August 9, 2012

ARESST News Blog


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ARESST Moving Ahead! Get on board!
POLITICS ALWAYS TRUMPS SCIENCE (includes sewage plant conclusion)
CFAX FRANK STANFORD COMMENT (sewage cost overun note)




ARESST Moving Ahead! Get on board!

With recent developments, ARREST Board now planning for more activities and we think that many ARESST members will coming forward to join us in
new actions -  some with time, some with donations (some with both!) to help ARESST defend our community against this environmentally and economically risky land-based sewage plant project. 

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ARESST Board meeting yesterday - new actions emerging!

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AUGUST 9, 2012 7:01 AM
Greater Victoria’s sewage treatment mega-project is hitting high gear, with a flurry of activity over the next few months that has left some politicians concerned about whether innovation and plant esthetics will be steamrolled by a ticking clock.
“We’re going to get busy,” said Denise Blackwell, chairwoman of the Capital Regional District’s sewage committee.

“We’ve had a bit of a lull. Now it’s going to pick up again.”

The committee met Wednesday for the first time since the federal and provincial governments confirmed their two-thirds share of the $783-million project four weeks ago.

In the next six months, the committee is expected to recruit a seven-member commission of experts, begin preliminary design of the McLoughlin Point plant, finalize a site for a biosolids facility, start the rezoning process for underground tanks in Saanich’s Haro Woods and get a 25-person project management team up and running in a new 5,000-square-foot office.

The critical step is early design of McLoughlin Point, to give interested companies a sense of what can fit on the site, said Jack Hull, the CRD’s integrated water services manager. If that’s delayed, the project’s 2018 completion date will be in jeopardy, he said.

But the mere mention of design sent up warning flags among committee members. Some questioned whether it would too quickly narrow the plant’s architecture before any companies could bring forward innovative alternatives.

Victoria Coun. Pam Madoff zeroed in on the esthetics of the McLaughlin plant, which will be located on the Esquimalt side of the entrance to the Inner Harbour.

She took exception to Hull’s explanation that “there will not be an extensive amount of time available to review” esthetic design guidelines, given the tight schedule.

“I find it very concerning … the notion good design could cost us too much, and good design could take too much time for us to vet,” Madoff said. “I cannot emphasize the level of concern I have about that.”

Madoff noted it is common to use esthetic design guidelines to help shape the look of big projects and make them acceptable to the community.

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins said doing any design work before companies submit bids would restrict innovation.

“It worries me that will be the nail in the coffin for that innovative process,” she said.

CRD staff defended the “indicative design” process, saying it was only a preliminary “base concept” to inform potential bidders who are considering whether to spend millions of dollars preparing a bid package.

“It’s a planning process that doesn’t restrict the opportunity for innovation,” Hull said.

On Wednesday, sewage committee members also delayed passing a bylaw that would have authorized a commission of experts to take over control of the project, as required by the provincial government.

Instead, the politicians asked for a series of changes to the bylaw that would emphasize innovative alternatives, give higher priority to esthetics, increase financial reporting and clarify the role of the board and the sewage committee in decision-making.

The commission bylaw is expected to return for a vote on Aug. 22. The commission could become active as early as November and take over the bulk of the decision-making power from the committee of politicians

Fast Times for Treatment Designs

Planning for Greater Victoria’s $783-million sewage treatment project is picking up steam. Here’s a general timeline:

- Aug. 22 — The next sewage committee meeting. Expect to see a key report on site selection and consultation for a biosolids energy plant, currently planned for Hartland Landfill.

- September — An executive search firm begins looking for seven technical experts to sit on a sewage commission.

- September — “Indicative design” of the McLoughlin treatment plant begins, which staff say is a “base concept” for companies to see before bidding. Estimated to take eight months.

- Late September — A meeting of companies interested in bidding.

- September/October — Rezoning process for underground tanks at Saanich East Haro Woods site begins, expected to be finalized in spring 2013.

- November — Opening of a new project management office where a 25-person team will work on sewage treatment.

- November — Sewage commission takes over control of project from politicians, sets sights on a request for qualifications that will see companies send in credentials. Three will be shortlisted and able to later respond to the request for proposals.

- April 2013 — The request for proposals process starts for McLoughlin Point plant.

- January-April 2014 — Earliest date a contract could be awarded to design and build at McLoughlin Point plant.




Seven experts to turn it into reality
Rob Shaw
Times Colonist
August 08, 2012

Greater Victoria's politicians are getting set to turn over control of sewage treatment to a commission of unelected technical experts, who will shepherd the massive project through construction.

The seven-person commission will assume much of the work - from contract-signing to getting shovels in the ground - in making the project a reality by March 31, 2018. The early estimate on cost is $783 million.

Politicians at the Capital Regional District's sewage committee will vote on whether to approve the commission with a new bylaw today, though they appear to have little choice.

