Millions spent, but no word from government on sewage treatment

In six years the Capital Regional District has spent more than $18 million on planning for regional sewage treatment,

In six years the Capital Regional District has spent more than $18 million on planning for regional sewage treatment, but senior governments remain mum on funding the project.

The CRD liquid waste management committee approved another $50,000 for planning work last week, but little has happened in the past year as the province and federal governments mull approving a plan ordered by the B.C. Ministry of Environment in 2006.

“We think we’ll get an announcement in the next few months, or sooner. I think we are getting closer,” said committee chair Denise Blackwell, a Langford councillor. “We aren’t going ahead with anything until we have a signed agreement with the province and the feds for their share.”

The province accepted the CRD’s plan in August 2010 to build a wastewater treatment site at McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt, a separate biosolids facility at Hartland Landfill or a a location closer to McLoughlin if possible. Underground storage tanks will be constructed in Saanich east. The CRD estimates capital costs for the sewage treatment system at $782 million, plus annual operating costs of $14.5 million.

An update report presented to the core area liquid waste management committee showed the CRD has spent $6.7 million acquiring land and more than $10 million on planning and technical report consultant fees. It has spent $1.5 million on public engagement and other aspects of planning.

The wastewater project has an overall planning budget of $30 million, underwritten by $23 million in loans and a $6.66 million grant from the provincial and federal governments.

In terms of unfinished business, Blackwell said it remains unclear how the seven CRD municipalities contributing to the system will divide the cost burden, although she suspects it be based on sewage flow volumes.

She said the committee would prefer to see a property tax line item for sewage treatment to build a fund ahead of time. “We don’t want to have a giant bill so we need to start collecting in advance,” Blackwell said.

Saanich councillor Vic Derman, a core area liquid waste management committee member, is part of a minority of dissenting voices at the committee table. He voted against spending another $50,000. “I’m concerned we continue to spend money without an indication the project is a go,” he said.

Derman argues the project should have been designed around resource recovery from the get-go – notably heat recovery from sewage – not as an afterthought. He worries the province will establish a commission to oversee construction and operation, but will create a mandate with few incentives to build resource recovery.

The CRD has said it hasn’t settled on any particular technology for wastewater treatment and has left the door open for innovative energy capture technologies during the procurement stage.

“If the commission stays within the scope of its budget, I worry there will be no incentive to innovate,” Derman said. “Hopefully they do, but there is no guarantee as we politely pass over a huge cheque.”

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