Victoria sewage project costs increase by $38 million

Capital Regional District votes to uphold ban on human waste as fertilizer – costing taxpayers millions

The cost of Greater Victoria’s secondary sewage treatment project is going up by an estimated $38 million after politicians voted to uphold a ban on human waste as fertilizer.

At an Oct. 30 meeting, Capital Regional District directors were presented with information that argues treated human waste is actually less contaminated than many agricultural manure products.

The commission tasked with overseeing the sewage mega-project said it could save taxpayers $35 million by spreading treated waste on CRD forest lands, a practice already taking place in other B.C. jurisdictions including Nanaimo.

“The risk is minuscule,” said Albert Sweetnam, Seaterra project director in an interview. “That decision (to uphold the ban on the use of biosolids as fertilizer) actually cost taxpayers $38 million.”

Now, the CRD will likely need to build an incinerator to dispose of dried biosolids in addition to a sewage sludge processing facility at Hartland landfill. The project also includes a wastewater treatment plant at McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt and an 18-kilometre underground pipeline and pumping stations between the two sites. An exact pipeline route hasn’t yet been chosen, but Sweetnam said it will won’t cut through private properties.

Sweetnam became the public face of the CRD’s sewage project in September.

His “26-hour days” include functioning as the key liaison between CRD directors, staff, municipal and provincial governments and, perhaps most dauntingly, the taxpayers of Victoria, Oak Bay, Saanich, View Royal, Langford and Colwood.

Recent proposals for smaller, decentralized sewage processing plants would cost at least $2 billion and likely more, he said.

Sweetnam also didn’t rule out the possibility of looking at newer technologies for sewage treatment, but said the technology must be proven.

“Proven means it’s been functioning for at least five years at a facility of comparable size,” he said.

Construction at McLoughlin Point will begin next summer, while Victoria and Esquimalt advisory design committees will get a chance to critique the incoming requests for proposals, Sweetnam said.

“(The CRD) spent a lot of money studying options,” he said. “These decisions are now made, and we’ve actually started building. So the horse is out of the barn.”