A planned two days of public hearings into the controversial proposal to rezone McLoughlin Point for a sewage treatment plant got underway with an overflow house at the Esquimalt Recreation Centre Tuesday evening.
This is the second time the Capital Regional District has sought approval from the municipality to locate a sewage treatment plant on the former oil-tank farm at the entrance to the Inner Harbour. Following hearings last summer Esquimalt councillors rejected the CRD’s application arguing the offered $1 million amenity package that included upgrades to electrical and firefighting services, a public walkway and road and bike-lane improvements wasn’t enough.
Instead, council passed its own alternate bylaw that would allow the CRD to build at McLoughlin only if the regional government offered more amenities, barged all construction material to the site to avoid traffic and safety problems and paid $55,000 a year into an amenity fund.
After months of negotiation, that’s pretty much what is now on the table.
Esquimalt is being offered more than $13-million in amenities should the siting of the $230-million plant be approved, including oceanfront walkways, a million-dollar bike and path system on Lyall Street, public art, bike lanes, road improvements and $55,000 a year for at least fiveyears to compensate hosting the unpopular sewage plant. The CRD also has agreed to barge materials to and from the site rather than use trucks, at a cost pegged at a reported $2.3 million, in order to save wear and tear on Esquimalt Roads.
The site is already zoned to allow for treatment of waste water but in order to bring the project in on budget the CRD is seeking what it calls minor (a maximum of four per cent) encroachments into a 7.5 metre site buffer from the shoreline.
Project director Albert Sweetnam said heading into the hearing that he was optimistic about the eventual outcome.
“I’m optimistic because when you actually do a side by side comparison of their bylaw with what we are proposing you can see clearly that we provided them with almost everything. The remaining issue is around the setbacks and it’s a very minor issue. So we feel that we should be able to get approval," he said.
“If it’s a fair playing field I would say we should get approval.”
Mayor Barb Desjardins said prior to the start of the hearing that approval is anything but a sure thing.
“It’s never a slam dunk when you’ve got a public hearing and you need to hear from the public,” Desjardins said.
“We need to hear what their concerns are. We need to understand what is being asked of us and how does that fit with the community. And that’s ultimately what we’re listening for: Does the community feel that this is a benefit to them,” she said.
Early in the hearing speakers opposed to approval were overwhelmingly outnumbering those in favour.
The rezoning is one of the last hurdles to be cleared before contracts are signed and construction begins on the $783 million sewage treatment megaproject which includes the plant at McLoughlin Point and a sludge facility at Hartland Landfill.
The hearing was still underway at deadline. Esquimalt had scheduled two days for the hearing which is scheduled to continue Wednesday night. Desjardins said as many nights of hearings will be held as is necessary. Council is slated to make a decision on the application Feb. 24.
Should Esquimalt vote against the plant the province could step in force the plant onto McLoughlin on the CRD’s terms.