CRD votes Wednesday on new sewage site

By Kim Westad
Times Colonist
June 20, 2010

Regional politicians will make a key decision Wednesday on where sewage treatment will take place in the region, after an abrupt change in plans that surprised even those who follow the complex project like it’s World Cup soccer.

Last week, the Capital Regional District’s sewage committee came out of a closed-door meeting with a new plan for sewage treatment sites, one that has barely been discussed in public.

It took aback even those who are in favour of the new plan — one centralized sewage treatment site at McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt and overflow tanks in Saanich instead of a second treatment facility. The plan goes to the CRD board for approval Wednesday.

“We’re thrilled but surprised,” said Lance Abercrombie, one of many Saanich residents who lobbied against a treatment plant in a wooded swath of Saanich land called Haro Woods at Finnerty and Arbutus Roads.

Bob Furber, a retired chemical engineer who has long said only one treatment plant is needed if any at all, was surprised at the secrecy around the sewage committee’s decision. “There’s been zero public involvement in this decision, contrary to earlier discussions. It’s just bizarre,” said Furber.

Since the provincial government mandated that regional secondary sewage treatment be in place by 2016, the region’s sewage committee has been grappling with the issue, studying, discussing and arguing about the best way to provide the expensive treatment. Currently, sewage goes through a six-millimetre screen to remove rocks, solids, plastic and floatable materials, which are then disposed of at the Hartland landfill. What’s left flows into the ocean at two main outfalls at Clover Point and Macaulay Point.

Millions of dollars have been spent on engineering studies. Thousands of hours have gone into plans, reports and meetings over the last four years.

At one point, up to 11 small treatment plants were on the table. Two months ago, the CRD told the province two treatment sites were necessary: one on the Inner Harbour, possibly at McLoughlin Point, and the other in Haro Woods in Saanich. The West Shore would have its own facility. That plan is under review by the government.

But that changed at the closed-door sewage committee meeting. The committee now wants an amendment to the plan currently with the government, so it can meet a June 30 funding deadline. The sites must be specified by that date for the project to qualify for funding from the provincial and federal governments. The region alone pays for the land.

The proposed amendment calls for only a large underground tank or tanks in Saanich to deal with water overflow during storms. It also does away with the West Shore treatment site and says the only treatment site needed for the region is one centralized at McLoughlin Point, a 1.33-hectare site previously criticized as too small.

Committee chairwoman Judy Brownoff said much of the in-camera discussion was about land acquisition, which has to be done in private.

The committee’s first choice for an Inner Harbour site was a larger property believed to be the Steel Pacific site on Pleasant Street. It was large enough to deal with both solid and liquid waste and also for an “energy centre,” where energy could be extracted from the treatment process.

However, negotiations for the first-choice site “fell apart,” Brownoff said. As well, the province said the sewage treatment system didn’t have to provide water reclamation, where waste water is cleaned and returned to the environment. That changed the parameters, Brownoff said, and had a domino effect.

The CRD can only propose treatment on land it already owns or has an option on. With that larger Inner Harbour site out of the picture, the committee looked again at McLoughlin Point, a site it has first option to buy.

Because water reclamation infrastructure was no longer needed, the McLoughlin site had more space available for treatment. If only liquids are treated on site, there is enough room at McLoughlin to treat the region’s liquid waste until at least 2030, Brownoff said. The sludge would be piped to Hartland.

Additional satellite facilities in the West Shore or at large new developments could be added, she said.