The Tsawwassen First Nation has reached a milestone in its ambitious plans for more than $1 billion in industrial, commercial, and residential development on its land. A key piece of infrastructure  — a new $27 million sewage treatment plant — is now up and running. 

"Definitely, it's a big deal for our community. Today is a historic day to open up the sewage treatment plant," said Tsawwassen First Nation (TFN) Chief Bryce Williams, adding that the other plans couldn't proceed without the facility. 

The new plant sits in the middle of a broad swath of land — flat fields now being dug up by dozens of heavy construction machines, as developments begin to take shape, forever changing the 480-member community. 

Tsawwassen sewage plant

The area around the new sewage plant is clearly under development as more than $1 billion of private investment has come into the Tsawwassen First Nation lands. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"It is going to look different — it already looks different. This is the vision that TFN has to build a better life for its community. This isn't about development for the sake of development. This is about development to build a future for the people of Tsawwassen First Nation," said TFN Chief Administration Officer Tom McCarthy.

"What we have is the development of a new community in the Lower Mainland," said McCarthy. "Tsawwassen First Nation signed a treaty in 2009, and through that treaty was able to take back its jurisdiction and its lands and its and land base."

McCarthy said, of the roughly 728 hectares of the TFN's land base, 121 hectares have been designated for industrial development. Of that, development is already under way on about 40 hectares.

Commercial development has already begun on 72 hectares, according to McCarthy. Two major mall projects are going in, namely the 1.2 million sq. ft. Ivanhoé Cambridge project, Tsawwassen Mills, and the 500,000 sq. ft. Tsawwassen Commons mall. 

"The commercial developments — Tsawwassen Mills and Tsawwassen Commons — are really foundation partners for Tsawwassen First Nation," said  McCarthy. "Their commitment to TFN has enabled us to build this sewer treatment plan, to seek financing for our infrastructure for our roads, for our drainage system, for our water system and to enable all of the other work to occur."

Tsawwassen sewage plant

TFN Chief Bryce Williams and chief administrative officer Tom McCarthy get a tour of the new sewage treatment facility from chief operator Brett Watts on Thursday. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Then there's the residential development. McCarthy said between 1,800 and 2,200 homes will be built on about 141 hectares owned by the community's members. These will be a mix of leasehold properties, including single family homes, townhouses, and apartments.

"The sewer treatment plant provides for a lot of great opportunity. It's going to provide for continuing on with our development partnerships, and through that it will help create a sustainable economy base for our community, for us to be sustainable in the future," said Williams.

"This is a really key piece of infrastructure that is needed."

Tsawwassen sewage plant

Tsawwassen First Nation Chief Bryce Williams drums and sings a table song at the grand opening of the community's new $27 million sewage treatment plant on Thursday. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)