Businesses in Esquimalt’s industrial park could leave en masse if a proposed sewage sludge plant is built in the area, according to the Esquimalt Chamber of Commerce president.
Chuck Palmer said several commercial property owners are warning of discontent amongst their tenants since the Capital Regional District purchased a parcel of land for $17 million on Viewfield Road in March.
“One of our key members in that neighbourhood has just been advised by two of his tenants that they will leave the area if the biosolids plant is allowed to proceed on Viewfield Road,” Palmer said.
Burt Wams operates Burt’s Automotive in a leased building at 831 Devonshire Rd., directly behind the CRD’s Viewfield Road site. While he doesn’t plan to move, he said the secretive planning process of the CRD has led to a justifiable uproar in the community.
“Businesses are struggling as it is … a lot of guys I know are pulling equity out of their properties if they own them to keep their businesses afloat. If their values go down, it really hurts,” he said.
Wam is in the process of purchasing the property, but is having second thoughts about its assessed value.
“I’m going to buy this at today’s rate, but what’s it going to be worth 10 years from now when I want to retire?” he asked.
Bernie Maggiora, owner of Capital Sign on Devonshire Road, is used to the noise, dust and smells that are inevitably part of working in an industrial park.
As a former employee at the Saanich Peninsula Wastewater Treatment Plant, he knows the sludge plant likely won’t emit any odours, but he is concerned about the proximity of a biosolids energy facility to schools, homes and businesses.
The processing facility would extract heat, biogas and phosphorus from the sludge left behind after sewage is treated, with the potential to heat up to 1,000 nearby homes, according to CRD documents.
“When you convert sewage to methane, there’s an explosive factor to it,” Maggiora said. “And while they say there’s a low probability (of explosion), it’s still there, and maybe that will affect my insurance.”
The CRD is staying mum on sewage decisions until after the provincial election, but all four Esquimalt-Royal Roads candidates have voiced opposition to locating the biosolids plant on the Viewfield Road site.
Maurine Karagianis of the NDP and Susan Low of the Greens have said they will respect the decision of Esquimalt council in the matter.
Mayor Barb Desjardins said the CRD’s core area liquid waste management committee erred by not considering the social impact when looking at possible sites for its biosolids facility.
The committee was presented with various alternative locations, but in-camera rules mean Desjardins can’t discuss specifics.
“It’s already affecting how we do business here,” she said. “The longer this goes on, the worse it is for our community.”