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Foes renew battle against sewage megaproject

Nov 10 2012
Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins, seen here at McLoughlin Point, continues to call for the liquids-only and biosolids plants to be integrated at a single site elsewhere. 

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins, seen here at McLoughlin Point, continues to call for the liquids-only and biosolids plants to be integrated at a single site elsewhere.

Photograph by: Darren Stone , timescolonist.com

A strong resurgence of opposition to Greater Victoria's sewage treatment plan could derail the megaproject at a meeting of politicians next week.

Two of the 14 directors on the Capital Regional District's sewage committee plan to force a vote that would delay the $783-million plan.

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins and Saanich Coun. Vic Derman say their separate motions would lead the CRD to challenge the federal government's wastewater regulations, which currently deem Greater Victoria a high risk and mandate secondary treatment by 2020.

They want Ottawa to lower the CRD's risk rating, potentially making treatment unnecessary until 2040.

"If they insist we do something stupid, they have the power," Derman said of the federal government. "But I think we should go kicking and screaming."

Derman has tried more than a dozen times over the past four years to redirect, change and stall the treatment plans.

He has been largely outvoted by a large block of other members from Saanich, Victoria and Langford, though he has found allies at times in View Royal, Esquimalt, Colwood and Oak Bay.

The two motions by Desjardins and Derman have at least some support from other politicians, though it's unclear if it's enough to pass.

"Many people are starting to feel uncomfortable around the table with where we're at," Desjardins said.

"I'm really trying to get our committee, and therefore the board, to stop and take a breath and stop this plan from going forward as it is."

Greater Victoria currently screens sewage for solid items and discharges it into the ocean at Macaulay and Clover points.

The provincial government ordered treatment in 2006. The CRD is planning to build a treatment plant at McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt by 2018.

The $783-million cost would be shared with the federal and provincial governments.

Opposition to the plan has risen sharply in the last few months, Derman said. It doesn't benefit the environment and will financially limit the region's ability to pay for more important future projects, he said.

"The general public now is in the range of 60 to 75 per cent saying, 'What are you guys doing? This is a waste of money,' " Derman said.

He said he believes sewage treatment is ultimately necessary, but should be designed in the future when better treatment technologies are available, which could provide more resource recovery at less cost.

The federal government doesn't appear interested in a delay or change of plans, according to a recent letter.

In a Nov. 6 letter to be discussed by politicians on Wednesday, Environment Canada's manager of wastewater programs told the CRD there are "no exceptions or exemptions" to its wastewater regulations.

Meanwhile, citizen advocates have more than 2,200 signatures on a petition opposing the treatment plan, and plan to be out in force to protest outside Wednesday's CRD meeting, said Richard Atwell, organizer of stopabadplan.ca.

He said 338 protest letters have been sent to local politicians, MLAs and MPs.

"There's a lot of momentum pushing this forward," he said.

"It's going to take an equal amount of momentum to push it back."

rshaw@timescolonist.com

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