Challenging year awaits Capital region

New Capital Regional District board to be sworn-in Dec. 10

A regional sewage plan, disunity and amalgamation have ruffled a few feathers around the Capital Regional District board.

And as the board gets set to elect a new chair on Dec. 10, the new chairperson will have to find a way to bring directors together to come up with viable solutions.

Victoria Coun. Geoff Young, CRD board member, said the new chair must have an interest in solving issues at the regional level.

“It’s not appropriate for a person to become chairperson of the CRD unless they’re interested in the CRD and believe in the CRD as having a role as a regional government,” said Young, a former CRD chair.

“And of course there’s always the issue of how much should be done by individual municipalities and how much by the CRD.”

Two local mayors have expressed interest in taking on the chairperson position: Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins and Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen.

Although they agree that CRD members will have to work together to solve regional issues, those discussions may not include amalgamation.

“That’s not necessarily a discussion that will take place at the CRD,” Jensen said. “That really is a discussion that will take place at individual communities.”

Oak Bay was the only municipality with an amalgamation question on the civic election ballot to vote against it.

“I don’t think realistically that the CRD will be a place for the discussion of amalgamation,” Young said.

“[However], there will be a lot of discussion at the CRD about ways in which the municipalities can work together.”

On the other hand, Desjardins said the CRD could be an opportune place to discuss amalgamation, potentially through a new committee.

Regarding sewage treatment, there is a clear need to come up with a solution sooner rather than later.

“The old plan has gone through its process and was not acceptable,” Desjardins said.

“We now have to come up with a solution. So everybody on the same page going forward is the important thing, and I think we can do it.”

She added that with seven new mayors in the region, there will be many new faces and new ideas at the table.

“There’s certainly new players that have a different point of view and have a lot of knowledge on sewage and how to go forward.”

Jensen said it is crucial to come up with a solution as soon as possible, because any delays could jeopardize the grants that have been promised by the provincial and federal governments.

The province has committed $248 million, while the federal government has offered $253.4 million towards the final project cost. Any additional costs are the CRD’s responsibility.

However, the CRD is required by federal legislation to treat its sewage to a secondary or greater level by 2020, and the province has set a sewage treatment deadline of 2018.

“There’s going to be new players around the table, and we all need to listen to one another and look for a way forward that’s cost-effective and quick,” Jensen said, adding that directors need to be ready to explore all the options in a transparent and open fashion.

“Once the directors are fully informed about what the options are, I think the solution will hopefully become clear.”

Young said once there is co-operation among the municipalities regarding sewage treatment, it may still be difficult to agree on a site.

“If, for example, a plant is proposed for Victoria, I suppose a lot of people in Victoria will say ‘Why should we be treating Oak Bay sewage?’, and that’s simply the reality,” Young said.

“You might end up with a situation where nobody will agree to treat anyone else’s sewage and we end up with a plant for every municipality. I think that would be an extremely expensive outcome for the people of the region.”