Sewage expert backs Esquimalt plant opponents, advising to 'think small'

Opponents of a plan to put a sewage treatment plant and biosolids facility in Esquimalt got the backing of the co-author of a report advocating small treatment plants scattered around the region rather than one large one.

The Capital Regional District failed to act on a suggestion it spend $20,000 to draw up a business case to understand the economics of sewage treatment, Chris Corps told a standing-room-only crowd at a public forum Tuesday night.

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“Right now, my math tells me they spent $50 million but they don’t have a $20,000 business case,” said Corps, who co-wrote a 2007 report commissioned by the province to examine integrated resource management, which uses small scattered treatment plants to sell heat, water and fuel from sewage.

Under a CRD proposal, sludge would be piped two kilometres from the planned sewage treatment plant on McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt to a biosolids facility on Viewfield Road, which is in an industrial zone across the street from family homes, next door to a grocery store and blocks from two schools.

Corps said the Dockside Green development, located along the water in Vic West, offers an example of how sewage can be treated on site without disturbing residents or neighbours.

“Dockside Green is a very good example of how to get it right,” Corps said, noting that a picturesque waterway at the site is actually part of the sewage system.

A single sewage system tasked to handle the region’s waste would have a much greater impact on the neighbours and the environment, he said. Smaller localized treatment plants spread around the region would minimize smells and possible malfunctions, he said.

“It’s rare that catastrophic failures go beyond the site boundaries, but you have houses along the [Viewfield] site boundaries,” Corps said.

While the CRD has yet to reveal how its sewage treatment would work, Corps suggested it could bear similarities to an industrial complex on Annacis Island in the Fraser River.

Corps said he expects Greater Victoria’s sewage would be treated at the proposed McLoughlin Point sewage treatment plant, with a slurry of sludge and water being piped up to a biosolids plant on Viewfield Road. The water would be removed from the slurry and sent back to the sewage treatment plant via a secondary pipe. Anaerobic digesters at the biosolid plant would process the material, which would be trucked to another place for disposal. A byproduct of the process is methane, which is stored in tanks.

The treatment process takes 40 days, Corps said.

Siting a large sewage treatment facility in Esquimalt “isn’t a good choice,” he said. Most sewage plants are located in industrial — not residential — areas, he said.

The NDP’s Maurine Karagianis, who is running for re-election in the riding, called for a detailed financial analysis of sewage treatment and more respect for Esquimalt residents and the environment.

“We need to do the best thing for the environment because that’s the best thing for all of us,” she said.

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins, who sits on the CRD board, said the idea of multiple smaller treatment plants was dismissed when staff suggested it wasn’t economically viable.

But the current plans have Esquimalt residents furious, she said.

“We have to continue to push for something better.”

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