The owner of a 30-acre Saanich property across from Victoria General Hospital says the site is ideal for the region’s sewage treatment plants, but if the proposal doesn’t clear an administrative hurdle at Saanich council before June 24, regional directors won’t be considering it.
The Watkiss Way property – owned by Allen Vandekerkove – is undeveloped and part of the Agricultural Land Reserve. Vanderkerkove also owns the surrounding properties and says he’s open to both selling or leasing the land to the Capital Regional District to house its wastewater treatment and biosolids processing facilities.
“From a common sense perspective, this is brilliant,” said Ray Parks, a consultant representing the interests of Vandekerkove.
The land sits on the north side of Watkiss Way, and its proximity to VGH means the heat and energy generated by biosolids processing could be piped across the street to one of the largest energy consumers in the region, Parks said.
Creative ideas from Vandekerkove include building 10 to 12 acres of greenhouses alongside the biosolids plant, which could make use of some of the heat energy being generated by sewage processing to help the site retain its ALR designation. Parks suggested greenhouses could even use greywater from the wastewater treatment process to grow ornamental plants.
“We’re wide open to ideas at this point. All we’re saying is give this a fair shake along with all these other properties. If you can put Beacon Hill Park on the list, why not include Watkiss Way,” Parks said.
Last week, a CRD working group known as the Eastside Committee – made up of Saanich, Victoria and Oak Bay directors – eliminated most of the 47 proposed sites for a wastewater treatment plant and biosolids facility within their municipal boundaries. The process was eventually launched after 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.
The Eastside’s top eight “publicly acceptable” sites include areas in Victoria’s Rock Bay, the University of Victoria and the Saanich public works yard. The committee has also asked willing private landowners outside of evaluated technically feasible areas to submit their proposals by June 24.
But unlike the Westside Committee, made up of Westshore communites and Esquimalt, private land needs to first be approved for submission by the relevant local council. That means Parks and Vanderkerkove have to convince Saanich council to say yes, which would then allow feasibility studies to go ahead for the site.
“There’s a fundamental problem with what’s set up here because council can’t decide what they’re going to do with the property before the public’s had a chance to weigh in,” said Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell. “For a property like this to come to Saanich and for us to say we’re potentially not interested before there’s been any public process may not even be legal.”
Atwell added there is precedent for sewage treatment on ALR land and cited the Saanich Peninsula wastewater treatment plant as an example.
Coun. Colin Plant, who sits as a director on the Eastside Committee at the CRD, said he was “hard-pressed” to find a reason not to forward the Watkiss Way site to the regional body for consideration.
“My view as a CRD director is we should be looking at every site that comes forward. We had a reset button pressed, and the East and Westsides may come back together, but this property potentially could serve both areas,” Plant said. “Let’s let the professionals look at it.”
Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins said the Watkiss Way site may be able to serve the entire region, but that public process will help determine if that’s possible.
“By ensuring this proposal goes directly to the technical group for analysis, it allows us to get it into the hopper and it’s out there. Then the public process is allowed to occur on everything.”
Parks plans to present the proposal to council on June 22. Council would still have the authority to vote on rezoning following its evaluation at the CRD.