Placing control in the hands of a quasi-independent panel of experts was a condition of the province's $248-million share of the sewage-treatment bill, announced last month.

"It was a requirement of the government," said committee chairwoman Denise Blackwell, a Langford councillor. "The committee has said many times we wanted at least some representation on that commission, but the government has out and out said, 'No, you need a committee of people with expertise.' "

Elected politicians will still have broad oversight of the project's budget, procurement methods and "esthetic guidelines for above-ground structures," according to the proposed bylaw. The CRD committee will also get updates every 30 days and annual budget figures, the bylaw says.

Even so, a CRD staff report says, the move will "effectively delegate all responsibility to the commission to deliver the program within the established budget and funding agreements."

Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard said the commission is "a condition of the funding, so it doesn't matter if you think it's good or bad."

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins, who criticized plans for the main treatment plant at McLoughlin Point, said she wishes the commission had more freedom to replace the CRD's "goofy" plans with something sensible.

"There's a lot of sewage fatigue at the regional district table, and because of that I think we've really failed to capitalize on some of the changes we should be able to make," she said.

The commission model is mandatory for large and complex projects, because it has proven to be effective in delivering projects on time and on budget, the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development said in a statement.

The CRD got the best model possible, where meetings will be open to the public, said Saanich councillor Judy Brownoff.

The province could have forced the CRD to follow a "business model" commission, such as the one it used for Greater Vancouver's Canada Line transit expansion, which operated independent of politicians and behind closed doors, she said.

Greater Victoria's sewage commission could be running by fall.

The CRD is expected to hire an executive search firm to find commissioners with experience in sewage engineering, tendering, construction, finances and communication, the staff report says. None of those commissioners, or companies they represent, can then design or build any part of the treatment system, said Jack Hull, general manager of the CRD's integrated water services.

At today's CRD sewage meeting, politicians are also expected to discuss a plan of action for the next six months, and a report on how the current practice of discharging screened sewage into the ocean fails to comply with new federal regulations.



ARESST: Sewage plant excerpt from Commentary below: 

Greater Victoria discharges its filtered sewage into the ocean, a practice that conventional wisdom says is harmful to the marine environment. But science has firmly established that the conditions -- temperature, currents and depth -- are ideal for this method, and that it is far less harmful, with a far smaller carbon footprint, than a land-based sewage treatment plant.

Yet the federal and provincial governments are imposing an expensive, hazardous, energy-consuming sewage system on the region because that's what is politically correct these days, and the facts be damned.

Science didn't decide that one, and science, the prime minister's assurances notwithstanding, is not likely to decide the future of the Northern Gateway pipeline project.
Times Colonist
August 09, 2012

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's statement that science, not politics, will govern the fate of oil pipelines through B.C. raises the question: Whose science? Science means different things to different people.

If Harper's intention was to calm the debate over the Northern Gateway project that is proposed to transport diluted bitumen from Alberta's oilsands to Kitimat, it's not likely to succeed. It's tempting to see science as a solution to arriving at a decision on the pipeline -- after all, science is supposed to be reasoned, objective and dispassionate.

But the prime minister's objectivity on the issue is suspect. It's clear he wants the project to go ahead.

"We think it's obviously in the vital interests of Canada and in the vital interests of British Columbia, as Canada's Asia-Pacific gateway ... to diversify our exports through this province," he has stated.

So when he says an independent panel will decide the issue based on scientific evidence, pardon us for thinking of the stereotypical Old West judge telling the accused: "We'll give you a fair trial before an impartial jury, and then we'll hang you."

It seems odd that the prime minister is prepared to place his faith in an independent panel when in April, his government took away the National Energy Board's ability to kill a project with a negative ruling.

It seems odd that Harper is looking to science to resolve the issue when his government has gutted environmental regulations and has muzzled federal scientists. Two examples: Dr. David Tarasick was barred from speaking to journalists about his ozone-layer research, and researcher Kristina Miller of Fisheries and Oceans Canada was prohibited from doing interviews about her study on the causes of sockeye salmon decline in B.C.

Science (other than the science of accounting) didn't reign when the federal government decided to close the Department of Fisheries and Oceans marine pollution program, including two research scientists, a chemist and six support staff at the Institute for Ocean Sciences in North Saanich.

Other scientific accomplishments for the Conservative government include abolishing the national science adviser position, shutting down the Experimental Lakes freshwater research station, eliminating the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, and scrapping the mandatory long-form census, immensely valuable for the wide range information it could have provided for generations to come.

But when it's useful to him, Harper can embrace science, it seems. The trouble is, scientific data can be used for political purposes, if it is spun in the right way. As William Shakespeare wrote: "The devil can cite scripture for his purpose."

What happens, though, when the scientific evidence is so overwhelming and clear that it can't be manipulated and twisted? Simple -- you ignore it.

