Secondary Sewage Saga (continued)
Currently proposed is a big secondary or tertiary sewage treatment plant on fee simple First Nations land, in the Rock Bay area, and other potential sites located elsewhere. The option of a solids processing plant at Hartland Landfill still remains, along with pipelines between Hartland and Rock Bay. There is also the possibility of gasification facility to process sludge and kitchen scraps, with residual solid waste (garbage) being used as a feedstock that would produce energy and extend the life of the Hartland Landfill indefinitely. Large force main pipelines between Rock Bay and the Clover Point pump station (and outfall) and Rock Bay and the Macaulay Point (and outfall) are both real possibilities.
The CRD is the lead government body responsible for implementing sewage treatment. This is because they have responsibility for trunk sewers, pump stations and the shore-based pump and screening plants located at Clover Point and Macaulay Point. Local neighbourhood collector sewer lines that connect directly to homes, apartments, condo buildings, commercial and industrial sites are owned and maintained by the 7 municipalities up to the connection point with the CRD trunk sewers.
So what has the CALWMC, CRD staff and consultants accomplished in the 3½ years since the federal government ordered the 7 core municipalities to implement sewage treatment? And since the BC Ministry of Environment warned the CRD in 2007 to implement sewage treatment?
New federal government regulations on sewage discharge into the ocean came into effect in 2012. The CRD currently screens sewage to remove material larger than 6 mm and skims some additional materials before discharging the liquid via long outfalls at Clover Point and Macaulay Point into Juan de Fuca Strait.
Under the new regulations, these outfalls are deemed to be ‘high risk’, a classification requiring treatment to be in place by 2020. Three federal grants totalling $253 million were announced and the Province promised $248 million. One component of the federal grants is from P3 Canada and is intended to involve the private sector. No Provincial funds will be advanced until the system is fully functional, meaning funds must be borrowed in the interim.
A plan for a centralized secondary treatment plant on property purchased by the CRD at McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt failed to gain public approval. Another ill-conceived plan, made behind closed doors (in camera) for a sludge treatment plant in two Viewfield Road warehouses in Esquimalt, also failed. The CRD retains ownership of this secretly purchased real estate, having spent $17 million of your money to purchase the warehouses. The CRD subsequently leased back the warehouses for a one year period to the original sellers, but the properties now appear vacant.
The CRD has completed only one component of the sewage plan, the construction of new Craigflower pump station, which was required regardless to meet the growing needs of West Shore.
A significant amount of money has now been spent, ($65 million and counting), and only a portion may be eligible for reimbursement from the senior government grants (those grants cannot be used for land purchases). After these failures, the CRD went back to the drawing board.
The planning, design, site selection, treatment types and funding allocation from the 7 separate municipalities are all coordinated by the CRD. This has made a complex system even more complex. Turf protection and NIMBYism have prevailed throughout the process.
The CRD released a Request for Proposal (RFP) for a treatment plant at McLoughlin before Esquimalt Township had received any drawings or specifications. The RFP included a payment of $250,000 to each of three pre-approved contractors to design and bid on a proposed wastewater treatment plant. Again, this was without any approvals from the Township of Esquimalt.
None of of the three submitted proposals fit the McLoughlin site footprint without reducing the site setbacks. Esquimalt received the drawings from the winning bidder via the CRD, along with an application from the CRD to reduce the setbacks to accommodate the treatment plant. Esquimalt Council held two nights of public hearings with many people speaking against the application.
Council subsequently refused the setback changes, preventing the CRD from proceeding with the plant at the McLoughlin site. The CRD then requested BC Minister of the Environment Mary Polak to overturn Esquimalt Council’s decision under the Environmental Management Act. The Minister refused.
Left without the setback changes, the CRD offered an incentive to cover Esquimalt’s share of the capital costs, and also offered to barge supplies between McLoughlin Point from Rock Bay to reduce truck traffic through Esquimalt. All efforts failed and the first sewage treatment plan came to an end.
The CRD then began on a new course of action. The 7 municipalities were asked to identify potential sites for consideration for distributed sewage treatment plants.
Colwood offered one site, Esquimalt offered and then withdrew their town centre as a site. Victoria offered remediated lands in the Rock Bay industrial area. Neither Oak Bay or View Royal offered sites for evaluation.
Alan Vandekerhove, owner of land on Watkiss Way adjacent to the Victoria General Hospital (VGH) approached Saanich Council with a site offer. A portion of this land is in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) and the site is situated away from residential housing, yet close enough to VGH to provide a source of heat and energy. Saanich Council voted against the site by a close margin and a second attempt to offer the land for consideration also failed to obtain Council approval. The main sticking point was the use of ALR land.
The Watkiss Way land was heavily treed. After the site was rejected, the owner, with legal approval, removed the trees to create a future hayfield.
It is important to note that a precedent had already been set using ALR land for sewage treatment. When the Saanich Peninsula Wastewater Treatment plant was built, a portion of land was in the ALR. A land swap was offered to place a similar piece of arable land into the ALR to replace the removal of the land required for the sewage treatment plant.
A number of different secondary sewage treatment models, with a variety of plants, were developed during the fall of 2015. Preliminary cost estimates for these options were released in early December 2015, ranging upwards of $1.0 - $1.3 billion.
Typical annual charges for representative homes (average priced homes) in various municipalities were released ($252 - $583) and two open houses were scheduled for December 12 and 15.
At the December 9 CALWMC meeting, the excellent Technical Oversight Committee proposed some new innovative technological ideas that were not part of the options developed thus far.
Also, an idea presented in mid-2014 was re-introduced and Langford Director Denise Blackwell asked that an option be developed for a West Shore treatment plant, with its own outfall into Juan de Fuca Strait. This raised the possibility of West Shore municipalities banding together and taking a portion of the federal and provincial grants with them.
The CALWMC cancelled the two open houses until the new year and tasked CRD staff and their consultants with incorporating the additional proposals, fully costed, and rescheduling the open houses. This places pressure on staff over what is a busy season for everyone.
The constant push to have everything in place for March seems unrealistic. Yet so far, CALWMC has not been able to agree to re-set the project schedule. Some directors wanted to ask the federal government to reclassify the outfalls to 'medium risk', which would push the date for treatment back to 2030. However, these attempts failed.
The complex cost sharing formulas at the December 9 CALWMC meeting had some Directors very concerned. The distributed models consisting of several plants, where some plants would serve a single municipality, were to be charged to those municipalities only, significantly raising the charges to home and business owners therein. It seems a strange way to share costs between municipalities, since any upstream plants would reduce the flow at the end point plants, resulting in lower volumes to be treated there. The higher costs for these distributed system options were likely the reason West Shore communities wanted to consider a West Shore plant with its own outfall.
The CALWMC seems to be divided into two camps: One camp wants to pursue innovative solutions and incorporate the potential for gasification (to generate energy) and the feasibility of reclaiming water and tertiary treatment (a higher level).
The other camp favours a single secondary plant that will comply with the federal regulations. Costing for various models seems to be all over the map, and perhaps some more meaningful figures will be forthcoming early in 2016, including life cycle costs rather than just initial capital costs. Life cycle costs would include potential energy recovery, treated water reuse, etc.
Another significant CRD event on December 9 was the election of Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins as Chair of the CRD Board. The previous Chair, Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen, lost his bid for re-appointment on the second ballot, after a first ballot tie. "I think we can do better", said Desjardins.
The saga continues. Stay tuned in 2016.
- Colin Nielsen