B.C.'s Environment Minister Mary Polak says she will not intervene in the fight over where to put Victoria's new sewage treatment plant.
"After giving the request due consideration, the province will not attempt to override the zoning decisions of the duly elected Esquimalt council, said Polak in a statement issued on Tuesday morning.
The Capital Regional District asked Polak to step in last month, after the Township of Esquimalt refused to rezone land at McLoughlin Point, which the CRD purchased last year at a cost of $4.6 million.
The move, which effectively blocks plans to build on the site, leaves the CRD without a location for the plant, after eight years of planning.
The CRD has been ordered by the provincial government to have a plant up and running by 2016. The federal government has set its own deadline of 2020.
Polak says she still expects the CRD to meet the deadlines.
“While I appreciate the timelines the CRD is working under to implement secondary sewage treatment, in order to meet its obligations to both the provincial and federal governments, I fully expect the CRD to comply with its Liquid Waste Management Plan.
“I don’t underestimate the challenges of achieving agreement on significant infrastructure projects in this region. However...how locally elected municipal officials in this region achieve consensus on sewage treatment logistics is not something for the provincial government to dictate," said Polak.
Decentralize treatment, says mayor
Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins said the decision gives the CRD a chance to come up with a better plan.
"There is a problem with how we've come forward. There have been some missteps and miscalculations that we need to stop and go back and correct, and that may lead us to a totally different direction," she said.
Desjardins hopes the CRD will now move toward a plan with several decentralized treatment facilities spread throughout the region, and said she intends to bring forward a motion to the CRD board to suspend the current planning program.
Geoff Young, who chairs the CRD's liquid waste management committee, says the district will now have to spend millions more to develop a new plan and buy other potential sites.
"I think in the end the conclusion will be reached that we had a very good plan and that anything else will be more expensive but we're going to have to do it anyway."
The CRD will consider its next steps when it meets June 11.
In 2012 the federal government announced it would contribute about $253 million toward the cost of building a $780 million wastewater treatment plant in Esquimalt, along with a second biosolids plant at the Hartland Landfill, which will convert solid waste into energy.
Currently the region's sewage receives only primary screening before being dumped by underwater pipe into the waters off Cloverpoint.