British Columbia leader promises Victoria sewage treatment to U.S. politicians, but details remain vague

Peninsula Daily News and news sources

VICTORIA — British Columbia Premier Christy Clark has responded to her Washington state counterpart, Gov. Jay Inslee, and U.S. politicos that she fully expects the Victoria region to bring sewage treatment to her side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

“We have made it clear that sewage treatment will happen — this is not up for debate,” Clark wrote Inslee.

“Failure to comply with these obligations would result in the possible loss of federal and provincial funding, as well as other potential penalties under federal and provincial laws.”

No timeline

But Clark did not indicate when such treatment would likely begin.

It was Clark's first response to June pleas by Inslee, U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, and U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer — whose 6th Congressional District includes the North Olympic Peninsula — that the Victoria region remains on track to stop the 24-hour pumping of raw effluent into the Strait.

Five other U.S. Congress members from Washington state also wrote letters to Clark.

How much?

An amalgamation of Victoria-area governments called the Capital Regional District has been charged to meet Ottawa and British Columbia requirements to start sewage treatment.

The Canadian federal and provincial governments have promised to pay most of a treatment plant's cost by contributing a combined $501.4 million ($461.82 million U.S.) if treatment starts in 2018.

The total estimated cost is $783 million ($721.6 million U.S.), the remainder picked up by the Capital Regional District and Victoria-area municipalities.

The project hit the skids last spring when the Esquimalt Town Council refused to rezone property, McLoughlin Point at the entrance of Victoria Harbour, for the treatment plant.

Clark's B.C. government declined to override that decision.

That roadblock — and the prospect that 38 million gallons of raw sewage and discarded chemicals could continue to flow daily into the Strait indefinitely — unleashed stern letters from Inslee and other Washington state politicians.

EPA summoned

Kilmer earlier this month urged the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to stress to the Canadian government the importance of a quick solution to the problem.

Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, thanked Clark for her letter to him. But he indicated that it will not be allowed to compensate for inaction.

“Now our job is to ensure that Canada follows its words with actions,” said Kilmer, who grew up in Port Angeles, at which the two 39-inch Victoria outfalls point from about 18 miles away.

Victoria-area politics

The controversy isn't without its share of politics in the Victoria region, too.

Victoria City Council member Geoff Young, who chairs the Capital Regional District's committee overseeing the project, has pledged $19 million ($17.5 million U.S.) from the regional agency to cover Esquimalt's share of the project — if the Esquimalt Town Council reverses its zoning decision and allows the plant at McLoughlin Point, considered the best location based on the convergence of existing sewer mains.

But Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins said Young's pledge has gained little traction among her constituents, according to the Victoria Times Colonist.

“I think people are a little bit disgusted with the idea of the proposal,” she said.

Last modified: July 29. 2014 8:13PM
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