With the announcement on April 8th of Mayor Lisa Helps as the new Chair of the Capital Regional District’s (CRD) Core Area Liquid Waste Management Committee (CALWMC), comes a fresh approach to this difficult issue.
Let’s face it, regional sewage treatment has been one of the greatest political, financial and operational challenges presented to this region in the last ten years. It has often pitted communities, local leaders and experts against one another, creating a sometimes fractious debate at the local and regional levels of government, not to mention at the community level.
In the last municipal election in November 2014, sewage treatment was one of the key issues that contributed to the success of incumbent and new Mayors in the core municipalities of Victoria, Esquimalt, Oak Bay and Saanich. Two new Mayors were elected in Victoria and Saanich and two incumbent Mayors were returned to office in Esquimalt and Oak Bay. At the heart of the pre-election debate was the need for sewage treatment that would be both cost effective and efficient. Taxpayers in the core communities have already helped to fund a tab of over $80 million (and counting) on years of studies, reports and the creation of Seaterra, to support a direction that embraced a large centralized system. To date, tangible results remain elusive, despite such a major investment. Moreover, following the loss of McLoughlin Point as a site for the “big plant,” the CRD was left to contemplate the future of sewage treatment and a return to the drawing board, while the clock was ticking on provincial and federal cost-sharing and funding.
Now, with the approval of a year’s extension to get a treatment plan developed and finalized for further approval by provincial and federal authorities, it is hoped that communities on the Westside and Eastside will continue to step up their efforts through a model of collaboration that is already open to new information, engages the public and explores leading edge technologies that could potentially include a system of smaller treatment plants and waste to energy outcomes. This work will no doubt be comprehensive and will require ongoing support from the CRD, support that I suspect will be more proactive with the change in the position of CALWMC Chair.
Only time will tell how new leadership will impact the work of Westside and Eastside communities and the CALWMC but, at this point, for me, Mayor Helps’ appointment gives taxpayers and residents a reason to be hopeful about the future of regional sewage treatment in the CRD.