Greater Victoria discharges its filtered sewage into the ocean, a practice that conventional wisdom says is harmful to the marine environment. But science has firmly established that the conditions -- temperature, currents and depth -- are ideal for this method, and that it is far less harmful, with a far smaller carbon footprint, than a land-based sewage treatment plant.

Yet the federal and provincial governments are imposing an expensive, hazardous, energy-consuming sewage system on the region because that's what is politically correct these days, and the facts be damned.

Science didn't decide that one, and science, the prime minister's assurances notwithstanding, is not likely to decide the future of the Northern Gateway pipeline project.

Experience tells us politics always trumps science.


CFAX FRANK STANFORD COMMENT (sewage cost overun note)

Aug 09 2012 9:00 AM
I was quite frankly flabbergasted some months ago, when an engineer under contract to the city of Victoria tried to explain to me that a "contingency fund" is money that is always going to be spent.  It's just a matter of how.

Nothing I could say to this guy would persuade him that he and I must have been in possession of different dictionaries.  The problem was that I simply didn't understand. 

He was slightly less patronizing when a member of City Council asked him similar questions a few days later.  But the answer was the same.

The fund, the discussion,  the project to which I refer, of course. is the Johnson Street bridge.  And I am reminded of it by certain parallels at the Capital Regional District.

A Board committee has provincial government conditions concerning the structure of a Commission that will manage the procurement and construction of the regional sewage treatment system.  

The committee chair tried to put a positive spin on it yesterday...speaking on C-FAX after the meeting she stressed that budget, and other decision making, is not being delegated...the Commission will be required to report back to the political body regularly, and will have to seek political approval for any fundamental changes.  

Sounds good, but in real life, what's the CRD going to do when this group of experts comes back talking about cost overruns?  Say no?  

Just like City Council did when it was presented with the bridge overruns. 

Hold onto your wallets, everybody.

This is Frank Stanford




Climate change brings rising water temperatures, reduced oxygen
Larry Pynn
Vancouver Sun
August 07, 2012

Climate change threatens to wreak havoc on entire marine ecosystems due to factors such as rising water temperatures, increased acidification and reduced oxygen levels, according to a report on B.C.'s Pacific coast authored in part by two University of Victoria researchers.

The report by World Wildlife Fund-Canada and Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society warns that species such as Pacific salmon, southern pink shrimp, Pacific cod and hake are expected to move northward, along with Humboldt squid, which has shown up in B.C. in large numbers in recent years.

The two environmental groups urge a cautionary and adaptive management approach providing for swift decisions related to human activities such as fishing and pollution in response to climate-induced changes, as well as the creation of areas of "refugia" - safe havens - to help marine species better adapt.

Authors of the study include Tom Okey of the University of Victoria's School of Environmental Studies; Alvaro Montenegro of UVic's School of Earth and Ocean Sciences; Hussein Alidina, marine science planner with WWF-Canada; oceans manager Sabine Jessen and marine planner Veronica Lo, both with CPAWS.

The research of Frank Whitney, an emeritus scientist at the federal Institute for Ocean Sciences in Sidney, also contributed to the report, which says that climate change threatens to alter the entire marine food web.

Burning of fossil fuels generates carbon dioxide, which leads to acidification of the oceans. In turn, marine life ranging from shellfish to tiny organisms such as coccolithophores and pteropods - a food source for salmon - will have more difficulty building shells and skeletons.

Global warming is also expected to result in rising sea levels and wave heights as well as altered marine lifecycles and migrations.

It will also affect ocean currents and upwelling patterns that bring nutrients from the ocean depths to the surface to fuel the marine food chain. Invasive marine species may find conditions favourable to gain a foothold.

Changes could also lead to entire species leaving local waters or becoming extinct, while pushing "marine ecosystems toward or beyond tipping points and into degraded or otherwise altered states from which recovery or return would be unlikely," the report warns.

Especially vulnerable are:

- Sediment shorelines and other near-shore habitats that serve as important fish habitat and are sensitive to erosion and sea-level rise, such as Hecate Strait and the Strait of Georgia.

- Coral habitats in Queen Charlotte Sound and the Continental Slope.

- Commercially harvested groundfish species at 250 and 400 metres deep due to oxygen-depleted waters. B.C. is already losing two to three metres of deepwater habitat every year from oxygen depletion.

- Long-lived species such as Pacific perch, rockfish and sablefish that cannot adapt as fast as shorter-lived species.

- Areas already under stress from human impacts, including the Strait of Georgia, Queen Charlotte Strait, Johnstone Strait and Juan de Fuca Strait.

The report notes that the exact implications of climate change remain unknown and that it is possible that B.C.'s position in an "oceanographic transition zone" between the California Current and Alaska Coastal Current could make its flora and fauna more resilient to ecological change.