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Public forum on Victoria's sewage treatment tonight aims to give clarity

Nov 21 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

The long-running debate over Greater Victoria's sewage treatment system will spill over into a public forum in Oak Bay tonight.

The town hall, hosted by community group Open Victoria at the Oak Bay High School auditorium, will feature presentations and a question and answer session from the audience. The event, which is being moderated by journalist Murray Langdon, starts at 7 p.m.

Many people don't understand the project, and the goal is for opponents and proponents of the treatment plan to lay out their scientific and political arguments for debate, said Open Victoria spokesman Derry McDonell.

"I'm hoping that people in the middle will say, 'At least I've heard both arguments clearly, without a lot of rancor or emotion, and I understand now the context of the project, and I can either live with it or can't live with it,' " he said.

Victoria councillor and Capital Regional District sewage director Ben Isitt will speak in favour of the existing $783-million CRD sewage treatment plan, along with University of Victoria professor emeritus Edward Ishiguro, who teaches biochemistry and microbiology, and World-ocean Consulting president Gerald Graham.

Proponents of the plan have said it would end the decades-old practice of discharging screened sewage into ocean outfalls, which some believe is polluting the environment.

Advocates have also said the treatment plan allows the CRD to comply with the provincial government's order for treatment and federal wastewater regulations mandating treatment in the region by 2020.

Saanich councillor and CRD sewage director Vic Derman is set to speak against the sewage plan. He will be joined by University of Victoria Centre for Global Studies director Jack Littlepage and Vancouver Island Health Authority chief medical health officer Richard Stanwick.

Derman said he plans to discuss the lack of a proper risk-based environmental analysis and outline how the bulk of scientific evidence shows there is no emergency situation that requires treatment right away.

Derman said he will also discuss emerging technologies such as microbial fuel cells, which could be ready to use in 10 years, and talk about how fixing the region's stormwater problem and aging sewer pipes could provide more environmental benefit than sewage treatment.

"I'll explain why I think this is the wrong project at the wrong time," Derman said.

"I would put it this way: I think it's quite possibly a bad answer to a question that doesn't need to be answered yet."

rshaw@timescolonist.com

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