Province steps in, recommends new project board for sewage treatment project

The province has recommended the CRD set up an independent panel of experts of oversee the wastewater treatment project.

There are 24 members on the Capital Regional District (CRD) board, each representing their respective communities from around Greater Victoria and all with differing views on how to move forward with a wastewater treatment plant to serve the region.

But now, the province is fed up with the CRD’s inability to move forward with the project and will set up an independent panel of experts to oversee the issue.

Communities Minister Peter Fassbender recently noted the project has a complex governance model that “needs to be separated from other organizational governance as responsibilities are currently divided between committees,” and warned the CRD could risk losing $500 million in funding.

During a meeting Wednesday, the province put forward a number of recommendations, which the CRD accepted, including establishing an independent project board and project director to set a project plan and schedule, select sites and develop a business case.

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

“What the minister did is outline the realities of where in the time frame and provided some review through their facilitator and helped bring some clarity to some key areas,” said CRD chair and Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins. “We recognize this is an extremely complex governance system that we have. The reality is is that we have struggled to come together and move forward. We asked the province for help, they are providing it . . . we want the region to move forward with this.”

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 Sept. 30 to identify a site(s) for a wastewater treatment plant, which also includes zoning. The current proposed plan calls for two secondary or tertiary sewage plants at either McLoughlin or Macaulay Point 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.

Approval is needed from both Victoria and Esquimalt council in order to move forward, but both municipalities have been hesitant to do so.

Esquimalt council has been vocal about having a single plant at McLoughlin Point and rejected the idea two years ago, but Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen placed it on the table again a few months ago. The site already has proper zoning. Most recently, Esquimalt council sent a letter to the CRD stating the township will not support the placement of a wastewater treatment facility in its borders unless it is a portion of a distributed system with another plant in another municipality. Desjardins would not comment specifically on McLoughlin Point and whether it could potentially be the site for the plant.

“At the end of the day, if it’s going to depend on a community rezoning a particular property and they refuse, that will be the end of the line,” said Jensen, adding Esquimalt could technically still pull the zoning on the site. “The minister made it clear that the zoning has to be in place by the end of September and trying to get rezoning or some of the other sites is going to be difficult in that time frame.”