The options originally presented to the public showed that any solution to the Capital Region’s wastewater concerns would need to run through Rock Bay. But when the dust finally settled, Rock Bay was merely an afterthought in the region’s search for the site for a sewage treatment facility.
The seven municipalities participating in the Capital Regional District project initially identified dozens of possible sites for a plant. But all seven options identified for public consultation by consultants for the CRD’s core area liquid waste management committee included a site in Rock Bay as a critical component. How Rock Bay became featured so prominently is a mystery to many in the community and some around the board table.
“That’s a good question,” said Saanich mayor and committee vice-chair Richard Atwell. “The consultants just all of a sudden made it [Rock Bay] the choice.”
Atwell has closely followed the sewage treatment issue for more than three years, riding the prominence of heading up the RITE plan to the mayor’s office. He didn’t mince words in his opinion of Rock Bay.
“It’s a terrible site. It’s at sea level, it’s clay, it’s not a seismically stable site.”
The decision to step back from Rock Bay came as a blow to the Esquimalt and Songhees First Nations, whose chiefs were visibly upset when the committee voted last month to focus on other sites.
“They want to put McLoughlin, Macaulay and Clover Point back on the table. And then they start arguing against themselves. It’s confusing,” Esquimalt Chief Andy Thomas.
Bob Mason, economic development officer with Esquimalt First Nation, said no thought has been given to alternate uses for the Rock Bay property.
The two First Nations are purchasing 1.7 hectares of the site for $2.8 million and will take ownership once remediation work is completed by current owners BC Hydro and Transport Canada.
“We’re all in on the sewage treatment plant. When it becomes evident that it’s not going to go there, then we’ll look to plan B,” Mason said.
While the sale of the land to the CRD would have injected millions into Matullia, an economic development corporation operated by Esquimalt and Songhees, money from the sale wasn’t the motivating factor for Thomas. He said they have been frustrated by the process and that local First Nations have demonstrated their commitment to protection of the environment.
“We’re in this to clean up the Salish Sea and we want to be part of the solution,” he said.
“They don’t understand our relationship to the land, the water and the resources. It’s our sacred trust.”
The main thing working in Rock Bay’s favour was that the Clover Point site was originally deemed too small for a treatment facility and McLoughlin Point was not put forward by Esquimalt council.
The 3.47-hectare site at Rock Bay is made up of two parcels. BC Hydro and Transport Canada have been working to clean up their lands since 2004 and removed more than 200,000 tonnes of contaminated soil.
The most recent estimate put the price tag for a centralized tertiary treatment plant at Rock Bay at $1.077 billion. The main factor working against the site was $248 million in conveyancing required to pump effluent to outfalls at Macaulay and Clover points, a cost not necessary in a McLoughlin-Clover Point option.
But the conveyancing was just one drawback with Rock Bay. The site would also require construction of a five-metre wall to protect from tsunamis, and Victoria council would also likely have sought millions in compensation for the loss in taxation.
Rock Bay would also exact a toll on Victoria merchants, with the laying of pipe said to cause up to a year of disruption on Cook Street from Dallas Road to Bay Street, then from Bay to Government Street.
What’s been done elsewhere in B.C.?
Since opening in 1961, the Lions Gate Wastewater Treatment Plant has operated as a primary treatment facility and served about 180,000 residents in the District of West Vancouver, the City of North Vancouver and the District of North Vancouver. While its capacity has been expanded several times, the facility is one of two primary level treatment plants remaining in the region.
New regulations, however, require it to be upgraded to a secondary treatment facility. The regional government, facing similar deadlines as Greater Victoria, has until Dec. 31, 2020 to complete a new $700-million plant to be located approximately two kilometres east of the existing treatment plant.
The Regional District of Nanaimo owns and operates four wastewater treatment facilities throughout the region, servicing more than 110,000 residents between Qualicum Beach and Duke Point. Two facilities provide chemically-enhanced primary treatment; the others provide secondary treatment. Wastewater from about 93,000 people in the City of Nanaimo and parts of Lantzville is treated at the Greater Nanaimo Pollution Control Centre. It was built in 1973 for just under $10 million and ended the discharge of raw sewage into the Strait of Georgia. The other treatment facilities were constructed several years later.
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