Sewage committee sees role for private firms

By Kim Westad,
September 8, 2010

The region’s sewage committee is recommending that secondary sewage treatment be done with a mix of public and private involvement, despite taxpayers’ preference for a completely public model.

The Capital Regional District’s sewage committee voted in favour Wednesday of recommending the board approve a hybrid model of procurement, with the CRD handling almost all the operations and maintenance of facilities but having private companies bid and build most of them.

The region has been mandated by the province to have secondary sewage treatment in place by 2016. Currently, the region’s sewage goes through a six-millimetre screen and is then shot via pipes into the ocean.

The CRD has approved a plan to have one liquids-only treatment plant at McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt, with the sludge left over after the liquid is treated piped 18 kilometres to Hartland landfill (the region is still looking for a closer and less expensive site). Holding tanks would be built in Saanich to deal with excess water, rather than having a second treatment facility.

On Wednesday, the sewage committee had to decide on the business plan — how the project would be tendered, built and managed.

The CRD is to share funding with the provincial and federal governments. The province requires all public capital projects exceeding $50 million to consider a P3 model — a public-private partnership.

Earlier, the region held numerous open houses and talked with residents about their preferred option. The vast majority wanted a completely public model.

However, regional staff recommended a hybrid model that would see the private sector design and build parts of the project, as the CRD doesn’t have the internal resources to build something of this size and scope, project manager Jack Hull said. The CRD would manage most of the project on its completion.

Victoria Coun. Philippe Lucas asked why public consultation was even done, given that the staff recommendation of a hybrid model or a completely private model weren’t what people wanted.

“Why did we ask the public for their preferences on the options? We took a lot of time to poll the public and yet, whenever we get reports from consultants, it seems to ignore what 95 per cent of the public wants,” Lucas said.

Saanich Coun. Vic Derman said politicians should be clear about why some options are recommended over others.

“This is designed to meet provincial requirements and approvals, plain and simple,” said Derman. “Let’s be straightforward and honest about that.”

The province would not approve an entirely public model, he said.

Saanich Coun. Wayne Hunter said the hybrid option “says to the province we’re not just willing to turn it over to private enterprise. We want to monitor and be part of the supervision, and we have an obligation to our residents and the work force in our area.”

Saanich Coun. Susan Brice said the hybrid model recommended is “in keeping with the discussions we had with the public. I believe what we have here is pragmatic, logical and it says what we can do well, we will do well, and what we don’t have the expertise for, we will take out of house.”

The public clearly wanted a sewage treatment system that was publicly operated, Brice said, and that is what they’ll get with the recommended model.

She likened it to be hospital or school being built, where the district involved goes to the marketplace “where the knowledge is and you buy it up.” But the managing, overseeing and policy decisions made about the project will remain with the CRD.