Financial plan lacking for sewage project

Economics of treatment project don't add up for reader

Ten of 14 members on the Capital Regional District’s sewage committee are itching to push taxpayers into a huge financial black hole with the CRD’s treatment project, despite the lack of a sensible, conservative financial strategy.

B.C. promises to pay its one-third share of the $783-billion cost when the project is finished – after the CRD proves it works – and after the federal government contributes its one-third share. CRD taxpayers will cover the other third, plus any cost overruns.

The province and feds haven’t signed anything that guarantees their conditional promises. But don’t worry, politicians never go back on their word, do they? And government projects never go over budget, do they?

The proposed system’s effective life is 20 years, give or take. Components such as the concrete should last a long time, unlike other components such as the capacity. The technology could well be obsolete before the plant is complete and the benefits are nil.

If we’re stuck with high cost overruns, reneged promises, operating costs and interest, the potential financial drain on CRD taxpayers could cripple the local economy. The sewage committee’s legacy could be skyrocketing property taxes and utility bills, negatively impacted property values and a higher cost of living, potentially causing people to move out of the region.

Approving the project without an appropriate financial plan is beyond poor judgment. It’s irresponsible, dangerous, high risk and grossly negligent.

Nine days ago, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty forecast higher federal deficits that put election promises in doubt. A week later, he pledged more cash for Victoria, noting that the Building Canada Fund doesn’t expire until 2014. But promises aren’t worth squat.

The CRD can hope for the best, but should provide for the worst by signing sewage-water-tight financial agreements with B.C. and the feds before going a step further. Financial plans B, C and D would help, too.

Norman Clark

Victoria