CRD approves sewage business plan

Core Area Wastewater Treatment Project plan recommends a single treatment plant in Esquimalt estimated at $765 million

Rendering of the proposed treatment facility at McLoughlin Point.

In hour four of a five-hour wastewater treatment conversation at the CRD, Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen finally spoke.

He offered no questions, which along with answers filled the four hours previous, but only support and echoing the thanks of others to the sewage treatment board.

“It’s often said that perfect is the enemy of the good,” Jensen said, quoting Voltaire. “I see this as a good plan. It is reasonable, it is balanced and I think it recognizes the need to offset some of the goals and make some compromises. It meets the mandated federal and provincial regulatory scheme and may exceed them.”

The region is legislated to have secondary sewage treatment by 2020 in order to comply with federal wastewater regulations.

Jensen is impressed with the room for integrated resource management, the $2 million invested to explore the Colwood potential for expansion and that it meets the financial goals.

Sewage treatment is necessary and it’s “not perfect but it’s the good plan,” he said.

The Core Area Wastewater Treatment Project report released Sept. 7 recommends a single 109 megalitre/day plant for tertiary wastewater treatment in Esquimalt with estimated costs at $765 million.

With government funding the average cost per household ranges from $344 per year in Oak Bay to about $146 in Colwood. The lower cost to Oak Bay residents is just one endearing quality to the plan.

“The original estimate per household in 2012 was just under $400,” Jensen said after the meeting. “There’s been a lot of effort made to ensure the plant looks well and incorporates community amenities. And during the construction phase the preparation area will not be in Esquimalt, it’ll be in the Inner Harbour.”

The report recommends a construction area at Rock Bay, a commitment to study a wastewater treatment proposal for Colwood and for solids to be transported by pipe to the Hartland landfill in Saanich.

The CRD board approved the business case with only one director opposed. Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell said he simply couldn’t support the business case.

“I was glad to see the near unanimity that we had,” Jensen said.

Two years ago, the CRD board came close to a facility at McLoughlin Point, but Esquimalt rejected the plan, citing concerns with the size of the facility and the environmental impact.

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins serves as chair of the board but had the vice-chair take over early in the process in a bid to represent her community more fully. Late in the meeting she took the time to “clear the air and move on.”

“Esquimalt’s position has always been that sewage treatment is important for the region. Esquimalt’s position has always been that we will do our share,” she said. “Seaterra was obviously not that plan.”

She defended the community’s legal and appropriate land use process that resulted in rejecting McLoughlin two years ago, citing concerns including the size of the proposal, a lack of setbacks, environmental concerns and tsunami risk.

“For Equimalt it was, and continues to be, not about saying no, but how we can get the very best plan for this region,” she said.

She too commended the Core Area Wastewater Treatment Project board for an “amazing job” in a short time frame.

“You have moved us forward and we will make significant strides with this recommended business case,” she said. “Is McLoughlin what I envisioned for the region? No. … We brought the plan proposed for the region to a better place and we couldn’t have done it without the review of this group from an objective perspective.”

For Jensen, the small concessions in the “good plan” include a smaller plant to that planned originally for McLoughlin, which was anticipated to keep up with increased flows to 2060. “It’s unlikely this configuration will go much beyond 2030,” Jensen said. “$2 million has been committed to dealing with that issue (on the West Shore). That’ll go to researching that issue and looking at a variety of technologies that could be used.

“The resource recovery plant is not as robust as the original plan. That’s something we’re going to have to tackle in the future but it does leave open the possibility of biowaste … being integrated into resource management.”

He was among the few who still envisioned a plant at McLoughlin, reintroducing the site which is already owned by the CRD, for potential discussion in January.

“When I first brought the proposal of reconsidering McLoughlin in January there was opposition, opposition and vilification at the suggestion… There was a lot of inflammatory rhetoric,” Jensen said. “What I’m glad to see is people have gotten past that and see the benefits. That’s a positive thing from my point of view.”

The panel continues its work, first presenting the business case to secure the tentative agreements for federal and provincial funding.

“They’re also responsible for the planning and implementation of the new sewage treatment plan,” Jensen said. “The next step is for the panel, at arms length to the CRD board, is to start the planning and implementation of the sewage treatment plan. That’s going to take a lot of work, negotiating and preparation before a shovel can go in the ground.”