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Sewage treatment foes out in force

Nov 15 2012
Dressed in yellow shirts, foes of Greater Victoria's sewage-treatment plan gather to voice their concerns at a meeting with politicians Wednesday. 

Dressed in yellow shirts, foes of Greater Victoria's sewage-treatment plan gather to voice their concerns at a meeting with politicians Wednesday.

Photograph by: Adrian Lam, Times Colonist , Times Colonist

Opponents of Greater Victoria's sewage-treatment plan descended on a meeting of regional politicians Wednesday, overwhelming the agenda and forcing a delay in a vote on whether to suspend the project.

More than 50 people filled to capacity a Capital Regional District sewage committee meeting room. Most were dressed in yellow shirts with slogans opposing the $783-million treatment plan.

So many people registered to speak to the committee that after two hours of presentations, politicians said they did not have enough time to debate and vote on the issues.

Two motions to suspend the project until 2030 or 2040 - from Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins and Saanich Coun.

Vic Derman - were put off until later in the month.

It's important for the committee to have time for a full debate, said Derman. "I'd hate to see this be a rushed 15-, 20-or 30-minute debate and then a decision made. We need to really talk this out."

Desjardins said she hopes other members of the 14-person committee clearly heard the public's concerns.

Most of the 28 presenters called the CRD sewage-treatment plan flawed and unnecessary, saying the region's unique ocean currents are adequate for treating the 129 million litres of screened sewage that are discharged each day into the ocean.

Former federal environment minister David Anderson, honorary chairman of ARESST (Association for Responsible and Environmentally Sustainable Sewage Treatment), called the plan "a waste of a billion dollars that could be used for some other desirable project with genuine benefits."

He warned the region could be denied future federal funding for other projects because of the expense of sewage treatment. The provincial and federal governments have agreed to cost-share the project with the CRD.

Victoria resident Gray-don Gibson called the CRD politicians "deplorable and unworthy" of elected office if they support the project despite the criticism.

Not everyone agreed. "The idea you could call dumping sewage into the environment 'sewage treatment' is irresponsible and reprehensible in my view," said Christianne Wilhelmson, executive director of the Georgia Strait Alliance.

"There's a term for dumping effluent into the ocean. It's called pollution."

Other presenters expressed confusion at how opposing sides of the treatment debate could have such different interpretations of the same reports and research.

Janet Grey of the Greater Victoria Water Watch Coalition compared the issue to debating biblical scripture, with each side finding different meaning in the same words.

The committee will reconvene Nov. 21 or 28 to hold a vote on the motions from Desjardins and Derman.

Both motions ask the CRD to fight to have Ottawa designate the region a lower pollution risk under federal wastewater regulations, delaying treatment until 2030 or 2040.

Currently, the region is rated a high pollution risk under the federal law and is required to have secondary treatment by 2020.

The CRD's plan calls for a single treatment plant at McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt by 2018.

rshaw@timescolonist.com

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