Esquimalt council uneasy with new sewage plan

It’s a road Esquimalt council has been down before.

It’s a road Esquimalt council has been down before.

So when representatives with the Capital Regional District (CRD) presented the new plan for a two-plant sewage treatment system with facilities at Clover Point in Victoria and McLoughlin or Macaulay points in Esquimalt, several councillors couldn’t help but vent their frustration and concern.

During a lengthy discussion on the matter Monday night, Coun. Tim Morrison said he doesn’t believe Victoria will ever allow a large sewage treatment plant at Clover Point, and he’s not alone. Fearing everything would be dumped on Esquimalt again, some councillors want to see what happens with Victoria before anything is approved in principle.

Other councillors believe the technology should be chosen before a site is selected, and want assurances from the CRD that a centralized sewage treatment plant will never be put on McLoughlin Point — the CRD pushed to do before the township rejected the plan two years ago.

“We have been down this road before. This is deja vu. The Township of Esquimalt has made a decision,” said Coun. Lynda Hundleby. “Why did we do all this other work and a consultation to know that it will just come back to this?”

CRD spokesperson Andy Orr told council the two sites are a base case to help the process move forward and stay in the funding game with the federal and provincial government. The CRD has until the end of September to submit its plan on wastewater treatment or risk losing $83 million in funding. Approval is needed from both councils in order to move forward, otherwise the CRD will have to go back to the drawing board.

Reviewing the history of the ongoing sewage saga, Morrison noted the relationship between Esquimalt and the CRD a few years ago was one of severe distrust. But that relationship was remediated in 2014 thanks to an election, prompting the region to move forward and work towards a new sewage treatment plan, along with a process that allowed municipalities to bring their own sites forward.

Morrison said that process, however, was recently thwarted when Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen brought McLoughlin back to the table due to the cost, allowing for a campaign to be reinstated against Esquimalt.

“It’s time to stop moving back and stop this obsession with McLoughlin and stop this obsession with dumping all the region’s sewage problems back on Esquimalt,” said Morrison. “I will not be giving license to the CRD to continue misinforming the public that it was Esquimalt that is voluntarily putting forward McLoughlin Point…No means no. Get over it and move forward.”

Mayor Barb Desjardins is also chair of the CRD and told her fellow councillors that experts said the estimated $1-billion cost of the current plan could come down. She also said CRD staff followed the process, but it was a political decision that changed everything. The only reason she supported the motion was to hear from the private sector about innovative solutions that may be available.

“I’m trying really hard to move forward. This committee has been frustrating because of the politics. I don’t know how to discontinue that politics,” she said.

Several members of the public also spoke to council, urging them to be cautious about heading down the same road with McLoughlin Point. The matter will be brought back to council April 18 for further discussion. Senior CRD staff and Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps have been invited to attend.