Watkiss Way site flushed in a political whirlpool

Watkiss Way potential sewage treatment site draws heated public opinion at Saanich Council

Misinformation, competitive politics and a flawed process were among the many opinions from supporters and opponents of the Watkiss Way property, which was voted down as a potential sewage treatment site by Saanich council on Monday.

It was the second time in a month council voted against forwarding the Allen Vandekerkhove-owned site for consideration to the Capital Regional District’s Eastside Select Committee.

Mayor Richard Atwell brought the item back to council knowing the public was highly interested in weighing in on the issue that was defeated 5-4 at the June 22 council meeting, with Coun. Susan Brice, Vicki Sanders, Vic Derman, Judy Brownoff and Dean Murdoch opposed.

The submission deadline for private property sites to the CRD Eastside Select Committee was June 24. Coun. Vic Derman is vice chair of the committee on which also sits Atwell, Brice, Brownoff and Plant.

Despite Murdoch’s absence on Monday, the votes remained the same, with the item was defeated in a 4-4 split.

“I think the process of site selection is broken, we’re making decisions based on council motions and not on technical merit,” Atwell said. “How are we going to design a sewage treatment system that’s technical in nature using this mechanism?”

At this time, councils are getting the first right of refusal for potential sites, and are striking them down now rather than dealing with them later, Atwell added.

“I don’t think private property owners should be rejected outright. No one on council has the technical ability to make those decisions, they’re simply saying we don’t want it in our backyard.”

Ray Parks, a consultant representing Vandekerkhove, said there is a misconception that the owner plans to remove the property from ALR.

“Vandekerkhove never proposed taking the land out of the (Agricultural Land Reserve). In fact, he wants to add land to the ALR. You couldn’t grow rocks there today and you couldn’t grow rocks there in the future, we have soil reports for that … anyone can see if you add 10 acres of green house it’ll be productive.”

Dozens of local residents, from Saanich, View Royal, Esquimalt and Victoria, took advantage of Saanich’s new public forum opportunity, spending nearly an hour-and-a-half expressing opinions on Watkiss.

Some lauded Saanich for its past and present efforts to retain ALR land, while others pointed to situations in B.C. where waste treatment sites do in fact sit on ALR land.

Others accused Saanich of bottlenecking the process, making decisions that should be done by the CRD-appointed experts and committee.

“It’s a difficult decision,” said Coun. Colin Plant. “We’re asking to send the site forward so the public can weigh in, we’re not experts on engineering or the ALC. I hope that it goes forward and the public comes out to speak, and based on the feedback Monday, the amount of indecision [and] controversy around this has me thinking it would be difficult for CRD staff to accept this.”

Atwell and Haynes were both accused of having a conflict of interest, as each received $10,000 and $5,000 respectively from Vandekerkhove’s registered corporation, 360305 B.C. Ltd. on Burnside Road, during their 2014 election campaigns.

Both dispelled the notion of a conflict as there was zero financial gain in their interest. However, it didn’t stop several councillors from bringing the matter up again.

“I was once told and [lived by the rule that] if the thought at all crossed your mind [that someone before council contributed to your campaign] then you should air it out just to be safe,” Sanders said.

Derman expressed great concern over accepting public contributions but also admitted the process for finding and considering private sites is flawed. Despite that, he voted against the Watkiss Way site, citing other reasons of non-feasability.

“This came as a site but we need a solution set, not just a site,” Derman said.

reporter@saanichnews.com

 

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