Milestone year for sewage committee

Langford Coun. Denise Blackwell is back at the helm of the Capital Regional District’s sewage treatment committee, although somewhat grudgingly, she admits. 

Blackwell is chairing the core area liquid waste committee, a body steering the $790-million project with 14 municipal politicians who don’t always see eye to eye. 

CRD board chair Geoff Young asked Blackwell to head up the committee and it took some convincing. Saanich Coun. Judy Brownoff  stepped down as chair due to the workload.

“I’ve done it before. I know it’s a lot of work. It’s also a job that doesn’t get a lot of credit,” Young said. “It’s an expensive project. Being chair involves spearheading the spending of a lot of money.”

Blackwell is a good pick, Young said, as she understands the complexity of the project and is from a municipality that isn’t sited for sewage treatment facilities, giving her a measure of neutrality. 

As of now, the CRD has settled on a centralized treatment plant at McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt, the site of a former oil tank farm, with a biosolids treatment facility at Hartland Landfill. 

The central plant location could change depending on treatment technology and methods proposed during the procurement phase, Young noted, although he suspects McLoughlin is the most likely outcome.

“The McLoughlin site is not absolutely certain, but at this point it is the selected site,” he said. “We are open to the possibility with new technology there might be more, smaller sites.”

Although the CRD has general funding commitments from senior governments for two-thirds of the project cost, Young said this year they would like to nail down specific, signed agreements.

“We have a general commitment on the political level. We don’t have signed on the dotted line agreements,” he said. “We have had assurances. The CRD board is comfortable the funding will be there.”

That comfort has allowed the CRD to spend $15 million in planning since 2006, with $6 million coming from the provincial and federal governments.

Young said the project is viable now, although planners are always seeking ways to lower the price tag, such as looking at other sites for the biosolids facility, closer to the main plant.

Another key task of the sewage committee this year is working with the province to establish a governing commission for the project, separated from the CRD.

“The provincial government wants the commission 100 per cent away from the (CRD) board once we are into procurement,” Blackwell said. “The board wants one or two voting members on the commission.”

Young pointed out that funding and governance are intertwined issues – senior governments giving hundreds of millions will have a say how the project is managed. The CRD board will need to wrestle with decisions related to what degree the commission controls the project and how far the CRD is removed.

“Certainly before responsibility is passed over, the funding will have to be in place,” Young said. “But it’s not all up to us, our funding partners will have views. It is a case of deciding what is acceptable to them and us.”

Check out www.wastewatermadeclear.ca for information and updates on the regional sewage treatment project.

editor@saanichnews.com