Saanich council questions board chair over sewage project

Mayor raises concerns over biosolids being transported by pipe to Hartland landfill

Saanich council may have caught the public by surprise on Monday night as just two speakers took the opportunity to ask questions of Jane Bird, chair of the Core Area Wastewater Treatment Project Board.

It was a rare opportunity for members of the public to ask questions of Bird, who accepted Saanich council’s invitation to present an update at committee of the whole.

McLoughlin Point will soon host a 108-megalitre-per-day plant for the tertiary treatment of the region’s wastewater at an estimated cost of $765 million. The partially treated biosolids will be conveyed by a pipeline to a new facility at Hartland, likely to use anaerobic digestion.

Bird spoke for 10 minutes then answered an in-depth series of questions from council, particularly from Mayor Richard Atwell and Coun. Vic Derman.

Atwell launched into a series of questions that quickly drew back to the same issues he raised throughout the summer and in the days following the project board’s Sept. 14 announcement. With growing concern in Saanich regarding a pipe that moves biosolids through the municipality to Hartland, Atwell questioned whether a primary treatment site at McLoughlin is the only legitimate option.

“The numbers aren’t adding up for me,” Atwell said. “If the project board [had 28 options] how did it end up with a plan already created years ago.”

But Bird felt Atwell’s questions had already been answered by project board member Don Fairburn in a previous meeting with Atwell and, after answering a few questions, she invited him to contact her later instead.

Atwell was part of the CRD’s Integrated Resource Management task force which set about researching innovative, cheaper  technologies for the mandated treatment of regional sewage. Coun. Vic Derman chaired the IRM task force, which isn’t being fully heard, he said, adding he believes it is too risky for the project board not to keep an open mind.

“Ms. Bird’s position [Monday] is that we would definitely build a pipeline to Hartland where there will be anaerobic treatment of biosolids,” Derman said. “The public could probably save $100 to $200 million by opening up to different technologies, to gasification or other options, so to not be open to that possibility is a risk of wasting a lot of public money.”

Longtime Saanich resident and activist Harold Wolfe was one of the only two speakers. He asked why Bird and the project team aren’t inviting the industry to bid on the project with different technologies.

“What Wolfe is talking about is competitive negotiation and it’s proven effective,” Derman said.

The other speaker raised concerns that the biosolids pipeline to Hartland will likely come within 100 metres of the main water lines and thereby pose a serious health threat to the drinking water for the Prospect Lake neighbourhood, West Saanich and other nearby areas.

 

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