A decision by B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak to avoid meddling in the ongoing Capital Regional District’s sewage treatment saga means McLoughlin Point is off the table for a key wastewater facility.
“It is regrettable that the province has made this decision,” said CRD Board Chair Alastair Bryson, in response to a statement issued this morning by Polak (see full statement below).
“The Capital Regional District is now unable to implement the provincially approved Core Area Liquid Waste Management Plan and our funding agreements with the federal and provincial governments are contingent on the implementation of this plan,” Bryson added in a statement.
Polak used very clear wording this morning in response to an April 10 letter from Bryson, in which he requested Polak mandate rezoning of McLoughlin Point.
“How locally elected municipal officials in this region achieve consensus on sewage treatment logistics is not something for the provincial government to dictate,” Polak said in her response today.
Polak previously indicated she wouldn’t intervene in the CRD project, but today’s letter makes that decision official.
With the province’s refusal to intervene, the CRD’s $788-million Seaterra program is in jeopardy. Work on McLoughlin Point was meant to begin before the end of July. Requests for proposal to build the facility have already been accepted by the CRD and Seaterra program, though a final proponent hasn’t been made public.
The CRD is now faced with the challenge of determining how it can meet a 2020 federal government deadline for wastewater treatment.
Oak Bay-Gordon Head MLA Andrew Weaver said the CRD would be prudent to get a new plan implemented as soon as possible, one that includes community buy-in from all affected municipalities.
“The CRD have taken so long to get to where we are they’ve lost the public trust on this. There is no social licence for the present plan,” he said.
Weaver reiterated his desire to explore the cost and benefits of tertiary-based treatment, which removes pharmaceuticals and other toxins from wastewater before it reaches ocean outfalls. Weaver said the current secondary treatment model doesn’t address those concerns.
“(The project) is complicated because we have a municipal election coming up now … and we cannot continue to stall this for another year until after the election,” he said.
The real debate, Weaver said, needs to be around creating the most cost-effective and publicly supported sewage treatment system.
Esquimalt council rejected a rezoning application for McLoughlin Point in early April, citing overwhelming public opposition to the regional sewage project and a lack of proper setbacks and tsunami protection for the waterfront property.
The province has committed $248 million while the feds will provide $253.4 million towards the final project cost. Any cost overruns fall to the CRD.
The CRD Board and committee will meet on June 4 to discuss next steps as well as the future of the Seaterra program.
-with files from Tom Fletcher, B.C. legislative reporter and columnist
Polak’s full statement:
“On April 9, 2014, I received a letter from the Capital Regional District requesting the Province intervene to resolve zoning issues that the CRD asserts are preventing the construction of the McLoughlin Point Wastewater Treatment Plant in Esquimalt.
“After giving the request due consideration, the Province will not attempt to override the zoning decisions of the duly elected Esquimalt council.
“While I appreciate the timelines the CRD is working under to implement secondary sewage treatment, in order to meet its obligations to both the provincial and federal governments, I fully expect the CRD to comply with its Liquid Waste Management Plan.
“I don’t underestimate the challenges of achieving agreement on significant infrastructure projects in this region. However, recognizing the relative autonomy of locally elected governments, and their accountability to the citizens and taxpayers they serve, is a principle our government respects and supports.
“How locally elected municipal officials in this region achieve consensus on sewage treatment logistics is not something for the provincial government to dictate.
“Staff from the Ministry of Environment are available to continue working with the CRD to help them achieve compliance with secondary sewage requirements.”
CRD’s full statement:
The Seaterra Program will not be proceeding with the implementation of a wastewater treatment facility at McLoughlin Point, following a decision today by Minister of Environment Mary Polak and Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development Coralee Oakes. The treatment plant was to be part of the Seaterra Program, established to bring the region into compliance with the Federal and Provincial regulations for sewage treatment.
“It is regrettable that the province has made this decision,” said CRD Board Chair Alastair Bryson. “The Capital Regional District is now unable to implement the provincially approved Core Area Liquid Waste Management Plan and our funding agreements with the federal and provincial governments are contingent on the implementation of this plan.”
The Capital Regional District (CRD) sought direction from Minister Polak and the Provincial Government in April, when the Township of Esquimalt Council rejected the CRD’s revised McLoughlin Point rezoning application.
In May 2011, the CRD adopted the Core Area Liquid Waste Management Plan, which identified McLoughlin Point as the location of the wastewater treatment plant. Under the direction of the Provincial Government, the CRD established an independent Commission to deliver the major components of the program and took significant steps to advance the program including developing a funding agreement outlining the methodology for the construction of a wastewater treatment facility, payment and terms.
The CRD believes that after extensive and exhaustive studies and analysis it developed a program that would have met the needs of the core area municipalities and residents for several decades to come at the least cost to the taxpayers, while meeting the Provincial and Federal regulations.
“Federal funding requires a satisfactory outcome that meets the regulation,” said Core Area Liquid Waste Management Committee Chair Geoff Young. “It is unfortunate that the provincial government would order, agree to fund and then not assist us as they could in carrying out this program.”
The CRD is now faced with the challenge of determining how it can satisfy regional priorities and meet the Federal government deadline of having a wastewater treatment facility in place in the capital region by 2020. It is unclear at this time whether the Provincial government direction will put access to federal funding at risk.
In light of this significant decision, the CRD Board and committee will be meeting on June 4 to discuss next steps and the future of the Seaterra Program.