Emotions run high as Esquimalt addresses CRD sewage plan

Some councillors vow to fight a facility being constructed at McLoughlin Point

Emotions ran high Monday night as Esquimalt councillors and residents addressed the Capital Regional District’s (CRD) recent decision to construct a wastewater treatment plant at McLoughlin Point.

Choking back tears, Coun. Susan Low said she can’t celebrate the project or pretend to believe it’s going to turn out okay because she doesn’t think it will.

“I am very disappointed and very upset at how this has turned out and yes I will continue to watch out for Esquimalt’s interests and the region’s interests wherever we have the tools in our hands to have that fight,” said Low.

Coun. Beth Burton-Krahn echoed Low, adding she feels “pretty cagey” going forward with the project recommendation.

“I am pretty jaded and pretty cynical, however, I also know that unless I bring my forward thinking self to the table, I am going to get really bitter and I will be really ineffective,” she said. “I’ve never been in that position before where I resist and oppose something with every ounce of my being.”

Last week, the CRD board voted to build a wastewater treatment facility at McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt. The momentous decision came after the Core Area Wastewater Treatment Project Board put forward a business case that recommended building a single 108 megalitre/day plant for the tertiary treatment of wastewater at McLouhglin Point at an estimated capital cost of $765 million, resulting in about $146 per year per household in Colwood to $344 per year per household in Oak Bay.

Two years ago, the CRD came close to constructing a facility at the same site, but the township rejected the plan, citing concerns with the size and the environmental impact. McLoughlin was added back into the mix of options the board was mulling last spring at the suggestion of another CRD director.

Esquimalt mayor and CRD board chair Barb Desjardins feels this time the plan is different, however, with the project board taking into account Esquimalt resident’s concerns from the last go around.

The project has a much smaller footprint, larger setbacks from the shoreline and is significantly less money than the previous plan. It also calls 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. Esquimalt would receive $20 million in amenities, including an annual payment of $55,000.

With a Sept. 30 deadline looming for the CRD to submit its plan for wastewater treatment to the federal government or risk losing hundreds of millions of dollars in funding, Desjardins threw her support behind the recommendation.

During the council meeting Monday night, Desjardins told her colleagues and members of the public that during a recent chamber luncheon, Jonathan Wilkinson, parliamentary secretary to the minister of environment and climate change, clearly said the money would be allocated elsewhere if the CRD did not reach a decision by the end of the month.

“We at least got this to be a far better plan than it was and the reality is there is no more time with respect to the funding,” said Desjardins, adding her vote at the CRD board meeting was a tough one. “Whether I support it or not, it still would be happening….it’s not what we want, it’s certainly not what I wanted, but we ran out of time.”

Several members of the public voiced their opposition to the project Monday night, expressing a variety of concerns with a pipeline going through DND housing, the betrayal of the public process, and whether the size of the proposed facility will be sufficient for the needs of the region in the future.

Nick Kovas, chair of the Esquimalt residents association, said his biggest concern is that residents have already made it clear what their stance was on having a sewage treatment plant in the community. He encouraged councillors to fight the plan, calling it a “complete mockery” of the entire public consultation process.

Coun. Olga Liberchuk, however, believes the process did result in a better plan than two years ago, even though it’s not exactly what the township wanted.

“To me the reality is that the project is coming and I believe there is no stopping it at this point,” said Liberchuk. “I think our job now is to clarify the details, understand what kind of amenities we’ll be getting, negotiate a fair deal for our residents, ensure that the promises made by the CRD are followed through and make sure that we minimize the impact of the project on our neighbourhood.”

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