As an elected official, I certainly appreciate the necessity of sometimes having to make a difficult and unpopular decision and then mustering the resolve to see it through.
At one point in the past, this might have been the situation faced by the Capital Regional District board regarding the sewage treatment plan for the region. However, a recent change in the circumstances of the current plan for sewage treatment leaves the CRD in a limbo it refuses to acknowledge. As the CRD continues to push on with this mindset of resolve, the impact is now one of recklessness and missed opportunities.
Consider two different responses to Esquimalt’s decision not to rezone McLoughlin Point as per the application of the CRD. The City of Victoria acted prudently and suspended indefinitely the further allocation of any resources to the CRD’s Clover Point rezoning application to pump wastewater to the now on-hold McLoughlin Point facility.
In sharp contrast, CRD is continuing to spend money on a plan that has been rejected for the zoning of its major component. In one week, the CRD will be embarking on a series of open-house sessions for a conveyance line from McLoughlin Point to the Hartland landfill. Yet the reality is the Township of Esquimalt recently rejected the CRD’s request for the rezoning of McLoughlin Point for sewage treatment. Why would the CRD continue to push on full steam ahead when it does not have a clear plan?
Such spending is reckless. It’s this same reckless mindset that released the request for proposals for McLoughlin Point three days before the public hearings last July and the subsequent rezoning decision by Esquimalt council. It is the same mindset that informed the purchase of the Viewfield site for a biosolids plant. And it’s the same mindset that will spend thousands of dollars on open houses regarding the proposed pipeline from McLoughlin Point to Hartland.
Pause. Halt. Stop the spending of the region’s residents’ money until we have a better plan.
Much more worrisome than this heedless continuing expenditure of resources are the opportunities that this mindset is blind to. Within 48 hours of the “threat” posed by Esquimalt’s decision, the CRD requested the province to step in, despite all indications that the minister would prefer the region to sort this out on our own. Entirely overlooked is the clear opportunity within the next short time for the CRD to do a review of the decentralized model with fresh eyes, new cost and model analysis. What would be the down-side?
To sort this out on our own will take change: Change in mindset from CRD directors, staff and even consultants. The CRD continues to use the same threats to push this forward: a loss of funding and the monthly cost of a delay.
We have been reassured several times that funding is in place and given that the operational costs for the plant are currently estimated to be about a million dollars a month, every month we don’t spend on this project we’re actually saving money. This fact is not mentioned by the CRD.
The people of the region deserve the best and most current technologies as we move toward land-based sewage treatment. There are decisions being made around the world to reduce the risk of centralized sewage plants and to move toward a decentralized model for sewage treatment. The ability for each municipality to benefit from the heat and the resource recovery locally, to place their facility where it provides the best benefits for their own residents is an opportunity we should not lose in the region.
The CRD’s own study showed the Douglas Street corridor as a most opportune area for benefit. Uptown and the university area showed as areas that would benefit. Colwood has already determined its opportunities and other municipalities should follow its lead.
At the CRD, we have made use of and continue to use consultants for the current centralized system configuration. These same consultants have done amazing work elsewhere in North America in designing and building decentralized wastewater facilities. We should be using that expertise for our project, moving toward a decentralized model, for the future of the region, and for best environmental, social and economic benefit.
Barbara Desjardins is mayor of the Township of Esquimalt.