EDITORIAL: Public opinion triumphs on sewage project

Frantic pace of McLoughlin Point sewage facility meant community buy-in was a mere afterthought

Directors and staff at the Capital Regional District are left with their heads spinning this week after B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak officially refused to force the construction of a wastewater treatment plant at McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt.

Polak’s choice was relatively straightforward: side with the autonomy of a local government or face a backlash of exasperated Capital Region residents.

The CRD wasted no time after Polak’s announcement to wave the white flag, conceding it would abandon all hope of developing the site and suggesting the near two-thirds funding from the province and federal government is now at risk.

Indeed, the future of the Seaterra program itself is now in question, and its fate could be decided at a June 11 CRD board meeting.

But the tipping point has been a long time coming. Greater Victoria residents are upset for good reason: the necessity of community buy-in for this project continues to be little more than an afterthought.

Of course, directors and staff wasted no time establishing an appointed commission and program director to implement the $788-million program, citing a need to move quickly to avoid cost overruns.

Yet it’s exactly this sort of frantic pace that compelled the CRD to sink $17 million into an industrial site on Viewfield Road, only to be left as hesitant landlord when nearby residents understandably felt duped at the prospect of a biosolids plant in their backyard.

The panic to push through rezoning at McLoughlin Point now means hundreds of staff hours were wasted, and we’ve yet to see what fines could be levelled against the CRD when the successful bidder reads the fine print on their contract.

Perhaps the elation felt by many from the meaningful outcome of their participation in public hearings will lapse into cynicism by next week. But as Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins said, at least for today, many in the Capital Region are breathing a collective sigh of relief for a project they thought was long past their influence.

This editorial appeared in the May 30 edition of the Victoria News.