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Flush sewage treatment project, foes urge

Sep 26 2012

As potential bidders are set to attend an information meeting around building a secondary sewage treatment plant for Greater Victoria, a group opposed to the development has begun cranking up their protest to knock the deal down.

On Thursday, the Capital Regional District will host a procurement information session at the Hotel Grand Pacific in Victoria, from 1 to 4: 30 p.m., to answer questions about the components of the Core Area Wastewater Treatment Program and what the regional district will look for from builders.

Meanwhile, a group opposed to the secondary sewage treatment plant in Victoria is launching its protest to try to cancel the project, which has a pricetag estimated at $782.7 million.

The Association for Responsible and Environmentally Sustainable Sewage Treatment (ARESST) unveiled its "stop a bad plan" campaign, Monday. David Anderson, former Liberal MP for Victoria, is the group's chairman.

ARESST maintains the most environmentally friendly method of treating Victoria's sewage is the existing method. Sewage is sieved through a six-millimetre metal screen before it is piped about a kilometre into the Juan de Fuca Strait.

The CRD's proposed secondary sewage-treatment plant consists of three projects: The McLoughlin Point wastewater treatment plant in Esquimalt, a biosolids energy centre proposed for Saanich and piping-system upgrades.

This year, a provincial order to treat the core's sewage was compounded by federal regulations that required the CRD to have a new waste-management system working by 2020.

The CRD's plan is expensive, Anderson said, adding it doesn't give a substantial environmental or economic benefit and is an expenditure that no level of government can afford to finance right now.

"Why do it?" Anderson asked. "We're entering an economic period where it's expected tax revenue will decline. We need every tax dollar."

Until the provincial and federal governments actually sign a formal agreement, Anderson believes there's time for both levels of government to pull out and for Greater Victoria to get an exemption from the federal regulations. "The money is not yet spent," Anderson said.

ARESST's campaign includes a petition to be shared among the seven municipalities that are part of the Core Area Wastewater Treatment Program, a letter-writing campaign and a public meeting at St. Ann's Academy on Oct. 3 at 7: 30 p.m.

Judy Brownoff, director of the CRD Core Area Liquid Waste Management Committee, said the current proposal is a "living document" that is evolving.

People who don't like it should suggest changes they want to see rather than trying to argue the science of whether Victoria needs to treat its sewage: "That train has left the station," she said.

"If they don't believe we need to treat our sewage they should have had that fight ... before [the federal government] changed the regulations," Brownoff said.

"The new federal regulations have come out and we have to meet them today. We have to move forward," Brownoff said. "The fines under the Fishery Act can be $500,000 a day. And, if you disobey, you can go to jail."

If ARESST somehow convinced the federal and provincial governments to break their monetary commitment to the project, the CRD would still have to treat its sewage - the only difference being it would have to pay the entire bill, Brownoff said.

The federal contribution for the project will be up to $253.4 million, the provincial contribution is a maximum of $248 million and the Capital Regional District provides the balance, estimated at $281.3 million.

The project is expected to be up and running by March 31, 2018.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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