The Capital Regional District’s Integrated Resource Management task force is hoping a pilot project on the peninsula can get started before the province’s newly created project board makes its final proposals later this summer.
With the project board leading the way, the Capital Regional District’s Core Area Liquid Waste Management committee is on hold for now. But not everything is on ice, as the IRM task force, which includes Saanich Mayor Atwell and is vice-chaired by Coun. Vic Derman, continues to meet.
“We are continuing to find ways to push ahead with a pilot that shows it’s cheaper to combine waste streams in dealing with the waste,” Atwell said. “We’re hoping to take action next month to move forward on procuring a pilot project to combine waste streams.”
The technology is here, Atwell said, for a temporary small-scale gasification pilot project that combines liquid waste residuals and solid waste, such as wood or kitchen waste.
“You need to the dry waste in order to speed up the drying of the sewage material,” Atwell said. “It can then be incinerated or gasified without having to spend money on the drying. Originally, one of the plants was going to cost $250 million to treat sewage, but if we can combine sludge and other waste for $250 million, that would be a win.”
North Saanich, Central Saanich and Sidney already produce a sludge which is treated at the Saanich Peninsula wastewater plant near the McTavish interchange. The pilot would siphon off some of that sewage, possibly to a plant at Hartland or near the Saanich Peninsula wastewater plant.
The Saanich Peninsula wastewater commission has shown support and the CRD board has committed $100,000 to advance it but nothing has come from it yet, Atwell said.
It may be too late, as the Ministry of Environment will have to approve everything including a potential short-term (maximum 15 months) permit that cannot be renewed. Atwell is hopeful, regardless.
In the meantime, the project board has taken over the process of exploring whether Clover Point would make a good location for a sewage treatment plant, taking it out of the hands of Victoria’s mayor and council.
Last week, a handful of directors with the Capital Regional District were hesitant to agree to the terms for establishing a new independent board, driven by the province, that will undertake all aspects of business case planning, site acquisition, project management and expenditures related to the sewage project.
Once a business case is prepared, however, the matter would come back to the CRD for approval.
Nonetheless, some directors weren’t comfortable handing the sewage reins over to the province. One director tried to defer the discussion to another date, calling the decision “an enormous leap of faith,” while another questioned whether those who will be selected for the board are really experts.
“This is a situation where essentially the province is taking control of this project. That could be a good thing if it’s done properly,” said Derman. “I don’t mind somebody else controlling the agenda if they in fact get us to where they need to go. I really worry that they will not, and I will not be able to support this motion at this time based on the lack of certainty of what kind of project they are going to produce.”
On March 9, the CRD board voted to explore building two secondary or tertiary sewage treatment plants at Clover Point and McLoughlin or Macaulay points in Esquimalt, despite an estimated price tag of around $1 billion. The proposal sparked a public backlash in both communities.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, who chairs the CRD’s Core Area Liquid Waste Advisory Committee, said directors have had their chance to come up with a solution, but so far nothing has worked. She’s confident the matter is now being handed to people who are “very competent and capable.”
“They don’t care about the politics of it, they are going to look for the best, most cost-effective solution that can be implemented within the timeline,” said Helps, adding there has been a lot of emotion tied to the project. “It will be much harder for anyone to argue with whatever comes forward.”
Atwell agreed that whatever the project board brings to the CRD board as a solution is likely to get approval, even without knowing what the project board is considering ahead of time.
“I’m having a hard time imagining our vote to be no, we’re up against deadlines and funding,” Atwell said. “A lot of the decisions that were previously made were under timing and funding pressures, and after 10 years we’re still subject to those pressures and they haven’t produced a good project yet.”
Atwell would prefer if the new sewage project board didn’t go into closed-door meetings where CRD directors are not permitted.
“I find that troubling for openness and transparency for the taxpayer,” he said.
Instead, the CRD board will be presented with a solution for the September deadline that’s going be a challenge for any group of people to prepare.
– With files from Pamela Roth