Comment: Citizen engagement welcome in sewage plan

Tourism Victoria has supported moving the sewage-treatment project to completion for a long time.

At Tourism Victoria, the file is long and deep, stretching back so far that different types of technology were used. I have found briefing notes in my files created on typewriters and triplicate carbon paper.

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There is a distinct air of optimism that perhaps, this time around, we might be able to get it done. As a very interested party and a keen observer of public policy, it appears this optimism is due to the depth of the process in 2015 that has been achieved to date in spite of very aggressive timelines.

There is no need to write a column to explain why success on the sewage-treatment file is so important. The need for completion was brought into crystal-clear focus this spring.

A small-business delegation led by Tourism Victoria, including Mayor Lisa Helps and Coun. Margaret Lucas, went to Seattle for a day of bilateral meetings focused on growing our tourism business and prosperity in the region. The overall tenor of the meetings was exceedingly positive; the only area for improvement noted for doing business with Greater Victoria was the incomplete sewage project.

It was explained most eloquently by the Canadian consul general in Seattle, who has his finger on the pulse of the Seattle business community: Many other communities in the region also struggled through difficult decisions and politics to get their sewage-treatment plans completed. However, these communities were able to get their programs across the finish line, so they are justifiably disappointed that Greater Victoria has not been able to yet.

After all, we share the same Puget Sound Basin and Juan de Fuca Strait. Consul General James Hill’s advice to us was that Greater Victoria’s inability to complete the project to date has negatively affected the perceptions of Greater Victoria among our most important business partners and neighbours in the Pacific Northwest.

One of the key outcomes of that meeting was that Helps is now briefing key stakeholders in the Seattle region and further afield regularly on the actions and progress of the Capital Regional District’s progress to help counter information voids. This is a significant improvement.

I also know that many of the region’s other mayors are passionately engaged on the file, and Tourism Victoria thanks them for their active engagement.

I have noticed that the 2015 process and attempt to come to an approved and supported plan is very different than the move we saw in 2014. In 2014, the focus of the process appeared to be a debate about the site.

As an observer, it felt as if technical experts were trying to convince the citizens of Esquimalt that the McLoughlin Point site, the most cost-effective site, needed to be approved and there were no other options. There was lobbying, advocating and offering of incentives.

In 2015, citizens have been engaged from the outset. There have been two concurrent tracks: technical assessment and public engagement. The combined efforts of these processes have resulted in the identification of more than 40 potential sites and solution sets for wastewater treatment across the region.

Between open houses, innovation days, in-depth workshops and online public feedback, more than 3,500 citizens have participated in the process and helped to identify publicly acceptable sites. Again, with public input, the sites are being further narrowed.

There will be important and likely controversial decisions ahead. However, Greater Victoria needs to get this file completed for a variety of reasons: because of the laws we need to respect, because of the partnership dollars and trust from other levels of government that we require, and because this is just the right thing to do.

Our neighbouring communities in the Pacific Northwest were able to complete their sewage-treatment plans, and I am confident that we will be able to as well.

On behalf of Tourism Victoria’s 850 member businesses — our vital tourism industry that is worth more than $2 billion to the regional economy — I would like to thank all of the hard-working officials and staff at the region’s municipalities and at the Capital Regional District, as well as all of the elected mayors and councillors so focused on this file.

Most importantly, Tourism Victoria would like to thank the estimated 3,500 citizens who have participated in the process to date.

Paul Nursey is president and CEO of Tourism Victoria.

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