McLoughlin Point recommendation stirs up mixed emotions in Esquimalt

Esquimalt councillor calls McLoughlin recommendation "complete insanity"

It’s a road Esquimalt Coun. Tim Morrison has been down before, and one he says has aged him 10 years.

More than two years ago, the township rejected a plan to construct a wastewater treatment facility at McLoughlin Point, citing concerns with the size and the environmental impact. Now Morrison and his colleagues could be asked to do it all over again.

On Wednesday, the Core Area Wastewater Treatment Project Board released its highly anticipated final report, recommending a single 108 megalitre/day plant for the tertiary treatment of wastewater at McLoughlin Point.

The recommendation was shocking for Morrison since the site wasn’t even an option until a CRD (Capital Regional District) director brought it back to the table during discussions in the spring.

“Through an extensive public process, going over the past few years, McLoughlin was ruled out as a single site and the conclusion on the matter was confirmed when the CRD itself cemented that McLoughlin would never be reconsidered as a single site,” said Morrison, who believes the project board was heavily biased towards McLoughlin.

“It’s bizarre that the project board just put the CRD table back into a mad hatter tea party mode. It’s illogical, it’s unjust to Esquimalt and it’s just complete insanity. All they’ve done is take the same report from three years ago and put some lipstick on it.”

The subject of sewage treatment has been a contentious one for more than 30 years in Greater Victoria, costing taxpayers millions of dollars. Despite the arguments made by local scientists, the federal government has deemed Victoria as high-risk when it comes to its current method of discharging screened sewage into the ocean, therefore the region must move towards secondary sewage treatment by 2020 in order to comply with federal wastewater regulations.

In March, the CRD took another stab at the matter, voting to explore constructing two tertiary treatment facilities at Victoria’s Clover Point and McLouhglin or Macaulay points in Esquimalt at an estimated cost of around $1 billion. The proposal, however, sparked backlash from both communities.

In order to help the region find a way to move forward, the province waded into the matter two months later and established an independent panel of six experts to come up with a recommendation.

In the final report, the board pegged the cost for a plant at McLoughlin at an estimated $765 million (assuming government funding is in place), with the cost per CRD household ranging from about $146 per year in Colwood to $344 in Oak Bay. The report also recommends looking at a wastewater treatment proposal in Colwood and piping solids to the Hartland landfill in Saanich.

According to project board chair Jane Bird, the plant design has been significantly revised from the last go around at McLoughlin in that it’s a smaller footprint, provides better public access to the shoreline, has extensive landscaping and tertiary treatment, which removes the most contaminants.

Barb Desjardins is disappointed McLoughlin is being looked at yet again, but she isn’t surprised.

As the CRD board chair, Desjardins believes the panel has come up with a great regional plan, but said it’s unfortunate it wasn’t a distributed system like directors had previously explored. As the Mayor of Esquimalt, Desjardins said she’ll be listening to the township’s residents before sharing her opinion.

“I’m hearing it all across the spectrum. There are many people that are happy, many people that are feeling that this really is good enough to move forward and there are many people that are still concerned,” said Desjardins, adding the plan is far better than the last one proposed for the site.

“This is a very different plan and it does have many of the things that Esquimalt residents were looking for even if the site is not where they wanted it….I think everybody has to continue to listen.”

The final report will be presented to the CRD on Sept. 14. CRD directors will ultimately have the final say on where a facility should be located, but have until Sept. 30 to submit a plan for wastewater treatment to the federal government or risk losing millions of dollars in funding.

If approved, the proposal could come back to Esquimalt council during the development permit process. Morrison, however, believes the door on McLoughlin should remain closed.

“You can’t put us back in the same situation we were grievously defeating two years back and then call that as being somehow coming out on top. It doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “It’s deja vu all over again and it’s not a pleasant experience to relive as a councillor in Esquimalt….I think this is a huge kick in the stomach to public process and how decision making is done and valued in our communities.”

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