Taking the next steps in sewage treatment

Political fear mongering is unfortunate and threatens to put the CRD at a disadvantage

The Capital Regional District’s “failed” sewage treatment plan continues to generate heat but not the kind that powers lights or warms homes.

It’s the heat of the political kind, turned up on Esquimalt’s Mayor and council, as well as Esquimalt residents, because of their refusal to allow a treatment plant to be built at McLoughlin Point.

Political fear mongering is unfortunate and threatens to put the CRD at a disadvantage, if its ultimate goal is to get parties back to the table working together cooperatively on other options. How can public “blame and finger pointing” possibly create positive feelings that would establish an environment that leads to constructive collaboration? We want proactive political leadership that encourages communities to work together on finding solutions.

As an Oak Bay councillor, I support sewage treatment and resource recapture.  But I voted against sending Esquimalt Mayor and council a letter to reconsider their decision, believing then as I do now, that Esquimalt residents have spoken through due process and that their voices and their autonomy should be respected.

As it turns out, it was at an August 13 Core Area Liquid Waste Management Committee (CALWMC) meeting, that a CRD flyer that would be mailed directly to Esquimalt residents outlining the advantages of a cash offer, was also rejected by a majority of committee members representing seven municipalities.

It’s often said that information is power.  In the case of the CRD sewage issue and the Seaterra Plan, nothing could be truer.  Over the summer, I have tried to learn as much as possible and scanned websites and documents, met with our local MLA Andrew Weaver, with regional council colleagues, with representatives of the Sewage Treatment Action Group (STAG), and attended a CRD Core Area Liquid Waste Management Committee (CALWMC) meeting.

As a North Saanich councillor between 2008 and 2011, I was also a member of the Saanich Peninsula Wastewater/Water Commission that oversees a sub-regional sewage treatment plant located in North Saanich above the Pat Bay Highway to the west. If you have never seen the plant from the highway, that’s the whole idea. It’s discreetly placed on property owned by the CRD, it’s secondary treatment, it serves three municipalities and it demonstrates “waste to energy” technology, with some of the sludge heating the Panorama Recreation Centre’s swimming pool.

I believe that Oak Bay needs to be actively consulting with its regional partners to explore alternatives and new sewage treatment technologies. It appears that other CRD communities believe so too, with mayors and councils already getting together to discuss options.

For example, sub-regional systems, such as those located in Sechelt, Sooke, on Salt Spring Island and on the Saanich Peninsula, have proven to be viable options to a big centralized single plant. What’s more, I understand that the Sechelt plant provides tertiary treatment for a community of about 17,000, is located on about a half acre, is buffered from residential neighbourhoods, was completed in three years and cost less that $30-million, much of which was covered by federal grants.

But will exploring new treatment options threaten existing Federal Government grant funding, as has been suggested a number of times? Apparently not.

In recent correspondence from the Federal minister responsible and presented at the August 13 CALWMC meeting, I learned that indications are the federal funding commitment for CRD sewage treatment remains intact.

Community partnerships not only require the commitment of informed elected representation but also need leadership that is open to new ideas and innovation.

There needs to be support for a process that refocuses the region on working cooperatively to find cost-effective sewage treatment that not only protects taxpayers but is also leading-edge.

My guess is that the current dialogue on sewage treatment may be confusing for many taxpayers. “Sorting through the clutter” is a challenge but the bottom line is that as a region, I hope we change course and take a direction that inspires new leadership that reinforces trust and goodwill at the CRD. Sewage treatment is a given, deadlines seem fixed and now it’s up to local community leaders to find a constructive way forward, together.

Cairine Green is in her first term as a member of Oak Bay Council.