Greater Victoria sewage price tag swells with delays: taxpayers federation

Inflation has already driven cost of Capital Region's Seaterra project up by $50 million, says Canadian Taxpayers Federation

An independent analysis of the Capital Regional District’s sewage treatment project proves that delays will only cost taxpayers more money, says the CRD’s sewage committee chair.

The CRD’s Seaterra project is already $50 million over budget – at $830 million – due to inflation and set to rise further, according to a report released this week by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

But stakeholders say the analysis only makes a stronger case to move forward with construction as quickly as possible.

“Seaterra has stressed very strongly that delay means greater costs,” said Geoff Young, chair of the CRD’s core area liquid waste management committee. “Postponing the project and having construction costs increase means the (one-third) fixed contribution of the provincial government will be worth less and less the longer we wait.”

Last year, an arms-length commission was established to oversee Seaterra and ensure the project stays within its $783-million budget. Cost overruns will likely be the sole responsibility of CRD taxpayers.

The Taxpayers Federation funded an independent analysis of Seaterra after Greater Victoria businesses expressed concern about the “nebulous” estimated costs of the project, said Jordan Bateman, the advocacy group’s B.C. director.

The CRD’s estimated costs to homeowners are likely underestimated by hundreds of dollars during the project’s initial five-year building phase, he said.

In the City of Victoria, the CRD estimates the average household will pay $353 annually towards the project by 2018. Bateman pegs that number closer to $530, but said many cost allocation questions remain unanswered, especially for businesses.

“You can’t make good decisions with a vacuum of good information,” he said.

Young, a City of Victoria councillor, said the federation is jumping to conclusions, as municipalities have autonomy in how they allocate costs to taxpayers. Victoria is stressing a pay model based on flow, he added.

“We have businesses in the city that do a fair amount of pre-treatment, and some people on wells in the city. Should they get credit for that? There are a whole lot of practical issues with allocating costs,” he said.

Further complicating the financial outlook is a recent decision by Colwood to study opting out of Seaterra and build its own sewage treatment facility. The municipality plans to float the idea at a CRD committee meeting Feb. 12.

“If Colwood pulls out, that will further increase the cost by 4.5 per cent to other municipalities. That’s $40 million,” Bateman said.

The current sewage treatment project includes a wastewater treatment plant planned for McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt and a biosolids and incineration facility at Hartland landfill in Saanich. Esquimalt is holding a public hearing on the McLoughlin plant Feb. 18.

Both projects are in the early stages with an estimated project completion date of 2018.



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