The recent comments from some members of the Capital Regional District Core Area Liquid Waste Management Committee imply that there is only a single plan for sewage treatment, and the region is constricted by completion deadlines imposed by the both the provincial and federal governments.
The recent rejection of the Viewfield site for a biosolids plant by the mayor and council of the Township of Esquimalt, a decision that was overwhelmingly supported by their community, highlighted the deficiencies in the current plan. Colwood has also given notice that it plans to pull out of the overall sewage plan, and across the CRD residents are asking serious questions about the cost, potential treatment sites and outcomes of the proposed system.
While it is understandable that the Core Area Wastewater Treatment Program Commission and Management Committee felt obliged to submit requests for proposals for the McLoughlin Point waste-water treatment plant in June of this year, based on existing completion deadlines, new information suggests those dates are flexible.
In answers to questions during the provincial budget estimates, Minister of the Environment Mary Polak opened the door to extending the current 2016 completion date with a formal request from the CRD. This would allow for plans and construction to formally be pushed to the federal deadline of 2020, or potentially even longer if both levels of government were convinced a new proposal offered greater benefits.
In addition, Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development Coralee Oakes noted that the government is also open to a request from the CRD for extending funding. At present, $248 million is not going to be realized until the 2017-18 and 2018-19 fiscal years.
At the very least, a provincial extension of the 2016 deadline would provide an immediate window to address the concerns of residents, business and municipalities, in particular, but not limited to:
1. Conducting an independent review of the current sewage-treatment project, looking specifically at the environmental and financial outcomes.
2. Reinstating the Technical and Community Advisory Committee to review proposals and proactively to inform and engage the community.
3. Allowing time for a comprehensive search and review of potential treatment-plant sites.
4. Providing an opportunity for municipalities, companies and stakeholders to submit alternative proposals.
The door is open to move the formal 2016 completion date. Should the CRD ask the minister for an extension, it would go a long way to restoring community confidence in the project.
Andrew Weaver is Green party MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head.