Sludge facility at Hartland ‘insane’ — politicians push for alternative sites

A Greater Victoria sewage meeting devolved into procedural chaos Wednesday after politicians refused to finalize the “insane” option of a sludge facility at Hartland landfill.

A majority of politicians on the Capital Regional District’s sewage committee overruled chairwoman Denise Blackwell’s efforts to end the meeting, and instead rammed through an order for staff to research alternatives to Hartland.

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“The whole idea of doing biosolids treatment at Hartland is insane,” Colwood Coun. Judith Cullington told the committee. “It has always been insane. We put it on the table because it was the only feasible site we had out there.”

Hartland is the default option for a biosolid sludge treatment site, after furious residents forced the CRD to back away last month from a site on Viewfield Road in Esquimalt.

Under tentative plans, a facility at McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt would treat wastewater, then send resulting sludge to a second facility that might process it into fuel or fertilizer.

CRD staff had asked politicians to select Hartland, and begin consultations with nearby Saanich residents. Politicians backed consultations, but altered the wording of a motion to say Hartland was “one possible” location.

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins tried to pass a motion directing staff to continue to search for alternative locations, but Blackwell ruled it out of order and tried to end the meeting due to time constraints.

“Oh my lord,” cried Desjardins. “We don’t have time? That’s horrendous.”

Victoria Coun. Ben Isitt challenged Blackwell’s ruling, and rallied enough politicians to defeat the chairwoman. A majority then backed Desjardins’ motion to look for additional sites.

Many CRD members spoke against Hartland as the default location for sludge. An 18-kilometre pipe would be required to connect Hartland with McLoughlin Point.

“For me, this fails the common-sense test completely,” said Victoria Coun. Marianne Alto. “I cannot imagine being able to make the argument … that creating a pumping system that goes 18 kilometres up hill makes sense.”

There are better locations, and it’s foolish to choose the worst, Alto said.

Several politicians grew visibly angry after sewage- treatment project director Jack Hull said companies that might build the project are unlikely to look for alternate sludge sites as part of any innovation in the request-for-proposals process.

“We thought somewhere along the way … that we were looking for innovation,” Desjardins said. “We didn’t get there. It’s not there. We thought we were putting it in the RFP. It’s not there. We are getting more and more stuck with what we’ve got.

“Hartland was never the best site. It was never a good site. It was a placeholder.”

Saanich Coun. Vic Derman chastized the CRD for failing to research gasification for sludge, which could lower costs and allow a smaller site than Hartland. Hull said gasification is not proven technology.

The CRD has drifted far from the values the province asked it to achieve when it ordered sewage treatment, said View Royal Mayor Graham Hill. “I get really frustrated when I think of what we’re doing here, which is designing a system by expedience.”

It remains unclear if any actual alternative to Hartland exists. The CRD board voted against investigating property in the Agricultural Land Reserve, and Saanich Coun. Leif Wergeland said “maybe with that decision we wiped out 99 per cent of our options.”

The CRD has spent years researching sites for sewage treatment, with its options never made public.

rshaw@timescolonist.com

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