Coun. Dean Murdock has called for a dialogue with Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA) over changes that could impact the urban containment boundary.

Saanich balances need for sewer with rural protection

A Saanich councillor says the public does not need to be concerned about the future of the urban containment boundary that protects rural Saanich from development, but nonetheless calls for measures to preserve its integrity.

“I don’t think we need to sound alarmed,” said Coun. Dean Murdock. But he also hopes that Saanich will have to look for effective mechanisms that will protect the urban containment boundary against the backdrop of a potential policy change by the Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA)

He made these comments after council extended sewer services to two rural residential properties outside the urban containment boundary because of health concerns from VIHA. The regional health authority found both properties unsuitable for septic systems because of their respective “potential” for future health risks.

“Although the application is not in response to a current known health hazard, both Island Health and the applicant’s [Registered Onsite Wastewaster Practitioner], support municipal sewer servicing for this property to mitigate the potential for future environmental and health hazards,” reads the staff report for the application from 4543 Blenkinsop Rd. Similar language appears in the application for 4671 Pipeline Road.

Saanich, in other words, is not responding to actual but hypothetical health threats, and councillors wondered whether these applications marked a language change or a policy change by VIHA that could slowly but irrecoverably break the bounds of the urban containment boundary. As of this writing, the urban containment boundary is congruent with the sewer service area, except for areas where Saanich has already extended sewer service.

Against this backdrop, council asked staff to engage in a dialogue with VIHA. Murdock said during discussions Monday that VIHA might be unaware of the land use implications of its language.

If VIHA continues to insist on sewer extensions on the basis of “potential” rather than actual health threats, Saanich has to come with up a strategic response, said Murdock. “If Island Health continues to take this position, it will require a policy change on the part of the District of Saanich,” he said.

Saanich’s historic policy of restricting residential properties outside the urban containment boundary to septic systems might have run its course after having prevented subdivisions and development, said Murdock.

“If so, I think there is some serious thinking that needs to take place internally within Saanich on what policy mechanisms are available to ensure that intruding beyond the urban containment boundary isn’t going to be possible by virtue of an application to hook up to the sewer service,” he said.

Staff have promised to contact VIHA within the week as part of their search for a long-term solution.

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