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Critical vote Tuesday on next step for sewage treatment in Greater Victoria

Nov 25 2012
People attend a meeting Nov. 14 on whether to suspend the capital region's sewage treatment project. The group was so large that the vote was delayed until Tuesday. 

People attend a meeting Nov. 14 on whether to suspend the capital region's sewage treatment project. The group was so large that the vote was delayed until Tuesday.

Photograph by: Adrian Lam , timescolonist.com (Nov. 2012)

Critics and advocates of a $783-million plan to treat Greater Victoria's sewage are launching last-ditch efforts to influence this week's vote on whether to suspend the project.

The Capital Regional District's sewage committee will on Tuesday consider two motions that could delay the project until 2040, by demanding the federal government reclassify the region as a lower risk for sewage pollution.

Politicians were supposed to vote two weeks ago, but had to delay after a large group of people - most opposed to the plan - spent two hours delivering public statements to the committee.

The growing opposition movement prompted Tourism Victoria and the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce to issue a joint statement Friday in favour of building treatment plants without delay.

"The fact we're even considering stalling it is ludicrous," said Chamber CEO Bruce Carter. The region prides itself on protecting the environment, and dumping sewage into the ocean is unacceptable, he said.

The current plan calls for a secondary treatment plant at McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt by 2018.

It's not realistic to delay for 20 years, Carter said.

"If we wanted to wait for the best technology, we wouldn't ever do anything until we get it," he said.

"We'd probably still be riding horses and nobody would be using cellphones, because the day you buy it, the technology is being surpassed. The same thing is happening with sewage treatment."

CRD politicians also received a letter from environmental law group Eco-justice, warning that suspending the project could lead to legal consequences by potentially violating a provincial order to treat sewage, as well as federal wastewater regulations, contaminated site regulations, the Fisheries Act, and Species at Risk legislation on polluting resident killer whale habitats.

"What we're simply saying is, if the CRD was to entertain the motion [to suspend], first, they don't understand the law, and secondly, by doing so, they run afoul of those orders and that itself puts them in some jeopardy," said Devon Page, Ecojustice executive director.

The letter seems like a bullying tactic, said Richard Atwell, organizer of Stopabadplan.ca, but he hopes it will prompt the CRD to re-examine the law for wiggle-room to get more time.

"They were basically browbeating the CRD," he said of the Ecojustice letter. "They were intimidating councillors to vote a similar way - which isn't great, but is their style."

Atwell's group, which believes the current project is too expensive and has little environmental benefit, is advocating the plan be suspended and reworked into something better. Supporters have been organizing a mass letter and phone campaign to directly contact each of the 14 politicians on the sewage committee.

"Given that neither an environmental impact assessment or a cost benefit analysis has been done, it would behoove us to take a second look at the project before committing such an enormous sum of money to ensure that it is the best solution that is sustainable over the long term," Atwell said.

Another group in opposition to the plan, ARREST, is warning that the CRD's own maps show it would have to dig a path through Beacon Hill Park and along Dallas Road to lay a pipeline to Ogden Point.

Such a path could disturb archeological ruins and disrupt and damage the park, said researcher Elizabeth Woodworth.

The Tuesday CRD meeting won't allow public speakers because it's a continuation of an earlier meeting. A regularly scheduled CRD sewage meeting, with opportunities for the public to speak, is set for Wednesday.

rshaw@timescolonist.com

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