Flawed sewage plan pushed as done deal

Esquimalt, Victoria residents not consulted on liquid waste plant

By Barb Desjardins
Times Colonist
July 07, 2010

Saanich Councillor Judy Brownoff paints a rosy picture of decisions made on sewage treatment that are not at all rosy in “McLoughlin Point is the obvious choice” (June 29).

Brownoff, chairwoman of the Capital Regional District’s core liquid waste management committee, defends the latest plan to have only one liquid waste treatment plant at McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt.

But the committee has failed to meet the provincial environment minister’s directives for liquid waste management in some key areas.

The Environment Management Act says, “The minister may not approve a waste management plan unless the minister is satisfied that there has been adequate public review and consultation with respect to the development, amendment and final content of the waste management plan.”

The CRD failed to undertake public consultation with the communities of Esquimalt and Victoria on putting a plant on McLoughlin Point.

It has held only general open houses in these areas, compared to the significant engagement process that occurred for Saanich East and Oak Bay when plants were proposed for those areas.

The CRD has set up two more open houses, but they will not allow public review of the plan.

In the district’s words, “The CRD is engaging with the community of Esquimalt so that residents may give feedback and suggestions on mitigation and community benefits to lessen the impact of hosting a wastewater treatment facility.”

Residents are not being consulted on the plan, as required under the law. They are being presented with a done deal.

I voted against this plan as a member of the waste committee because of the lack of information on cost, transportation, location and treatment for the biosolids component.

If McLoughlin Point is the sole liquid waste treatment site, the biosolids — sludge — will have to be transported somewhere else for treatment. And at this point, there is no real certainty about where that will be.

The main option appears to be transporting sludge 18 kilometres to the Hartland landfill, but the environmental, social and economic costs are still unknown.

I would encourage everyone to look at how this will be done — perhaps through their neighbourhoods.

The current plan is to build a pipeline, but as plans have changed many times and without warning, residents can’t have confidence that this will happen.

There has been no public consultation regarding this component of the project, either.

The environment minister was also clear in requiring resource recovery and revenue generation as part of the treatment plan.

But there is no evidence that these requirements have been fully addressed in the current model. This also raises concern there will be added costs, above the $782-million project estimate, to realize resource recovery.

The only resource recovery left in this plan is the sale of biomethane, with the residual dry biosolids, to cement kilns and the recovery of phosphorus for formation of struvite.

Optimum revenue generation from resource recovery comes from the solid and organic waste components. We have not included these wastes in this plan despite the minister’s direction to do so.

In Edmonton, the city receives $135 million in revenues from waste processing and is moving to 90 per cent waste diversion. Halifax, San Francisco and Oakland have similar targets.

The insignificant revenues projected by the CRD are far short of what can be achieved.

I also could not support the current proposal because of the concerns and unknowns regarding the McLoughlin site.

These were expressed by CRD’s expert peer-review panel and by consultants and include concerns about the size of the site, the unknowns regarding contamination and cleanup costs. The fact that this site is within the provincial tsunami zone and new information regarding climate change, rising sea levels and increasing storm surges must be considered within the environmental impact study for this site. This study has not been completed.

My final reason for not supporting this new plan is the significant cost to residents of this region. Although the costs have come down by $400 million, the cost of $200 to $500 per household per year is staggering. With current municipal taxation allocation weighted heavier to business, I cannot even fathom the impact of such an increase to businesses of the region.

This is not a rosy picture — and the smell will certainly not be of roses if treatment is done in the wrong way.

Barb Desjardins is Esquimalt mayor and its representative on the CRD board. She is a member of the liquid waste management committee.