By Kendra Wong
ESQUIMALT, B.C. — It’s an issue that has plagued the Capital Regional District for decades, but earlier this week, after a lengthy five-hour discussion, the regional district board finally voted to build a wastewater treatment facility at McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt.
Capital Regional District (CRD) directors voted 15-1 on Wednesday to approve the business case as put forward by the Core Area Wastewater Treatment Project Board, which includes building a single 108 megaliter/day plant for the tertiary treatment of wastewater at McLoughlin Point, at an estimated capital cost of $765 million.
Esquimalt mayor and CRD board chair Barb Desjardins, who had been holding off on giving her opinion until the meeting, threw her support behind the recommendation.
“I know that I can stand up and say the project board has listened to our residents and to the community,” said Desjardins, adding there are still a number of questions the township has.
“I anticipate further dialogue once this decision has been made. Are there some things we could have done better? Maybe. But we don’t have time.”
Two years ago, the CRD came close to constructing a facility at McLoughlin Point, but the township rejected the plan, citing concerns about the size of the facility and the environmental impact. A few months ago, McLoughlin was put back on the table at the suggestion of another CRD director.
However, since then, Desjardins believes the project board has taken into account the concerns from Esquimalt residents.
“Our position has always been to get the very best project for the best value,” she said.
“That means it’s socially acceptable, environmentally beneficial and we get the best value for dollar cost.”
Also approved were recommendations for a construction laydown area at Rock Bay in Victoria, a commitment to study a wastewater treatment proposal for Colwood and for solids to be transported by pipe to the Hartland landfill in Saanich.
According to project board member Jane Bird, the latest project has a much smaller footprint, larger setbacks and is significantly less money than the previous plan.
Director and Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps was also in support of the project, which has already cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past few decades.
“Yes, it’s been delayed, but we are getting a better project, both in the sense of taxpayers’ dollars and in terms of treatment with tertiary treatment. It’s better than what we want to do for less money,” she said.
“I’m very happy to support this today and even happier when we get the shovels in the ground.”
Director and Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen said the plan is “not perfect” but is a good plan in that it balances the board’s goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, minimizes cost to taxpayers, meets federal requirements for secondary wastewater treatment and adds value to the surrounding community.
Carol Hamilton, CRD director and Colwood mayor, hopes the board will not forget about its recommendation, including up to $2 million to complete the required technical studies and environmental impact assessments regarding the possibility of another wastewater treatment proposal in the future to help serve the booming population in the municipality.
“I’m not sure of when the timing is to look at another plant in Colwood. [If] we wait 20 years, it becomes old and dusty and you lose the benefit of the gift that we’re getting now,” she said. “Lands identified now as potential sites may well not be available in 20 years’ time.”
The only director to vote against the recommendation was Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell, arguing the numbers don’t add up when federal funding is taken into account.
“Our [the CRD’s] cost has gone up to $311 million. As a business case, it’s better for the province and the federal governments, but it’s not better for us,” he said.
Project board member Don Fairbairn said the previous proposal and budget put forward by Seaterra in 2012 cannot be compared with numbers from 2016, adding it’s like comparing apples to oranges, since construction costs and inflation have increased.
The clock is still ticking on the project, which is expected to be complete in 2020. The board has until Sept. 30 to submit its plans for wastewater treatment to the federal government or risk losing millions of dollars in funding.
Kendra Wong is a reporter with the Victoria News, a Black Press Community News Media member.