The Associated Press
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“WHEN DOES NO mean no?” asked Esquimalt, B.C., Mayor Barb Desjardins.
The mayor, who ironically visited a Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce membership meeting last month to promote tourism, told the Victoria Times-Colonist earlier this week that she is “frustrated” because a regional government agency is pressing ahead with a sewage treatment plant in her city after the Township Council voted against it in April.
Although the site, McLoughlin Point, is near the entrance to Victoria Harbor, the land falls inside the Esquimalt city limit.
The Township Council's refusal to rezone the property for the proposed multimillion-dollar plant effectively killed the project at the site.
The action jeopardizes the so-called Seaterra project to bring treatment to the Victoria region by 2020. Until the Esquimalt snub, officials thought effluent could be treated starting in 2018.
The government cooperative called the Capital Regional District said it's trying to keep the project alive at McLoughlin Point while looking for less-feasible sites for a large treatment plant, estimated to cost $783 million [$721.6 million U.S.] in federal, provincial and local funds.
The Capital Regional District staff has estimated that additional costs of moving from McLoughlin to a different location — if one can be found — could add between $60 million and $100 million Canadian.
Gov. Jay Inslee sent a letter to B.C. Premier Christy Clark demanding that she order local Victoria-area governments to act after more than 20 years of debates and promises about treating the region's sewage.
“It is now more than 20 years since your province agreed to implement wastewater treatment in greater Victoria, and yet today Victoria still lacks any treatment beyond screening,” Inslee wrote in Tuesday's letter to Clark.
“Delaying this work to 2020 is not acceptable.”
Last month, Clark's government refused to force the Victoria-area municipality of Esquimalt to accept the regional district's plans to locate a proposed $780 million treatment facility on the shores of the community.
The Victoria region's politicians have been scrambling ever since to develop a Plan B for sewage treatment.
Washington state supported B.C.'s bid to host the 2010 Winter Olympics partly because the province said the Victoria area would commit to sewage treatment, Inslee wrote.
The letter also recalled a 1993 tourism boycott of Victoria over the issue.
Victoria is one of the few remaining Canadian cities that does little to treat its sewage, essentially pumping 34 million gallons of raw effluent daily into the Strait directly across from the North Olympic Peninsula.
Environmentalists and communities in the United States complain of pollution, while some in Victoria say the ocean acts as a natural toilet that flushes and disperses waste with minimal environmental impact.
Inslee said the sewage issue poses health and economic issues for the area and threatens intergovernmental relations.
“Left unresolved, Victoria's lack of wastewater treatment has the potential to color other regional and national issues at a time when our two countries are working to re-establish steady economic growth through various cross-border initiatives,” Inslee wrote.
Clark's office directed calls about the issue to B.C.'s environment minister, Mary Polak.
“We share these concerns, which is why we have directed the [Victoria-area] Capital Regional District to deliver on its requirement for sewage treatment,” Polak said in a statement.
“We fully expect the Capital Regional District to meet both their federal and provincial requirements. We have made it clear that sewage treatment will happen; this is not up for debate.”
Polak warned that Victoria-area taxpayers could be on the hook for up to $500 million if the cities and districts within the regional district can't decide where to locate a sewage treatment plant.
The provincial and federal governments have committed to fund two-thirds of the treatment plan project, but that money is tied to completion timelines between 2018 and 2020.
If that timeline isn't met, local governments could end up paying, Polak said.