CRD sewage project funding still key concern for Oak Bay residents

‘Recycled arguments’ hinder process says Oak Bay mayor

The resounding rejection of a wastewater treatment plant in Esquimalt is being tested once more by the Capital Regional District board.

During a June 18 meeting, the CRD board agreed to cover Esquimalt’s capital costs should that community approve the construction of the plant at McLoughlin Point, part of the core area’s secondary sewage treatment project.

Esquimalt council rejected the plant in early April after holding four days of public hearings, where the majority of speakers were against the $788-million Seaterra program.

 

“My concern for Oak Bay is, if we don’t have this particular project up and running, this plant built in the time required, it’s going to affect the utility and tax costs to residents,” said Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen.

 

“This could be an astounding amount of money we’re going to have to pay and not just in Oak Bay … right through the seven communities that agreed to go forward.”

He feels if Esquimalt, one of those seven communities, had concerns, they should have pulled out earlier.

“It’s a very unfortunate situation we find ourselves in. They had the opportunity in 2010 to remove themselves from the group of seven,” he said. “The issues being brought up right now have been addressed in the last five or six years, they’re just being recycled as objections.”

The CRD is scrambling to comply with federal and provincial regulations that require secondary sewage treatment by 2020. Should it fail to meet those deadlines, about $500 million in funding contributions from higher levels of government is at risk. CRD directors are also spurred on by the threat of personal liability for failure to comply with the regulations, and B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak has indicated she won’t exercise the province’s ability to force the McLoughlin site.

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins said some residents are feeling “betrayed and upset” that the CRD doesn’t accept the township’s opposition to the McLoughlin site, and she’ll continue to hold discussions with regional mayors and First Nations leaders about the possibility of a distributed treatment model. Colwood has already formally backed out of the Seaterra program and is pursuing its own sewage treatment site.

“We think we can gather some information fairly quickly to help us with the distributed model discussion,” Desjardins said. “There’s a lot of balls in the air right now and we need to act on them fairly quickly.”

CRD directors will ask Desjardins to respond to their new offer by July 16, a deadline Desjardins said isn’t feasible.

“I’ve already given the CRD an indication that’s probably not a valid timeframe,” she said.

The CRD board recommended three other concurrent options to comply with sewage treatment deadlines. They are to ask regional municipalities and First Nations if they’re willing to offer a site for a wastewater treatment plant; gather information on the feasibility and cost of a distributed treatment model and ask the province to take responsibility for sewage treatment in the Capital Region.

– with files from Daniel Palmer