Comment: It’s time to look at lower-cost sewage options

Now that the newly revealed sewage-treatment options show that costs to local taxpayers have almost doubled and in one case tripled, it’s time for the Capital Regional District to reconsider the lower-cost solution available at McLoughlin Point.

The federal and provincial governments have legally mandated the CRD to provide sewage treatment for the seven core municipalities of Victoria, Saanich, Esquimalt, View Royal, Langford, Colwood and Oak Bay.

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Federal and provincial funding grants of up to $500 million have tentatively been secured to subsidize the cost of the required sewage-treatment infrastructure. The interim funding agreements are based on the assumption that a single treatment plant will be built.

The interim agreement for the federal monies expires March 31. By that time, unless a second extension is granted, CRD’s Core Area Liquid Waste Management Committee is required to have selected, acquired and appropriately zoned a location for sewage treatment.

In 2014, the committee proposed a large single plant at McLoughlin Point for all seven municipalities costing a total of $788 million. The site is owned by the CRD and was zoned by Esquimalt for sewage treatment. However, because of the proposed size of the single plant, bylaw variances were required before a building permit could be issued. Esquimalt council did not grant the variances.

After the 2014 elections, a newly constituted core-area committee went back to the drawing board to look for alternative sites and less expensive treatment options.

Since then, the committee has worked to come up with five new options. Two options propose a single plant at Rock Bay. The other three options are two-, four- and seven-plant configurations. All proposals have at least one facility at Rock Bay. It is important to note that none of these newly proposed sites have been acquired by the CRD and none are zoned to permit sewage treatment. This is in direct contrast to the property at McLoughlin Point, which is owned by the CRD and appropriately zoned.

On Dec. 9, the costs for each of the five new options were presented to the core-area committee.

Assuming federal and provincial grants are received, the cost to be borne solely by local taxpayers will range between approximately $548 million and $866 million, depending on which of the five new options is selected.

The McLoughlin proposal in 2014 would have cost local taxpayers approximately $288 million after accounting for federal and provincial support.

This dramatic rise in costs to local taxpayers ought to lead the core-area committee to reconsider the less expensive McLoughlin option.

Re-examining the McLoughlin proposal is timely because two municipalities, Langford and Colwood, have recently expressed interest in pursuing a separate standalone treatment system for their municipalities.

If Langford and Colwood break away, it would mean the remaining five communities can collaborate on a smaller facility at McLoughlin Point — one that does not require variances and can be built in full compliance with the Esquimalt bylaw.

Because McLoughlin Point is owned by the CRD, it would be possible to meet the federal deadline that sewage treatment be operational by 2020. All of the new options under consideration require land acquisition and rezoning applications, which for multiple sites could take years. None of them are likely to meet the 2020 deadline. This is a huge risk to the taxpaying citizens of our communities.

The prospect for a smaller plant at McLoughlin that meets the federal deadlines should lead the Core Area Liquid Waste Management Committee to, at the very least, ask its independent technical-oversight panel to review the feasibility of using McLoughlin Point in light of the Langford/Colwood initiative and the dramatic rise in costs. This apolitical panel was established to provide the public with a layer of assurance that nothing has been missed or overlooked. It is perfectly placed to provide advice.

In 2014, the new mandate of the core-area committee was to be open to all ideas and options, to look at costs and to make decisions that are best for all CRD taxpayers. If after extensive review of the many new options, it turns out that McLoughlin Point is, in fact, the best site for sewage treatment, politicians should be open-minded and embrace the findings.

Nils Jensen is the mayor of the District of Oak Bay, a CRD director and a member of CALWMC.

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