It’s not perfect, but it’s better than the original plan proposed three years ago.
That’s the message touted by many Esquimalt councillors at a public hearing Monday night as they unanimously voted in favour of the proposed zoning changes to allow for the construction of a wastewater treatment plant at McLoughlin Point that comes with $20 million in amenities for the community.
Some councillors, however, still aren’t impressed the $765-million project has landed back in Esquimalt, but felt there’s nothing they can do to stop it. Coun. Susan Low is one of those councillors, noting she has yet to be convinced there’s still even a scientific need for the facility.
“If we all voted against this and the present zoning that is in affect still stands, the sewage treatment plant that is proposed will still get built because of the technology that’s being proposed now,” said Low, adding she’s not usually a person to hold her nose and vote yes.
“We will end up with a plant there. I cannot stop this from happening by voting against it tonight. That really bugs me.”
The public hearing was relatively quiet compared to March 2014 when more than 100 residents from Esquimalt, Saanich, Victoria and elsewhere in the region spoke against the project, citing concerns with the size and environmental impact.
A few weeks later, council rejected rezoning the site, forcing the Capital Regional District (CRD) to go back to the drawing board for sewage treatment in the region.
McLoughlin was added back into the mix of options the board was mulling last spring at the suggestion of another CRD director and was later approved by the board in September.
Emotions, however, ran high amongst Esquimalt councillors once they learned of the news, with Low choking back tears at one of the meetings. But this time councillors noted the project is “substantially different” with tertiary treatment instead of secondary, a much smaller footprint, larger setbacks from the shoreline, odour and noise control, and an amenity package that better serves the needs of the community.
That package includes $7 million for waterfront parks, $5 million for community recreation buildings and spaces, and $5 million for emergency services and public safety facilities. An annual contribution of $55,000 will also be made to an operating reserve fund, amongst a list of other contributions for smaller projects.
Many residents also spoke in favour this time, noting township staff have negotiated hard to get a better plan.
“I still have concerns with traffic in general, especially in the school zone, but I also recognize that’s going to be part of a bigger conversation based on all the development going on in the municipality over the next couple of years,” said Esquimalt resident Kim Bellefontaine, who’s followed the matter closely.
“While this project may not be the dream sewage treatment plant that many imagined, as a community we’ve come a long way from the initial discussion of open tanks at Macaulay Point and now we’ve got an improved project with meaningful mitigation of impacts and some lasting benefits to the community.”
Despite the changes, Coun. Lynda Hundleby said she sometimes feels like a waffle in the wind, repeatedly changing her mind on the project. Mayor Barb Desjardins felt the process was much different this time when it comes to the township being heard, and Coun. Meagan Brame is excited about a liaison committee that will make sure the plant meets noise, odour and other requirements.
“We always said from the very beginning we are not NIMBY, it’s not that we don’t want it, we just wanted a good project and we wanted to be part of something bigger,” said Brame. “Fortunately, we didn’t get the something bigger to the region and to the many communities that said no they didn’t want to be a team player, you’re welcome. Esquimalt has class and we followed through with class.”