Editorial: Victoria braces for the big flush

Most cities would celebrate the economic benefits of a big influx of provincial and federal money.

When the provincial and federal governments fork over $500 million, most cities would celebrate the economic benefits of a fresh influx of capital.

But after Monday’s announcement that Ottawa and the Province of B.C. will fund two-thirds of the $783-million cost of a regional sewage treatment system, it felt more like a day of reckoning.

The region’s sewer system users – Victoria, Oak Bay, Esquimalt, Saanich, View Royal, Colwood and Langford – now must figure out how to extract their share of cash from residents and councils, both of whom are loathe to increase property taxes.

Raising $281 million for the construction phase isn’t pocket change. That’s $200 to $500 per household each year until the McLoughlin Point wastewater treatment plant, a biosolids treatment plant and improvements to sewage infrastructure, are complete. Operating costs are estimated at $14 million per year after that.

For Victoria residents, it will be interesting to see what the final price tag is for the Blue Bridge. For regional rapid transit, the E&N line is suddenly looking a lot more attractive.

After six years and $18 million spent on sewage treatment planning and studies, the region knew this day would come, but decisions on how to divide costs among sewered municipalities, and how to raise those funds in the first place, have remained on the back burner.

As dismal as it is to start paying a fat new tax to wring clean the city’s effluent, a few positives can be flushed out, beyond not flushing waste directly into the ocean. The region has the opportunity to employ technologies that extract heat (and energy) from sewage, like many European cities have done for decades.

Maximizing resource recovery should be a requirement of the tendering process and not an add-on when the system is done. Recouping costs and easing the taxpayer burden should be priority No. 1. Sewage treatment, too, is an opportunity to examine aging sewer lines in Victoria, Oak Bay and Saanich, some of which have been in service for more than 100 years.

The region’s largest-ever infrastructure project has arrived. Start saving your pennies.