East and west divided by sewage treatment

Scrubbing Seaterra plan means more meetings for Oak Bay with its east side counterparts

The newest sewage treatment tactic divides the region into east and west. Capital Regional District directors approved a new framework to gauge the value of subset wastewater treatment options during its Oct. 8 meeting.

This new framework gives Core Area Liquid Waste Management Plan participants the opportunity to have subcommittees, or work individually with the support of CRD staff, to develop and evaluate treatment options for their communities.

Colwood, Esquimalt, Langford, View Royal, and the Songhees Nation make up a west side subcommittee to work with CRD staff and a technical working group to develop a sub-regional wastewater treatment plan.

“That subcommittee will begin to review options that they might consider for those four municipalities in terms of a subregional wastewater treatment plan,” said Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen after the meeting. “That opens the way for us to do the same on the east side: Oak Bay, Victoria and Saanich. We’ve already started down that path so yesterday was just the formalization of the west side. We have a working group of chief administrative officers who have had a number of meetings and have begun looking at the issue of what would an east side plan look like.”

In August, council asked staff to begin discussions with the municipality of Saanich and City of Victoria to collectively come up with a “Plan B.” Subcommittees will report to the Core Area Liquid Waste Management Committee and CRD board and will be supported by CRD staff.

“This will be a very long process. We’re only in the infancy of what we might study,” Jensen said. “When you look at what happened last time … from 2006 to when a contract was tendered was eight years. So a process that complicated in nature is very significant time wise.”

Provincial and federal funding agreements that provide approximately $500 million toward the $788 million project are contingent on meeting specific timelines.

“That increases the likelihood the funding will be lost,” Jensen said. “We have to be up and running with a sewage treatment plan for the region – not just the three of us but the region – by 2020 in order to get the federal funding, 2018 to get the provincial funding. The province has signalled they would be flexible on that date. Certainly it’s unlikely we would have a brand new plan contracted out and built by that time.”

While throwing resources at the process could accelerate some portions of the approach, things like public consultation simply take time, he said.

“You’re now looking at potential for more plants, more neighbourhoods to be affected. I’ve heard a lot of talk about the Sechelt model being something that is held up as a potential way to go. With the Sechelt model, right off the shelf, that would mean 25 to 30 plants strewn throughout the seven communities. That would take significant time to consult with the public,” Jensen said. “I cannot conceive we would have 31 plants but even if we have five or 10 we know how long public consultation took on one plant.”

Add to that the time and expense of environmental, technical and funding studies, and the Oak Bay mayor remains hopeful the region will return to looking at the original model of one plant.

“It would be more time and a lot more money,” he said. “Anything can change at any point in time. It may be, as the west side does a closer examination, they come to the same conclusion as the CRD that one plant is the most sustainable and economically efficient model. If we continue to go down this road, we know from experience it will be long and costly.”

The treatment plant was to be part of the Seaterra Program, established to bring the region into compliance with the federal and provincial regulations for sewage treatment.

In May, Seaterra officially ceased implementation of a wastewater treatment facility at McLoughlin Point after Esquimalt denied rezoning needed at the McLoughlin Point site and the province declined to intervene. Work was meant to begin by the end of July on the projected $788-million plant.

For more information on the subcommittee framework go to crd.bc.ca/wastewater.