Comment: All areas need to be consulted on sewage plan

As local politicians and Capital Regional District staff consider how to work their way out of the sewage-treatment debacle, they might need a reminder that the roadblocks to implementing the current plan are in no way limited to the Esquimalt community.

Saanich’s Hartland Landfill sits between the Willis Point and Prospect Lake districts, the residents of which have been vociferously opposed to the current plan from the outset. Residents and their community associations were denied participation in the decision-making process as is outlined in various governance policies, including the CRD’s own public-consultation policy.

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Put simply, consultation on sewage treatment became defined by invitation to contribute to the implementation of the Seaterra plan, rather than informing the nature of the plan itself. This is not acceptable, and is a mistake that must not be repeated if the CRD divests this responsibility to individual municipalities.

For most, it is not about whether to treat sewage or not, given that the federal government has made it a requirement to be met by 2020. It is about the best way to do so, and unfortunately for everyone, the current proposal is neither cost-effective nor environmentally responsible (i.e. requires excess water use, does not deal with pharmaceuticals or stormwater issues, includes weak energy-recovery options).

The Prospect Lake District Community Association has passed two formal motions asking decision-makers for an independent review of the existing plan with an eye to more environmentally sound options for treatment. A formal petition to this effect was initiated by PLDCA resident Fred Haynes and sent to the B.C. legislature.

The public has made it clear that the Seaterra plan is unacceptable, and we must not squander the opportunity to approach the issue entirely differently. Matching our own deadline to the federal government’s would give us four more years to solve this dilemma.

The province wisely opted not to force Esquimalt to comply with the current plan, as this would run counter to democratic principles. It is equally difficult to imagine that any government would rescind funding commitments on account of an extension of the self-imposed deadline, being that an extension would serve the purpose of respecting taxpayers’ wishes to improve the proposal.

Currently, decision-makers are so distracted by up-front costs that scarce consideration is being directed to the enormous ongoing expenses the existing proposal would continue to add and for marginal long-term benefit.

For the Hartland region specifically, the current sewage treatment proposal also does not solve problems that already exist. For example, area residents have experienced farmland and water-well contamination from leaks in the landfill leachate pipeline, and the CRD has planned for the same pipeline technology to be used for sewage passing through this region’s sensitive ecosystem. Can you blame residents for fearing the use of technology that has already proven inadequate?

It has been deemed that the Hartland Landfill does not require rezoning to be used as part of the sewage treatment plan. No authority should be using this as an excuse to avoid real consultation with local residents.

Consultation should mean engaging residents to help choose new sewage treatment options rather than asking for participation implementing a pre-determined plan. Consultation must not mean directing staff to develop a public-engagement strategy that only results in the rehashing of Seaterra’s marketing campaign.

The current plan is a short-sighted Band-Aid solution to a bigger-picture problem. An independent review could reopen the process to broaden the technology options available, while local politicians could ensure proper consultation with the public as is their democratic responsibility.

We need to maximize the time available to us in order to create a modern plan that offers comprehensive and long-term solutions.

Jude Coates is a director and planning chairwoman of the Prospect Lake District Community Association.

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