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Comment: CRD selected best possible sewage-treatment plan

The fiercest opposition to the Capital Regional District’s proposed sewage-treatment plant has also been the least constructive.

The fiercest opposition to the Capital Regional District’s proposed sewage-treatment plant has also been the least constructive.

In a matter of months, the so-called debate from the opponents shifted from not needing sewage treatment at all to demanding higher levels of treatment. The fate of the treatment plant then rested on whether or not Esquimalt council would allow minimal encroachments to the shoreline buffer and allowable building height at McLoughlin Point.

Opponents used this occasion to make this an issue of “unpleasant architecture” — another example in a long line of attempts to discredit the project, and with it the hard work of many in our community. This was all a well-orchestrated strategy to produce the outcome on April 7 by Esquimalt council: a proposal for a zoning amendment that would prohibit a sewage treatment plant from being built at McLoughlin Point altogether.

Despite what many erroneously believe, the CRD has not shied away from legitimate opposition regarding the proposed sewage treatment plan. The CRD and its stakeholders have actively sought answers to questions and concerns about the plan. Numerous open houses and public consultations were held, as well as the inclusion of expert opinions and a peer review. The crux of the matter is that, given all the options and constraints, the best possible plan was selected.

There has been increasing interest in a decentralized sewage treatment facility. Contrary to what those who oppose the plan say, the CRD did include such a design in its preliminary analysis.

However, detailed review determined that this plan is far more expensive to build and operate. While the proponents of a decentralized facility often tout that such a plan will eliminate the need to transport residual solids, this is not the case. Instead of being pumped in a pipe, decentralized facilities require regular, overland transport of residual solids in plastic containers to the landfill.

The promise of new and more efficient technology is appealing to all of us. But how much longer will we continue to pollute while we do nothing and wait for this panacea? No matter how long we wait, there will always be better technology in the future.

What is the likelihood that this new technology will be cheaper than the current, proven system? To implement any state-of-the-art technology in the future, basic infrastructure for sewage treatment is still a necessity — a necessity that the CRD currently lacks. For a community as large as ours, and one that continues to grow, there are simply no other viable options that work at a large scale.

There are still those who recommend continuing to pump our raw sewage into the ocean, just as the city of Victoria used to dump solid waste into the ocean. However, this is a dangerous proposition. While unique features of the Juan de Fuca Strait are often cited as a defence, no one really knows the fate of the contaminants that are continuously discharged into the Salish Sea.

There is too much uncertainty and thus too much risk for us not to take action. The best we can do is to try to minimize the risk that this waste has on the environment. We can do this by containment and monitoring on land, in a controlled, modern sewage treatment facility. We can no longer assume that our inaction will not have consequences; future residents of the CRD depend on this.

Further disruptions and distractions not only increase the cost of the project, but they take away the energy and resources that the CRD has from implementing a successful project, and dealing with other important environmental issues that also really matter.

We urge the government of B.C., the CRD and its constituents to work together and implement sewage treatment in the region as soon as possible.

Usman Khan, MSc, EIT, is a PhD candidate in mechanical engineering at the University of Victoria. Tom Tiedje, PhD, PEng, is dean of UVic’s faculty of engineering and a professor of electrical and computer engineering. Caterina Valeo, PhD, PEng, is an associate professor of mechanical engineering and co-ordinator of UVic’s civil and environmental engineering program.