Storm clouds gathering above the Strait of Juan de Fuca seemed an appropriate reflection of the mood of about 40 Capital Region residents aboard Orca Spirit II on Sunday afternoon.
The $5,000 one-hour boat cruise, organized and paid for by the Capital Regional District’s Seaterra program, was requested by Esquimalt council to address public concerns before construction begins on a wastewater treatment plant at McLoughlin Point later this year.
“The vast majority of tourists that enter into Victoria come right by that spot (McLoughlin Point), whether by cruise ship, floatplane or ferries from the U.S.,” said Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins, standing on the catamaran’s windy outer deck in a backpack and toque. “It’s a very important visual for people to see and understand what will be built on that property.”
In the days leading up to the cruise, surveyors marked setbacks and proposed building heights with bold green and white arrows along the crumbling remains of the defunct Imperial Oil tank farm.
The boat’s PA system, normally reserved for cheerful whale-watching facts, was instead occupied by CRD staff to explain in meticulous detail what each marking represented on the graffitied walls.
Inside, staff circulated blueprints and fielded questions about the site: Will there be a pedestrian waterfront pathway? Yes. Will underground pipelines that connect the wastewater plant to a biosolids facility at Hartland landfill tear up Lampson Street? Perhaps. Do we really need to spend $800 million on sewage treatment? Yes.
As whitecaps began rocking the boat, staff did their best to calmly point out design features to agitated residents, who seemed more interested in debating the science behind sewage treatment than the estimated height of buildings.
Seaterra project director Albert Sweetnam signalled the final pass of the rocky shoreline before ordering the ship’s captain and its motley crew of politicians, bureaucrats, public relations professionals and the public back to port.
Esquimalt plans to vote on the McLoughlin Point development application at a Feb. 24 council meeting after garnering feedback at an open public hearing tonight. Start time for that meeting is 7 p.m. at the Esquimalt Recreation Centre gymnasium.