The sewage outfall sign at Clover Point. A new independent board will now undertake all aspects of business case planning

Victoria’s role in sewage saga uncertain — for now

The process of exploring whether Clover Point would make a good location for a sewage treatment plant has been taken out of city hands.

The process of exploring whether Clover Point would make a good location for a sewage treatment plant has now been taken out of the city’s hands and Victoria’s mayor couldn’t be happier.

Last week, a handful of directors with the Capital Regional District (CRD) were hesitant to agree to the terms for establishing a new independent board that will undertake all aspects of business case planning, site acquisition, project management and expenditures related to the sewage project.

Once a business case is prepared, however, the matter would come back to the CRD for approval.

The move to establish a new independent board comes after the province was asked to wade into the matter to help the region find a way to move forward. CRD staff told directors last week the terms are the same as similar sized projects that have been successful and legal council has reviewed the documentation.

Nonetheless, some directors weren’t comfortable handing the sewage reigns over to the province. One director tried to defer the discussion to another date, calling the decision “an enormous leap of faith,” while another questioned whether those who will be selected for the board are really experts.

“This is a situation where essentially the province is taking control of this project. That could be a good thing if it’s done properly,” said Saanich Coun. Vic Derman. “I don’t mind somebody else controlling the agenda if they in fact get us to where they need to go. I really worry that they will not, and I will not be able to support this motion at this time based on the lack of certainty of what kind of project they are going to produce.”

The subject of sewage treatment has been a contentious one for more than 30 years in Greater Victoria and has so far cost taxpayers billions of dollars. On March 9, however, the CRD board voted to explore building two secondary or tertiary sewage treatment plants at Clover Point and McLoughlin or Macaulay points in Esquimalt, despite an estimated price tag of around $1 million. The proposal sparked a public backlash in both communities.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, who is also the chair of the CRD’s Core Area Liquid Waste Advisory Committee (CALWAC), said directors have had their chance to come up with a solution, but so far nothing has worked. She’s confident the matter is now being handed to people who are “very competent and capable.”

“They don’t care about the politics of it, they are going to look for the best, most cost effective solution that can be implemented within the timeline. I’m very happy with the direction, I am very happy with the leadership the province is showing,” said Helps, adding there has been a lot of emotion tied to the project.

“It will be much harder for anyone to argue with whatever comes forward. It won’t be political. A lot of the push back on Clover Point was that it was a political compromise.”

The public consultation work the city has done thus far regarding a potential facility at Clover Point will be handed over to the independent board. Helps said the city would become a player in the sewage saga only if the board identifies a site in Victoria that would be need to be rezoned.

For councillors in Esquimalt, the proposed CRD plan sounded all too familiar. Nearly two years ago, the township rejected a plan for a single site at McLoughlin, citing concerns with the environmental impact and size of the facility.

Esquimalt’s mayor Barb Desjardins is hopeful McLoughlin won’t be put back on the table as a single site, but she knows it could be a possibility.

“We have gained so much more information over the last couple of years. I think there’s opportunity to come back as a distributed model,” said Desjardins, who wasn’t surprised by some directors comments at last weeks meeting.

“It’s a scary process. This is a new beginning. There’s an opportunity for something really good out of this project. We ran out of time.”

The CRD has until the end of September to make a decision on sewage treatment or risk losing millions of dollars in federal funding.