Sewage project pause sought by Greater Victoria citizens group

Greater Victoria’s commission of sewage experts got an earful from angry taxpayers who called Thursday for the megaproject to be paused and independently reviewed.

Representatives of the Sewage Treatment Action Group, a community group of concerned citizens, called on the commission to halt work on the sewage project and launch an arm’s-length examination into the $783-million project’s full life cycle costs over 50 years.

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The group also sent a letter to B.C.’s auditor general, asking the office to audit the project to see if it’s in the best interest of taxpayers.

The current Capital Regional District sewage plan calls for a treatment facility at McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt as well as a biosolids facility at either Hartland landfill in Saanich or Viewfield Road in Esquimalt. It’s in the first stages of tendering, with an estimated completion date of 2018.

Esquimalt residents have strongly opposed the Viewfield location for its proximity to local houses and schools, but the commission has said land acquisition and plant siting is not within its mandate to change.

The action group was one of several presenters to the seven-person commission of technical experts that controls day-to-day decision-making on the treatment project.

Some tried to portray the commission’s request for additional information from staff on sewage flows and costs as a lack of confidence in the project’s direction; commission members did not respond to that suggestion on Thursday.

Esquimalt resident Kim Bellefontaine urged the commission to continue to investigate options to improve the project, and outlined a series of questions on regulatory requirements, questionable economies of scale, a restricted vision for the project’s infrastructure and a lack of exploration of alternative sites such as agricultural land on Burnside Road West. The CRD board voted against looking at the Burnside property this month.

Bellefontaine said her concerns have previously “fallen on deaf ears” among regional politicians who sit on the CRD’s sewage committee. But the commission of experts took notes, made eye contact and appeared interested, she said.

“It was a refreshing change.”

Commission chairwoman Brenda Eaton, a former senior bureaucrat in the B.C. government, thanked the approximately 30 people at the meeting.

“We’re glad to see so much interest from the general public,” she said.

rshaw@timescolonist.com

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