The Core Area Sewage Debate






My View 


While I admit that I have never been directly involved in the region’s current sewage debate and proposal, I did serve for three years on the Saanich Peninsula Wastewater Commission that oversees the Saanich Peninsula Treatment Plant, a small seemingly effective operation that serves the municipalities of North Saanich, Central Saanich and Sidney.  It also runs a new waste-to-energy pilot project.  

So it was with interest that I read former Federal MP, Cabinet Minister and Oak Bay resident David Anderson’s timely Op Ed pieces in the July 2012 editions of the Times Colonist.  He captured what I believe are significant and valuable points about the proposed CRD sewage treatment model for the urban core.

As you know, the debate on both sides of this issue has been ongoing for the past few years following the demand by senior governments that Victoria treats its sewage.  Whether you believe that Victoria needs conventional sewage treatment or not, there is no denying that the cost of this project is huge.

Protecting human health and our environment have always been priorities for me.  But in this particular case, it appears that politics and science do not line up, which leaves many of us in a real quandary about the viability and necessity of this particular project and with questions about its impact on the local environment beyond our marine habitats.  For example, are we putting at risk groundwater and land-based habitats because of a 17 km. pipeline over land to Hartland Landfill that will carry sludge?  We know well from oil and gas industry episodes that pipelines leak.   

Conventional sewage treatment on this scale requires massive amounts of water to keep it running, despite the fact that local communities and the CRD have worked diligently during the past decades to enforce regional water conservation.  The land-based model could also potentially add to air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions because of complex and costly land-based disposal of sludge or bio-solids.

And what about the potential for innovative waste-to-energy projects and water re-use?  Such components seem to be missing from this proposal, as are other sewage treatment options such as small de-centralized community treatment plants and on site technologies.  Also missing is a detailed analysis and environmental assessment of two important factors that impact local pollution — storm water management and source control.

From an overall environmental sustainability point of view, therefore, does this proposal make sense? 

From a taxpayer perspective, many feel that this project is being forced on already burdened taxpayers who are provided with no other options.  Once built, the project may include an average tax lift per household of about $400 a year but depending on whom you believe, on where you live and on the accuracy of current cost estimates, the per annum tax burden seems to be a moving target.  Some suggest that in Oak Bay alone, the annual additional per household increase to taxpayers could be much more than recent CRD estimates, which so far top out at approximately $900.

When it comes to cost sharing by other governments, it appears there is no real guarantee either, especially from the Province.  Local MLA Ida Chong has already said that her government will not pay one penny until the project is completed, which could be at least seven or eight more years away.  The Federal Government’s commitment is just about one third of the total estimated cost, which I understand may not cover any cost overruns, always a possibility with projects of this magnitude.

I also understand that under the Provincial government’s Property Tax Deferral Program, the additional annual property taxes specific to this project may not be eligible for deferral.  How then would this impact those homeowners already on the margins financially who rely on property tax deferral for some relief?  Will paying for this sewage project put home ownership out of reach for them and for our fixed-income seniors, single income earners and young families?

What is also troubling is that the CRD seems headed lockstep down the road to a destination that reads “Welcome to the 18th Century.”  Traditional sewage treatment is an old outdated technology and this is 2012.  

I realize that local decision-makers have worked long and hard on this proposal but many taxpayers, other community leaders and many in the science community still believe that the region could do better.  I tend to agree.

That’s my view.