Minister disappoints mayor

Cindy E. Harnett
Times Colonist
July 23, 2010

The B.C. minister responsible for signing away hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to help fund a sewage treatment plant at McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt is unsure of exactly where the proposed site is, according to the city’s mayor.

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins said she was “disappointed” with her much anticipated meeting with B.C. Community and Rural Development Minister Ben Stewart Friday, after he said, “Oh, McLoughlin Point is in Esquimalt.”

The minister also asked where the borders of the West Shore were. He indicated that he didn’t know exactly where Hartland landfill was, Desjardins said.

Esquimalt’s mayor met with the community development minister as part of her fight to convince the province to reject the proposed location and find another site and better technology for sewage treatment, reuse and recovery.

Stewart, who founded a winery and is from the Interior, was shuffled into his portfolio just over a month ago.

“Since then, he has been diligently working to get up to speed on all of the ministry’s areas of responsibility,” said spokesman Marc Black, in an e-mail.

Before meeting with Esquimalt’s mayor, Stewart met with Judy Brownoff, chairwoman of the Capital Regional District’s Area Liquid Waste Management Committee.

“Although the minister is new, it is important to remember that ministry staff have been working on this file for years and will continue to work with CRD staff on the project as it moves forward,” Black said.

The Community Development Ministry is responsible for funding the province’s portion of the plant, while the Environment Ministry is responsible for its environmental aspects, as well as public consultation.

Esquimalt’s mayor is also scheduled to speak to Environment Minister Barry Penner.

Desjardins said the new Area Liquid Waste Management Plan, which Penner must approve, doesn’t fulfill the environment minister’s mandate that the CRD use new technology in terms of beneficial reuse of resources and generating offsetting revenue.

“I have now had the opportunity to be briefed by staff about the CRD plan,” Penner said in an e-mail.

“I will be considering it over the next while and expect to be able to comment on it soon.”

On June 23, the Capital Regional District board, under pressure to make a June 30 deadline for provincial and federal funding, approved McLoughlin Point as the site for the region’s only treatment plant.

The plant will process liquids and the sludge will be piped about 18 kilometres uphill to Hartland landfill, in Saanich.

McLoughlin Point was chosen because the CRD’s negotiations to purchase the former Budget Steel land on the Upper Harbour fell through. The CRD considered the asking price too high.

While the cost of the sewage plant is a tripartite agreement shared equally among the CRD, the province and the federal government, the CRD must pay the land costs.

The Upper Harbour site would have processed both liquid and solid waste and could have been “a showcase for innovation,” Desjardins said.

On Monday, about 125 people crammed into Esquimalt city hall, largely to support council’s fight to ask the province to find a new site and provide proper public consultation.

Petitions, a referendum and legal avenues were all discussed as ways to stop the project.

“We have to do this. We heard loud and clear from our residents that they feel the way we do that this is not the regional answer,” Desjardins said. “The cost is too great for every resident in this region to not have someone voice concerns about it.”