Sewage train is headed safely for the station-Opinion Article by Director Helps

Feb 05, 2016
Victoria B.C. Last week, editorial writers at the Times Colonist stated with regard to the sewage project: “not even the most confirmed skeptic could have seen the train wreck now emerging.” (“Time dwindles for sewage plan,” Jan. 28.)
When I read this opinion piece, and the many letters to the editor on the topic, I, too, could see how this project could get derailed. That is, until we look at the facts and the process currently underway.
In the summer of 2014, soon after the McLoughlin Point option was firmly put to rest, Colwood, Langford, View Royal, Esquimalt along with the Songhees Nation, formed the West Side Select Committee and got to work on a new plan. On the East Side, it took us a bit longer. After the 2014 municipal election, Oak Bay, Saanich and Victoria formed the East Side Select Committee with a similar mandate: Get the project moving ahead again.
Last fall, after months of work, the select committees came together and engaged consultants Urban Systems and Carollo to cost a series of options with sites, technologies and levels of treatment that had all been generated through public input.
Sounds pretty process-oriented and mundane, to be sure. But that’s the point.
Part of the reason McLoughlin failed is because many people said there were better solutions out there. So we went back to the drawing board. We asked municipalities to lead site selection so there would be no surprises. (Anyone recall when Viewfield Road popped up seemingly out of nowhere?)
We tested these with the public. Then we gave our technical experts all the pieces needed to put together a municipally sanctioned, socially supportable and technically strong set of options.
In this new process, in response to public input, we landed on the potential for tertiary treatment and outlined the costs and benefits associated with a fully tertiary option. We’ve explored and are open to the potential for gasification rather than anaerobic digestion to treat sewage sludge. Gasification
has the potential to integrate other waste streams (kitchen scraps and garden waste to start) and to deliver better value for money.
This process has revealed a wide variety of options. We are now looking for the one that meets multiple objectives and is acceptable to the majority of the public.
At the end of this year-long process, there remain on the one hand those whose only acceptable option is a fully distributed tertiary system with advanced gasification sites scattered throughout the region. Our consultants and technical oversight panel — all highly qualified, capable and independent professionals — have considered this option.
They’ve found that there are many elements of this proposal that can be incorporated into whichever plan we land on. But they’ve given us their independent, professional opinion that the proposal doesn’t meet current provincial regulations.
On the other hand, there are those who seem to be as singularly focused on McLoughlin Point, even though this site was firmly rejected by Esquimalt council and was not put forward by Esquimalt council in this new, municipally led process. And, even though when McLoughlin was at the same high-level cost estimate as are the current options, the price tag was also estimated at $1 billion.
And then, there’s the majority in the middle. We’re committed to the process we’ve all agreed to.
We’ve put forward the agreedupon current options at the website coreareawastewater.ca for public comment and input. We’ll use that input to make a decision by the end of February, keeping open the possibility of the integration of other waste streams.
We’ll continue to work with the provincial and federal regulators and funders to ensure we meet regulatory requirements and secure funding. Just as with the last plan, we’ll undertake value engineering, design optimization and procurement in order to bring the costs down from the current high-level estimates.
To be sure, we’ve got a long way to go before the train reaches the station. To get there safely we must stay focused on the process. And we must drive toward the vision that we all agreed to in the project charter:  “In partnership with the public, the Core Area Liquid Waste Management Committee will deliver a sewage treatment and resource recovery system that is proven, innovative and maximizes the benefits for people and the planet — economic, social, and environmental — for the long
term.”