McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt is being looked at a possible site for a new sewage treament plant.

Mayor hopeful new provincial board will advance sewage project provincial board

There has been much emotion surrounding the CRD plans to build a wastewater treatment plant to serve the region.

There has been much emotion surrounding the Capital Regional District’s (CRD) plans to build a wastewater treatment plant to serve the region, especially when it comes to deciding where the site(s) will go. But now, that emotion is being taken out and the project can finally move forward, according to Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps.

Last week, the province stepped in to help manage the controversial project.

Communities Minister Peter Fassbender noted the project’s governance model of 24 directors from municipalities around Greater Victoria is complex and “needs to be separated from other organizational governance as responsibilities are currently divided between committees.” He also warned the CRD could risk losing $500 million in funding if it doesn’t meet the Sept. 30 deadline to identify a site for the plant.

The province put forward a number of recommendations to help move the project forward, which the CRD accepted. Recommendations include establishing an independent project board and project director to set a plan and schedule, select sites and develop a business case, based on the work that’s already been done.

The project board will bring all recommendations to the CRD, who would ultimately have the final say.

“It’s a very positive step. I think it’s a very good thing,” Helps said.

“I think everyone was looking for a way forward and it was unnecessarily complex. Not only the governance model, but I think really the challenge became that everybody fancied themselves an engineer — some elected officials think they’re engineers, members of the public think they’re engineers. Community engagement is important for sure, but you can’t have a community engineering project.”

Helps said part of the problem is there’s been so much emotion around where the wastewater treatment plant could potentially go.

The current proposed plan calls for two secondary or tertiary sewage plants at either McLoughlin or Macaulay points in Esquimalt and Clover Point in Victoria at a cost of roughly $1 billion. A third facility would eventually be constructed somewhere on the West Shore.

However, since those sites were named, there has been immense backlash from residents in Esquimalt and Victoria.

“We’ll wait and see. Is it Clover (Point), is it McLoughlin, is it Rock Bay or some other site that we haven’t even thought of yet, who knows? I think the speculation over sites has really harmed the project,” Helps said, adding she will be open to the recommendations the project board makes.

“(The board) will take the emotion out of it. When people hear about this site and that site it becomes an emotional process and you can’t build a $783 million- project on emotion.”

CRD board chair and Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins agreed.

“There’s a lot of emotion out there, every time you turn around, there’s another concern that’s coming out of the public,” she said. “I think this is important for our public, for our region to recognize the board is moving forward, that we know there is a timeline and that we are going to meet it.”

Over the next two weeks, staff will be working with the province to recommend candidates for the six to seven-person project board.

The CRD has until Jan. 1 2021 to complete the project.