August 9, 2015

TC editorial 5 August, excerpt
Chris Corps on CFAX 5 August
Derman: Private sector could innovate on sewage project
Victoria’s royal flush on sewage treatment endures
Pam Elardo rant on CFAX about sewage
CRD will put us all in the poorhouse" (Badiuk)
Lack of logic guides sewage decision (Day)
CRD giving away money for nothing" (Gill)
Sewage funding will be lost (Langley)
Regional district loses a first-class engineer (Swinton) 
TC editorial 5 August, excerpt:

Last week ended with more drama in the Capital Regional District’s monumental efforts to build a sewage-treatment system for the core-area municipalities, as required by the federal and provincial governments. The CRD turfed Seaterra manager Albert Sweetnam and his four remaining staffers because the system they were hired to build ran into a roadblock, and the prospect of shovels in the ground seems remote.

Given that almost no one outside the CRD offices (and probably many inside) believes that the sewage committee can meet its deadlines for federal and provincial funding, we could ask the candidates: If your party becomes the government, will you extend the deadline for federal funding for Greater Victoria’s sewage system?

Chris Corps on CFAX 5 August podcast 

Chris Corps criticizes Rock Bay as sewage plant site (starts at about 6:20 minute mark): 


Derman: Private sector could innovate on sewage project

AUGUST 7, 2015

The eastside liquid waste committee has made considerable progress toward a sewage solution.

Project goals and principles have been agreed upon, including: optimizing climate-change mitigation, maximizing resource recovery, considering integrating other parts of the waste stream and minimizing life-cycle costs. Also, extensive public consultation has identified general support for these goals and potentially viable sites.

These are all good things, but we are at a critical juncture if we are to finally “get things right.” The defunct McLoughlin Point project failed on zoning, but there were other serious process concerns. Early in the past project’s life, a decision was made to go with a centralized plant at Macaulay Point, then McLoughlin.

Effectively, the investigation’s scope was severely narrowed, and growing citizen concern focused on whether a different approach, such as a distributed system built around resource recovery, could provide better environmental outcomes and lower life-cycle costs. Unfortunately, broad investigation of possible outcomes never really took place, and citizen concern remained about a project that was likely far from optimal.

Now, we run the risk of “deja vu all over again.” Our proposed direction would have one consulting or engineering firm design two options: a centralized plan for the Rock Bay area and some sort of distributed system. Eventually, an option would be picked and opened for private-sector bidding.

This approach once again severely limits the scope of investigation. Will the consultant or engineering firm provide projects with the best environmental outcomes and the lowest life-cycle costs? Who knows? With no available comparison, the question can’t be answered. We could spend a great deal of money while achieving far less than the best possible.

We must open up this process to private industry’s best and brightest ideas. Start with a high-level request for expressions of interest built around project goals and principles. Essentially, you’re saying to industry: “Here’s what we wish to accomplish. What’s your best and cheapest way of meeting our goals?”

From the responses, quickly narrow down to the best three to five alternatives, evaluate them fully, and put the desired approach out to bid. It needn’t be a lengthy process and might be faster than the narrow approach currently suggested. Would industry respond? Almost certainly, if they knew a fair approach like this would be used.

Broadly canvassing the private sector would allow the “best and brightest” ideas to emerge. In turn, citizens could be confident they are getting the best possible outcome and full value for money.

It’s likely some designs would be innovative and outstanding in achieving substantial environmental benefit at minimal life-cycle cost. One provider has already suggested an integrated waste-stream approach that could, among other things, offer climate-change benefits equivalent to taking 20,000-plus cars off the road, avoid infrastructure costs, and produce high-level sewage treatment for taxpayers at little or no net cost.

Is that design the ultimate answer? Without canvassing broadly and careful evaluation, it’s impossible to say, but similar things are already in place or being planned in other jurisdictions.

Without question, the suggested benefits are astounding and certainly worthy of careful consideration. This sewage-treatment project is far too large, far too important and potentially far too expensive to be allowed to proceed without the best and brightest solutions being on the table. I hope we will realize this and act accordingly.

- Vic Derman is a Saanich councillor and CRD director, a member of the core area liquid waste committee, and vice-chairman of the eastside wastewater treatment and resource recovery select committee.

Victoria’s royal flush on sewage treatment endures

Millions of dollars down drain as plans stall, dump into international waterway continues

Vaughn Palmer
Vancouver Sun
August 6, 2015

VICTORIA — There has been another embarrassing development in the slow-motion farce that passes for sewage treatment planning in the provincial capital region.

“Sewage program boss given $500,000 send off, “ read the headline in the Victoria Times Colonist Saturday, atop a report that project manager Albert Sweetnam had been axed along with the remaining staff at the ill-fated Seaterra project.

