Updated: Greater Victoria sewage committee votes to keep project flowing

Greater Victoria's contentious sewage-treatment project survived its latest challenge Tuesday when a motion that would have suspended work until 2040 was rejected.

Politicians on the Capital Regional District's sewage committee voted 10 to four against demanding that the federal government reclassify the region as at a lower risk for sewage pollution.

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That means the $783-million treatment project will continue, with completion of a secondary-treatment plant at McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt by 2018.

"I was disappointed, obviously," said Saanich Coun. Vic Derman, who had introduced the motion.

"I'll keep trying to put forward a voice to let the public know what I think are concerns."

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins, Colwood Mayor Carol Hamilton and View Royal Mayor Graham Hill supported Derman's motion, but were outvoted by representatives from Victoria, Saanich, Langford and Oak Bay.

Some expressed concern that a delay could imperil the project's two-thirds funding from the federal and provincial governments.

"What I'm very concerned about is if we drag our feet, and today we say no, we will lose the very significant contribution from the other levels of government," said Victoria councillor and CRD board chairman Geoff Young.

"That's not a risk I'm prepared to take."

Even with the funding, the treatment project could add between $232 and $391 to homeowners' annual taxes, depending on where they live.

View Royal's Hill warned that the committee lacks public confidence.

"Unless we have a greater majority of people in our region supporting what we are trying to do here, we ...will have a very significant issue with the public," Hill said. "The elephant is awake."

Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen refused to support a delay, pushing unsuccessfully for a vote on a full environmental assessment.

After deciding not to suspend the project, the sewage committee debated whether to turn over control of day-to-day decision making to a commission of unelected experts.

Removing squabbling politicians from the contract and procurement phase of the megaproject was a condition of federal and provincial funding.

The committee ultimately voted to create the commission, but not before passing a vote to give itself more power to approve tender documents.

It also asked that chairwoman Denise Blackwell meet with provincial Community, Sport and Cultural Development Minister Bill Bennett to express dissatisfaction with the absence of elected representatives on the commission, among other things.

"I think we need as much control as possible, because at the end of the day, if this goes sideways, we are going to wear it, not the commission," Jensen said.

Derman questioned how the current treatment plan could be improved once the expert commission takes over.

Meanwhile, a group critical of the CRD's sewage plan said it plans to continue putting pressure on the committee. "There's a provincial election coming up next that will be a focus of our action," said Richard Atwell, organizer of Stopabadplan.ca.

"There will be a municipal election in two years ... and people aren't going to forgive these decisions if they aren't in their best interests."

rshaw@timescolonist.com

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