The long journey that our sewage treatment planning has taken in the Capital Regional District is all too familiar to most of us.
The latest chapter began in September when a B.C. Liberal government project board and the CRD created another plan.
This was very similar to an earlier proposal and includes a regional sewage plant in Esquimalt that will treat the sewage, release liquids into the ocean and pump the remaining solids through a pipeline to Hartland Landfill in Saanich.
After this decision was made I received many emails and calls from constituents, most expressing frustration or outrage at different aspects of the plan. A majority of the people who contacted my office live in the Prospect Lake and Willis Point area. Their drinking water is from wells, and a top concern I heard was that this plan puts their water supply at risk.
Residents in both communities asked me to help organize a public meeting. They wanted answers to their specific questions and they wanted their concerns addressed. They did not want a repeat of what has happened before: they are “consulted” after decisions have already been made.
I wrote to the project board on Oct. 6 proposing meeting dates for the end of November. I made it clear that the goal of this public meeting was to have an amicable and efficient Q&A session attended by CRD or project board representatives who could speak knowledgeably to the issues under discussion. To that end my constituency office was prepared to assist in outreach, including collating questions that would be provided in advance of the meeting. We also offered to organize the public meeting and cover the costs.
On Oct. 11, I received a response from the project board refusing my offer and informing me that they would be undergoing their own consultation process.
I replied expressing my disappointment that the board wouldn’t entertain participating in a community meeting moderated by myself as the MLA for Saanich South and attended by the Willis Point Community Association and Prospect Lake District Community Association. I pointed out that affected communities have a reasonable expectation of being updated on plans at the beginning of such a process and that delays create unnecessary anxiety and are inconsistent with the principle of transparency. The community expects the opportunity to offer feedback and input before decisions are made rather than being informed after the fact and being presented with proposals that are in fact finalized.
I reiterated that this meeting was not intended to berate the CRD or rehash the past decade. I asked the project board chair to reconsider her decision but to date I have not received a reply or response to my email. It has been over two months.
As the MLA for an area that will be significantly affected by this project I am troubled by the project board’s failure to fully and openly engage with residents and local resident associations. It is a warning sign that we are again advancing a sewage treatment plan that lacks local accountability and a social licence.
I again call on the project board to meet publicly with local residents and show good faith by answering their questions and addressing their concerns. I remain ready and willing to help facilitate this process.
Lana Popham is the MLA for Saanich South.