Processing sewage treatment in the CRD

By Leslie Campbell, April 2015

And you wonder why it all takes so much time…

The Westside Wastewater Treatment and Resource Recovery Select Committee (aka “Westside Solutions”) recently issued the results of an online survey done during December and January.

The committee, with representation from Esquimalt, View Royal, Colwood, Langford, and the Songhees Nation, is attempting to evaluate options and recommend sites for potential sewage treatment and resource recovery for those communities. The survey, with 345 respondents, was conducted in conjunction with six open houses. It found that most people place greatest priority on environmental concerns. Treatment costs were chosen by the second highest number of respondents as top priority.

Respondents also prioritized “build potential for resource recovery,” and then listed the top three features as “odour control,” “hidden from sight” and “minimizing costs to taxpayers.” People were definitely opposed to shipping the solids to another location, preferring everything to be treated on the same site.

The Westside Solutions committee admitted that answers to some of the questions indicate “it is clear that continuing to talk to citizens to have a common understanding of both the issues and solutions is needed.” Towards that end, a series of roundtables and public information sessions over the coming weeks is planned. (See www.westsidesolutions.ca)

Meanwhile, the Eastside Wastewater Treatment and Resource Recovery Select Committee was also attempting to move forward on public consultation by selecting 10 members for the Eastside Public Advisory Committee—one from Oak Bay, four from Victoria and five from Saanich. It purposely includes activists who’ve been deeply engaged in the sewage treatment question, as well as others new to the issue. The only mandate this citizens group has is to advise on the public consultation strategy of the Eastside’s process. Their first meeting took place March 18.

One of the more interesting exchanges on the subject of processing sewage, indeed of process itself, took place on March 11, at a meeting of the CRD’s general sewage committee (aka Core Area Liquid Waste Management Committee). Chair Nils Jensen was upbraided by several  committee members for how he conducted that meeting, and CRD staff were reprimanded (again) as well. 

Jensen had invited Stantec engineer Dr Robert Simm to come and talk about gasification at the meeting. (Stantec is the CRD’s project management consultant for the $788 million sewage treatment project.)

The chair spent close to half an hour interviewing Simm, somewhat like he might lead a friendly witness for the prosecution in a trial in which gasification was the accused (Jensen is a Crown prosecutor).  

Saanich councillor Vic Derman, pointing out that it was the second time in three meetings in which the chair had done such a thing, said, “To sit here and listen to a back and forth between the chair and speaker for half an hour before anyone even gets to ask a question—and no presentation is given essentially—is just not appropriate.”

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins was visibly angry about the series of events that had led up to the Stantec engineer’s appearance that morning. She explained that one of the RFTIs (Request for Technical Information) received by Westside Solutions—one that advocated gasification as part of the treatment process—had been shared by CRD staff with Seaterra commissioner Albert Sweetnam, who then shared it with Stantec, who then called and questioned the technology firm—“without consultation with the submitter, without consultation with Westside.” That proponent, she said, “has now withdrawn their [RFTI] due to concerns about CRD and its research direction.” 

She and Derman both stressed the need to get information from sources with varying perspectives.

Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell followed up by questioning what provision existed in Stantec’s contract that allowed them to review the RFTIs submitted to the area subcommittees. CRD staff at the meeting answered in part by noting the differences between “reviews” and “evaluations,” and also reassured directors that Stantec’s contract included confidentiality provisions. 

But the complaints continued. Councillor Ben Isitt worried that the process was amplifying concerns and suspicions. He characterized the process as “on the razor’s edge of going completely against what staff has recommended” and admitted he himself was leaning in that direction. “Engineers aren’t the people to advise on procurement. When you go that way you get completely risky processes in terms of cost,” he said, noting that the real problem at the moment was process. He warned Jensen that, “Staff have to be advised the system isn’t working. We have to come up with a bonafide plan B to consider alongside our plan A” by early fall to ensure funding. “I think the chair has to collaborate with the dissidents on this committee to give very clear direction to staff at our next meeting on the path forward, because this isn’t it,” he stressed.

Mayor Lisa Helps then weighed in, emphasizing “the importance of collaboration and facilitating a process that’s not going to get peoples’ backs up the minute they sit down at 9:05.”

“Point taken. Thank you,” said Chair Jensen before moving to the next agenda item.

Leslie Campbell is the founding editor of Focus Magazine.