Langford’s mayor believes Saanich councillors are shirking public process after they refused to forward a 12-hectare property for consideration to the Capital Regional District’s eastside sewage committee.
Saanich council voted 5-4 to block the 12-hectare Watkiss Way site – across the street from Victoria General Hospital – from further consideration as a sewage treatment site, with the majority arguing sewage facilities shouldn’t be built on agricultural land outside Saanich’s Urban Containment Boundary. The boundary protects rural land from most forms of development and would require a public vote to alter, Coun. Judy Brownoff told councillors on Monday night.
“There’s some misunderstanding maybe that we didn’t look at this site, but at the CRD they did (previously) look at this site and evaluate it, high level, and the CRD directors turned this site down,” said Brownoff, who subsequently voted down the proposal along with Dean Murdock, Susan Brice, Vic Derman and Vicki Sanders.
“I don’t support an industrial use like this in the ALR and I don’t support opening up the Urban Containment Boundary,” Brownoff said.
The forested Watkiss Way property is owned by Allen Vandekerkove, who also owns the surrounding properties and is open to either selling or leasing the land to the Capital Regional District or swapping it for another CRD-owned parcel.
On Tuesday, Langford Mayor Stew Young said Saanich councillors are playing politics at a time when they should be engaging the public on finding the best site for sewage treatment.
“I don’t see how politicians think they know better than the experts,” Young said. “Judy Brownoff seems to be a big advocate of not doing anything in Saanich, but she was all in favour of cramming McLoughlin down the Esquimalt mayor’s throat. Now, she can’t even put up her site in a public process. That, to me, is not what you’re elected for.”
The CRD’s $788-million Seaterra program came to a halt in April 2014 after Esquimalt council rejected rezoning for a wastewater treatment facility at McLoughlin Point along the Inner Harbour entrance.
After last November’s municipal elections, the CRD established the Eastside Select Committee, a regional group comprised of regional CRD directors and staff from Victoria, Oak Bay and Saanich who are responsible for evaluating the most publicly acceptable and technically feasible sites for sewage treatment. A similar Westside Committee is comprised of officials from Esquimalt, Langford, Colwood, View Royal and the Songhees Nation.
The committees have already shortlisted sites across the CRD, but had asked private land owners to submit property for evaluation before June 24. The Eastside group required private landowners to get approval from their local council before forwarding land for consideration; no such submission restriction existed at the Westside Committee.
Responding to some of Young’s criticism, Brownoff said it was “unfortunate” Langford’s mayor had spoken out on the matter. She said the Watkiss Way site had already been rejected by the CRD board prior to last November’s election after a “high-level analysis” was done. (An adjacent Vandekerkove site at 1947 Burnside Rd. was evaluated by the CRD in May 2013; at that time, CRD directors shut down the proposal due to the property’s ALR designation and because preliminary CRD staff estimates stated the site would require two additional pumping stations and an overall project cost increase of 23 per cent to $962.7 million.)
“Some of the challenges around this site is you have to collect all the raw sewage from the harbour area where we collect it and pipe and pump it up to this site,” Brownoff said.
Brownoff added the Watkiss Way site also doesn’t adhere to Saanich’s policies around the use of rural and farm lands or those of the Urban Containment Boundary.
“One of our Official Community Plan policies is if we want to open the (Urban Containment Boundary), we must go to referendum or plebiscite of our residents,” she said.
Young said the CRD has already spent around $100 million on the sewage treatment project and achieved very little. He said the Westside and Eastside committees were established “to get the professionals, not politicians, who know what they’re doing to evaluate the site and then bring it forward.”
“The site may not have merit or be picked, but the public has the right to know. You don’t get five politicians together and say, ‘This is no good,'” said Young, referring to the majority vote at Saanich council to reject the site.
“Sure it’s ALR, but it’s in the middle of a forested area, it’s near an interchange, we have residual use for green initiatives right there, and it’s not too small like McLoughlin. This site could do everything on that site and virtually nobody would even see the building.”
Peter Ferguson, an engineer who did preliminary evaluative work on the Watkiss Way site for Vandekerkove, told council the site contained ample space for both wastewater treatment and biosolids processing facilities. Ray Parks of BIM Consulting, also speaking in the interest of Vandekerkove, said VGH had expressed interest in harvesting recovered heat and gas from the sewage treatment process. Parks added that a greenhouse operator had also expressed interest in partnering on the project to use recovered heat.
Coun. Colin Plant noted at the council meeting that sewage treatment sites have already been built on ALR land in both Sooke and on the Saanich Peninsula, and said council should keep an open mind until it has more information. The CRD voted in 2006 to not consider ALR land for the core area sewage treatment facilities.
Young said rather than use the “lame excuse” of protecting ALR land, Saanich should analyze the site “from a viability option.”
“Why would you make a decision that takes out a site with good partners like the hospital for heat recovery and greenhouse production. It does have some merit. If it fails the test, at least the public won’t ask the question about it later. Then we as politicians are very transparent,” he said.
Before the vote was taken on Monday, Atwell had the final word in council chambers: “I think this site has huge potential and this will be a watershed moment in the creation of our sewage project. … This council will essentially be responsible for eliminating an option for the public.”
Voting in favour of the Watkiss Way site for consideration were Atwell, Haynes, Plant and Wergeland.