Sewage project board attempts to alleviate township’s concerns

It's been nearly a month since the Capital Regional District approved a wastewater treatment facility at McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt.

The proposed revised design for a tertiary wastewater treatment plant at McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt.

It’s been nearly a month since the Capital Regional District (CRD) approved a wastewater treatment facility at McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt. But now, the board responsible for building the project is on to the next task: rebuilding trust with Esquimalt’s mayor and council.

Earlier this week, the Core Area Wastewater Treatment Project Board held a question and answer session with council, along with a presentation of what the site could potentially look like when it’s complete in 2020, in an attempt to alleviate some of the concerns.

Coun. Tim Morrison admitted he was nervous and confused about the overall design of the plant.

“When the plan was announced a few weeks back, we were told it was accounted and costed for. Then we see this presentation, we keep hearing phrases like ‘it’s not going to look how it’s going to look in the end, it could end up looking quite different’,” he said.

“What happens when we start attaching bills and the budget isn’t sufficient? Do we end up with an aesthetically plain looking box? I don’t see the assurance there. There is an ultimate budget figure that has to be delivered on in the end.”

Project board chair Jane Bird assured councillors the budget is “robust” enough to cover all of the capital costs of the $765-million plant.

“There is an element of trust there. We’re not there yet. We haven’t earned your trust,” Bird said.

“We’re in early days and we have to earn your trust, I’m very confident you’ll get a building that will look pretty much how it looks today.”

Last month, CRD directors voted 15-1 to approve the business case as put forward by the project board, which includes building a single 108 megalitre/day plant for the tertiary treatment of wastewater at McLoughlin Point.

Two years ago, the CRD came close to constructing a facility at McLoughlin Point, but the township rejected the plan, citing concerns with the size of the facility and the environmental impact. A few months ago, McLoughlin was put back on the table at the suggestion of another CRD director.

The project board has since made changes to the design of the plant, reducing its footprint, larger setbacks and has significantly reduced the overall cost compared to the previous plan.

Bird clarified the board was able to reduce the cost  by eliminating one part of the process regarding the treatment of biosolids at the Hartland landfill in Saanich.

There are also plans to include amenities, such as a pedestrian pathway along the outer edges of the plant along the shoreline, viewing decks and public art. However, those plans have yet to be finalized.

Mayor Barb Desjardins said the meeting was a good first step towards rebuilding trust between the two parties, but many questions still need to be answered, including how much flexibility council has regarding the amenities and the amount of input it has on the design of the plant.

“I think it was a great beginning. By addressing, head on, the concern around trust as well as gaining the information we did, was important for both the project board and Esquimalt council,” said Desjardins, noting the board has shown they are flexible and are listening to residents’ concerns.

“Having that conversation will set up for good future dialogue as we move forward in this . . . The more you communicate the better the trust.”

Council has asked staff to set up a time to meet with the project board again to answer any remaining questions sometime this month.