When Justine and Walter Ash moved into their Vic West home two weeks ago, they thought they’d found the perfect location.
The Hereward Road property, on the border between Victoria and Esquimalt, offered easy access to the E&N Rail Trail, a big yard and ample space to raise their first child, due in May.
Before they put down an offer, the couple decided to check with the Capital Regional District about possible construction in the area.
“We knew about the sewage pipeline being built out from McLoughlin Point to Hartland (landfill in Saanich), so we wanted to know if the street would be torn up,” Justine said. “It never occurred to us they would be building a shit factory across the street.”
The CRD announced last week it had purchased a $17-million industrial property on Viewfield Road, just metres from the Ashes’ home, as a possible site for a sewage processing facility.
If the Viewfield site were to be used, sewage would be pumped about two kilometres from the wastewater treatment plant at McLoughlin Point to be harvested for energy and resources.
Such a scenario would save $6 to $7 million over building a biosolids plant at Hartland – which would require 18 km of pipes – said Denise Blackwell, chair of the CRD’s core area wastewater management committee.
The Ashes, however, feel they were misled. Walter contacted the CRD before they bought their home and requested information on pipelines, solid waste trucking routes and publicly available maps.
“As a prospective first-time home buyer, I want to be aware of the treatment plans so that I can make an informed decision,” he wrote in a Jan. 31 email to Heather Raines, executive assistant with the CRD’s core area wastewater treatment program.
“I was wondering if you could comment on the areas of the city (Esquimalt and Vic West, in particular) that may be impacted by the CRD water treatment plans.”
In her Feb. 4 response, Raines provided a link to a 2010 environmental impact study that states: “Sludge will be processed at a biosolids facility built at the Hartland North site.” Raines wrote the construction schedule in the study had changed, but “the other information is still applicable.”
The next day, Walter and Justine put down an offer on their new home.
CRD spokesman Andy Orr sympathized with the couple, but said government land deals tend to be done in secret to avoid price speculation.
“I don’t think we could have released the information any sooner than we did,” he said.
Ed McDonald owns MAC Renovations on Viewfield Road, directly across the street from the proposed biosolids site. While truck traffic is already heavy in the area, McDonald worries about the likelihood of falling property values.
“The CRD’s process is really upsetting,” he said. “They never miss collecting a tax bill from us.”
Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins said the inclusion of a biosolids plant would disproportionately burden the township with all of the major components of the Capital Region’s $783-million secondary sewage treatment project.
“The process to purchase this site prior to any public knowledge or input denies the public their rights, and it denies the municipality their rights that this was all done in-camera,” she said. “It’s a disrespect to the population.”
The CRD says it undertook an exhaustive process to find alternative properties for the biosolids centre, but in the end, only Viewfield Road and Hartland were deemed viable for social, environmental and economic reasons.
“We looked at some places in the Inner Harbour, we looked at moving the public works yard in the City of Victoria … there was always someone who didn’t want to sell,” Blackwell said.
A deal in View Royal also looked promising, but the seller came back with unreasonable demands, she said.
“But we haven’t made a decision. Both sites have their good and their bad sides to them. That’s why we’re going to public consultation.”
Esquimalt’s director of development, Bill Brown, said the township will lose at least $160,000 in property taxes next year from the loss of the 4.2-acre Viewfield site.
“It’s approximately nine per cent of our industrial park, and that doesn’t account for the large buffer that will probably be around the plant, and depreciating home values,” he said.
A 2009 CRD inventory assessment estimates more than 340 acres of new industrial land will be required in Greater Victoria over the next 30 years, with the greatest demand in the core municipalities.
“It’s strange the CRD would want to take industrial land out of commission, when their own report identifies a need for it,” Brown said.
Justine Ash has already contacted most of her municipal and provincial representatives and plans to make her opinion known as the discussion unfolds.
“While I’m willing to do whatever I can to oppose it, my hope is ultimately the plan won’t go through because it’s just so asinine,” she said. “This was supposed to be the most exciting week of our lives.”
*Edit: An older version of this story wrongly stated the Viewfield site would save $6 to 7 million annually in operating costs.