Saanich and the Capital Regional District have come up with a proposed agreement that would see the municipality purchase the CRD-owned portion of Haro Woods.
Haro Woods in Cadboro Bay, between Arbutus, Finnerty and Haro roads, is owned, in chunks, by Saanich, the CRD and the University of Victoria.
Under the proposed $7.2-million agreement, details of which were made available Friday, Saanich would trade the CRD’s 4.32-hectare portion for 1.5 hectares of its current land.
“Essentially we would be preserving 94 per cent of the entire (Haro Woods) site as urban woodland,” said Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard.
The existing six per cent is previously disturbed municipal land that has sanitary sewer infrastructure on it, including trunks, mains and a metering station.
In this 1.5-hectare site, the CRD proposes to install an underground 5,000 cubic-metre attenuation tank and pump house. Plans in the future also would allow for the installation of another 7,000 cubic-metre tank, but that would also remain within that same 1.5-hectare footprint.
There would also be a minimum 35-metre buffer between the underground tank and all adjacent Saanich land, as well as a 25-metre forested buffer with Arbutus Road.
“The threat (right now) is the land owned by the CRD is zoned for residential, so someone could come in with a subdivision application and we (Saanich council) wouldn’t be able to stop it,” Leonard explained.
“The second threat is when the CRD has an approved sewage plan, that can override a municipality’s objection to the siting of it on the land. This agreement is as close to a win-win as you can get.”
The CRD purchased its Haro Woods land from Queen Alexandra Foundation in January 2009 when it was thought to be an ideal location for a sewage treatment plant.
In 2010, the CRD determined that McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt would be a better location for the treatment facility and scrapped its plans in Haro Woods.
The attenuation tank that would be installed if this agreement is approved would temporarily store wastewater flows during storms to prevent downstream overflows, wrote Saanich’s municipal administrator Tim Wood, in a report to council.
The CRD conducted an economic, ecological and social assessment, and residents suggested moving the tank to the Saanich land to ease environmental concerns.
“Relocating the tanks to the adjacent Saanich-owned property … as suggested in public feedback will mitigate environmental impacts,” Wood wrote in his report.
“Building attenuation tanks on this parcel instead of the currently owned CRD property will result in protection of the parcel with the greatest ecological integrity,” added CRD Board Chair Geoff Young, referencing preserving native vegetation and wildlife in the woods.
“Environmentally, there are some very serious, hard questions to be looked at and really considered,” said Franca LaBella, chair of the Saanich Community Association Network. “We can talk about what we’re going to do, but what are they going to do during construction (of the tank and pump house)? That’ll take 18 months to two years – that’s a huge amount of time to impact nature – the owls, wildlife and natural vegetation. Are they going to be protected? Are they going to be moved? Fortunately they have time to answer these.”
In the agreement, in addition to the 1.5 hectares of Haro Woods land, Saanich would also transfer 8.5 hectares of land adjacent to Hartland Landfill to the CRD, and pay the CRD $1.49 million from municipal reserves.
“There are purists, idealists who’ll say 94 per cent (of Haro Woods preserved as woodland) is not enough,” Leonard said. “Ninety-four per cent out of 100 is not a compromise. I think it’s a real success, and I hope the community sees it that way, too.”
In 2008, Saanich placed a covenant on its Haro Woods land requiring council hold a public meeting before making decisions regarding the property.
The agreement is expected to come before Saanich council on Oct. 17. If approved, it would also require going to public hearing.
“Between Panama Flats and Haro Woods, we could basically increase Saanich’s park inventory by 79 acres in one year,” Leonard said. “I’ve described the Panama Flats acquisition as once in a lifetime. We can accomplish once in a lifetime twice this year.”