The eyes of the Capital Region are on the small township of Esquimalt this week, as councillors continue to weigh a decision that will shape the outcome of the Capital Regional District’s sewage treatment project.
More than 400 Greater Victoria residents packed the Esquimalt Recreation Centre gymnasium Tuesday, and a smaller crowd arrived Wednesday, to listen and offer opinion on a wastewater treatment plant slated for McLoughlin Point. A third evening for public input is now being scheduled due to demand.
The CRD needs Esquimalt to approve a rezoning bylaw in order to proceed with construction at McLoughlin this summer. Dozens of speakers addressed council this week, while only one person spoke in support of the project Tuesday night.
“Thank you for recognizing that this is a regional issue,” said Marsha Henderson, a Saanich resident, echoing praise of several speakers from outside the municipality. “Your names will be associated with the project for good, but I (would) applaud the courage to go against this.”
Speakers criticized McLoughlin Point as too small for the wastewater facility, while others said the CRD’s tsunami modelling and weather behaviour data for the site is unreliable. Others were concerned the CRD hasn’t yet defined a route for a sewage sludge pipeline between McLoughlin and the Hartland landfill, arguably the most disruptive feature of the overall project.
Esquimalt rejected a similar application last year, but this time the CRD is offering about $13 million in mitigating features, including funding for pedestrian and cycling pathways, roadway redevelopment and a $55,000 annual cash payment for five years.
“The amenities for Esquimalt will only be achieved through this rezoning,” Mayor Barb Desjardins reminded the packed room Tuesday.
Some at the meeting argued any developer needs to provide amenities when seeking approval for a major project, and the CRD’s mitigation package shouldn’t be mistaken for special treatment.
Should council turn down the current application, the provincial government could ultimately force through the project and ignore the township’s demands.
Yet some MLAs, including Oak Bay-Gordon Head MLA Andrew Weaver, have suggested the project’s 2018 deadline should be delayed to review newer and more efficient sewage treatment technology.
Esquimalt council was meant to issue its judgment Monday night (Feb. 24), but council decided late Wednesday to schedule a third public hearing, as many speakers indicated their interest in addressing council a second time.
“I really want to thank all the people who are so interested, who took two nights off out of their lives and potentially haven’t even gotten to speak,” Desjardins said. “Yet they keep coming out because it’s very important to them. So we want to respect that.”
Staff haven’t set the third public hearing date nor could Desjardins say when council will ultimately vote on the McLoughlin application.
The CRD has stressed any delay to the project will inevitably result in cost overruns for the current project. Construction of the wastewater treatment plant is meant to begin this summer.
EDIT: A previous version of this story contained an unconfirmed cost estimate for the CRD’s secondary sewage treatment program.