On Monday, Esquimalt council refused the Capital Regional District’s proposal to rezone McLoughlin Point as the future home of the region’s long-awaited sewage treatment facility. The CRD’s proposal would have seen the creation of a processing plant, integration of a public walkway and improvements to surrounding infrastructure.
Instead, Esquimalt endorsed its own plans for the site, including mandatory barging of construction materials into the site, additional public facilities and yearly cash contributions for further improvements to the area – a plan already declared impossible by the CRD. The CRD has the option to appeal to the province to override Esquimalt’s decision, and both critics and supporters have already pointed to this as the most likely course of events.
This isn’t the first time the CRD has found itself in deep sewage over its handling of this project, now nearly a decade in the making. Since day one, critics have cast doubt on everything from prospective designs to the necessity of secondary treatment itself.
At this point there can be little doubt that simply flushing raw sewage into the Strait of Juan De Fuca – along with the detergents, road runoff, antibiotics and other chemicals it contains – is a bad idea. However, anyone who has been keeping up with the news can tell you that critics of the $783 million project won’t be running out of complaints any time soon.
In a recent example, earlier this month the CRD abandoned plans to build a sludge plant on 1.5 hectares of land nestled in Esquimalt’s industrial park. During last-minute public consultation on the idea, folks from across the region made their opposition abundantly clear when citizens turned out in droves to issue their vociferous condemnation. Unfortunately, the CRD had already purchased the Viewfield Road site in secret for a cool $17 million – a blunder for which taxpayers are footing the bill.
Opposition to the CRD’s plan has been vicious, and supporters have often responded in kind. Criticism from both citizens and politicians has been met with derision or dismissal by the project’s creators, and even within the halls of power representatives from half the region’s municipalities have had concerns repeatedly ignored by politicians and administrators in favour of the current plan.
Adding more fuel to the fire, earlier this month Esquimalt council demanded the resignation of CRD vice-chair Denise Blackwell after she publicly criticized the municipality’s opposition to current sewage treatment plans. Soon after, CRD chair Alastair Bryson politely declined the opportunity to dismiss Blackwell, expressing his “full confidence in (her role) in the CRD.”
After denying the CRD’s proposal on Monday, Esquimalt issued its own plea to the province, this time asking that the government place all funding for sewage treatment on hold until an independent audit of the entire project is completed. Should the municipality’s request go unheard, Saanich Coun. and longtime sewage treatment critic Vic Derman plans to bring forward a similar motion for consideration by the CRD board, demanding “an extensive, independent review of the current project” before any further work is done.
In its selection of the Viewfield sludge plant site, the CRD ignored public opinion until the last minute. In the rush to break ground at McLoughlin Point, it ignored Esquimalt council and again dismissed public outcry. Even if the CRD succeeds in appealing to the province to force sewage treatment forward in its current form, this week’s events have made it clear that opposition will continue to grow until the district finds some much-needed humility.
Simon Nattrass’ opinion column appears Fridays in this newspaper and at vicnews.com.