Victoria police and marina PR firm tapped to take on sewage

The Victoria communications firm that helped rebrand VicPD and save the Victoria International Marina project is being tapped to make over the region’s controversial sewage-treatment project.

Acumen Communications Group is being recommended for up to $50,000 in communications work for the Capital Regional District’s sewage-treatment project.

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A commission of civilian experts that handles day-to-day decision making on the sewage project will vote on the contract today.

CRD staff are recommending that commissioners authorize paying $17,475 to Acumen for a communications plan and additional services that might be required, until November, for a total of up to $50,000.

The $783-million regional sewage-treatment project is unpopular among some in the region, who argue land-based treatment is unnecessary, the CRD is pursuing the wrong plan and the location of proposed facilities — most recently a plan for a biosolids plant on Viewfield Road in Esquimalt — will harm local communities.

Acumen president Kim Van Bruggen said she has heard opposition from some, but argued people aren’t getting all the facts about the project.

“I'm very much an advocate, as well, for public consultation and engagement and people being able to see and understand and get the facts,” she said. “When there’s a lot of rhetoric and emotion around, sometimes the whole picture doesn’t always [come] through.”

Acumen hasn’t started its communications strategy for sewage treatment yet — Van Bruggen said she’ll need to meet with the CRD first.

The Victoria Police Department turned to Acumen in 2008, while struggling to repair its public image in the wake of the resignation of former chief Paul Battershill.

“We were there for some pretty difficult times,” said Van Bruggen. “It was the first time a civilian communications person had been involved with them, basically.”

Acumen helped police get city funding for 19 new officers — the largest one-time boost in the department’s history. Later, it rebranded the department as “VicPD,” and refreshed its recruitment materials to help it compete with Vancouver police and the RCMP for new officers, said Van Bruggen.

The firm was also involved in the “get the facts” campaign for the Victoria International Marina project on the north shore of Victoria Harbour, which overcame public criticism to eventually get municipal and federal approval.

Her firm also worked on a publicity campaign for the Island Corridor Foundation, which successfully sought federal money for E&N rail repairs.

Acumen’s clients include the B.C. government, which mandated sewage treatment for Greater Victoria. The firm was paid $47,806 for government services in fiscal 2011-12, according to public records.

rshaw@timescolonist.com

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