Putting the best face on all this was Victoria mayor Lisa Helps, who said the severance payout actually represented “a taxpayer saving of $1.4 million” — there being no longer any project to manage.

“I want to emphasize he (Sweetnam) has done extraordinary work,” added Brenda Eaton, chairwoman of the overseer commission for the project. “He’s an outstanding individual, with outstanding negotiating skills. He has been incredibly professional and added value to the project.”

That testimonial proved to be too much for one local resident, who wondered if the prime evidence of Sweetnam’s negotiating skills was the contract that paid such handsome severance in the absence of any vestige of a completed sewage treatment plant.

“Only on government contracts do you get a payoff if you fail,” wrote Times Colonist reader Peter Gill in a letter published this week.

Still, the debacle left plenty of blame to go around. For the regional government, overseer commission and project managers spent some $60 million on all manner of planning, branding (Seaterra — think earth tones and sea breezes), community outreach, and developing a suspiciously precise $782.7-million budget, without ever fixing a site for the actual treatment plant.

Oh, they thought they had one, at McLoughlin Point near the entrance to Victoria harbour. They even began clearing the ground.

Then, in June of last year, Esquimalt municipality refused to zone the point for the intended use, notwithstanding the capital region’s offer of $20 million in bribes — er, incentives — to do so.

Aghast, the region pleaded with the provincial government to overrule Esquimalt’s not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) proclivities. The argument being that it would scarcely involve any political risk to the B.C. Liberals since Esquimalt, like every other community in the capital region, was already represented in the legislature by New Democrats.

But the Liberals were reluctant to set a precedent they might have to apply elsewhere — in, say, the far-from-hypothetical situation where Metro Vancouver wanted to impose a waste incinerator on a suburban community that was represented by the governing party.

So the province declined to intervene, Esquimalt stood fast, and the sewage treatment planning returned to square one, where it pretty much remains to this day.

Community consultations are underway. Ditto a search for a new site or sites, a somewhat desperate exercise given that the other options (including one near my backyard) have already been picked over several times.

Taking the lead from Esquimalt, Saanich recently indulged its own variation on the NIMBY sentiment, vetoing further consideration of an undeveloped 12-hectare site near the regional hospital because the land was in the agricultural reserve.

The one thing that is on the move is the budget, since delays in getting started are expected to add at least $100 million to the price tag. But neither have local governments called off the tax collectors.

My neighbours and I in Victoria are still being dinged for a sewage treatment levy on our property taxes. Across the region, the levy is bringing in $15 million a year to help cover the accumulated costs of the still-hypothetical treatment plant.

Federal and provincial taxpayers are also on the hook for a one-third share of construction costs. The federal commitment is set to expire next year, though the region is seeking an extension, a plea that may not fall on deaf ears in the current election campaign.

But even if the federal and provincial governments are prepared to indulge another round of delays, the region could be looking at serious fallout from south of the border.

The B.C. capital has long been under pressure from Washington state to cease the practice of dumping raw sewage into the shared waterway that is the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Mindful of the need to maintain cross-border relations, the capital region included a representative from Washington state on the overseer commission for the sewage treatment project.

She was Pam Elardo, director of the waste water treatment division for King County, the regional government that includes Seattle. And late last month, she resigned from the commission citing the lack of progress.

“A clear path forward at the local level to site and construct a facility backed by a firm mandate from the provincial government is not evident,” Elardo wrote in her letter of resignation. “It appears that construction and operation of a waste water treatment system is now years, if not decades, away.”

No word on whether her frustrations will translate into followup action from the county or the state. But one should note that the stalled sewage treatment plan has its roots in a 1993 accord between then premier Mike Harcourt and then governor Mike Lowry that was crafted to head off a threatened tourism boycott of the B.C. capital.

Pam Elardo on CFAX about sewage

Podcast recording of Elardo starts at 38 minute mark: 

CRD will put us all in the poorhouse" (Badiuk)

Lack of logic guides sewage decision (Day)

AUGUST 8, 2015 

Re: “Sewage program boss given $500,000 send-off,” Aug. 1.

Victoria is uniquely blessed by the Sooke Hills providing a virtually inexhaustible reservoir of drinking water. Seattle, our competitor for the tourist trade, has serious water shortages due to the drought.

The Seattle media, jealous of our good fortune and ignorant of the circumstances, launches a campaign against us as being irresponsible and profligate in our use of water. The provincial government, wanting to curry favour with Washington state and recognizing that the rest of the Island and South Coast have serious water problems with the drought, decides to impose Stage 4 watering restrictions on Victoria.

That would never happen, you say — it’s too absurd.

But it is precisely the chain of “logic” that is supporting the building of a sewage plant here in Victoria.

Mike Day
CRD giving away money for nothing" (Gill)

Sewage funding will be lost (Langley)