

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“We completely understand that this is a decision for the CRD and not the Seaterra commission, so wish only to highlight that we will not be able to achieve the mandate the CRD board has given us with these ongoing delays,” the letter says.

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins said the only other forum available would be for the CRD to appeal to B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak to dictate a solution.

Desjardins called the letter “unfortunate,” saying she doesn’t believe “an irreconcilable gulf” has developed. “I think Brenda’s got it wrong. We’re going through the regular process that any municipality would. We have not completed our public hearing, and to make any statements like that at this point would not be accurate,” Desjardins said.

“Just by the fact we’re in this [hearing] process means everything is open and we’re listening.”

Victoria Coun. Geoff Young, who chairs the CRD core area liquid waste management committee, said the CRD board has clearly indicated it does not want to appeal to the province for help until the Esquimalt zoning process has been completed. Seaterra, the civilian commission charged with delivering the $783-million megaproject on time and budget, is aware of that but is concerned about the cost of further delays, Young said.

Seaterra has said each month’s delay adds $1 million in cost to the project.

Young said there probably are a variety of avenues the CRD could pursue, including legal action, arbitration or mediation.

The committee is to discuss the letter Wednesday.

The CRD has been seeking to locate a $230-million sewage treatment plant at the site of a former oil tank farm at McLoughlin Point since January 2013.

The site is zoned to allow wastewater treatment, but the CRD is seeking encroachments — a maximum of four per cent— into a 7.5-metre shoreline buffer. The CRD first submitted a rezoning application to Esquimalt last January. Following public hearings in July, the municipality passed an alternative rezoning bylaw and began working with CRD staff to develop an amenity package.

Esquimalt held a two-evening public hearing Feb. 18 and 19, but still had people wanting to speak. The hearing will recommence March 20, with a second session March 22, if needed. Esquimalt council is not slated to make a decision on the application until April 7.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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