Sewage plan plows ahead despite Esquimalt rebuke

Greater Victoria’s sewage treatment megaproject barrelled forward Wednesday after a closed-door meeting of regional politicians reaffirmed a tight new timeline that won’t wait for Esquimalt’s approval.

The Capital Regional District board voted in-camera to push the project forward due to cost concerns, meaning it will put the proposed McLoughlin Point treatment plant out for construction bids before Esquimalt council has decided whether to rezone the land to allow a plant.

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A CRD staff report, written by interim project director Jack Hull, warned any delays could increase costs and put federal and provincial funding at risk. So the CRD will “presume approval of the rezoning application by Esquimalt,” Hull wrote.

That brought a sharp rebuke from Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins, who accused the CRD of making a mockery of its promise to consult with the community and wait for Esquimalt’s approval.

“I question this because I feel betrayed in how this is going forward,” Desjardins said.

“They are presuming a [rezoning] process that won’t get a fair chance because of what they’re doing.”

The CRD says it will issue a request for proposals on the McLoughlin plant on July 5. The earliest Esquimalt could decide on rezoning would be September, the CRD report said.

CRD sewage committee chairwoman Denise Blackwell said the request can be amended in coming months but for now “the timing is getting critical so we can’t wait.”

The staff report said federal and provincial funding for the project, budgeted at $783 million, means work must be complete by 2018.

A legal showdown with Esquimalt could force the CRD to ask the province to override the township.

The CRD argues the McLoughlin industrial site is already approved. Under the Environmental Management Act, in the event of a conflict between a municipal bylaw and an approved waste management plan, the latter prevails — “the municipality can’t frustrate an approved liquid waste management plan,” Blackwell said. “If they say no to the rezoning then … the province will have to say that’s contrary to the act.”

In the May 14 provincial election, candidates from all parties said they wouldn’t advocate for the province to force rezoning.

By not waiting, the CRD won’t be able to include Esquimalt’s planned design guidelines for the ocean-front sewage plant, said Desjardins. The CRD had asked Esquimalt to draft guidelines in response to fierce community opposition to a sewage plant.

The CRD set out a schedule of public open houses in June to talk about a proposed biosolids energy plant on Viewfield Road in Esquimalt. That location is also unpopular in the community because it is close to homes and schools.

In a statement, the CRD said it will decide after the open houses whether to build on Viewfield or revert to its original plan to put the biosolids facility at Hartland landfill in Saanich.

Desjardins said she has no faith the CRD will listen to the public on Viewfield, based on the “scare tactics” it used to push McLoughlin forward.

“There’s no respect for the municipal process,” Dejsardins said.

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