British Columbia

'Too many unknowns' prompt call to switch sewage-sludge plans

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps originally supported a proposal to generate electricity and revenue by gasifying sewage biosolids along with kitchen scraps and other trash, but a recent workshop raised "red flags."

Victoria mayor now opposes untested plan to gasify biosolids, trash and kitchen scraps

The sewage treatment plan calls for sludge to be piped about 18 km from the McLoughlin Point wastewater treatment plant (shown in artist's rendering) to the Hartland Landfill in Saanich. (Capital Regional District)

Victoria's mayor is calling for a last-minute change in plans for handling the Capital Region's sewage sludge.

Mayor Lisa Helps said she initially supported a proposal to generate electricity and revenue by gasifying the processed sludge along with kitchen scraps and other trash at the Hartland landfill in Saanich.

But a planning workshop last month revealed "too many unknowns" about the cost, the funding and even the challenge of obtaining a guaranteed supply of waste. 

"All of those things were red flags for me," Helps told On the Island's Khalil Akhtar.

Costs aside, the gasification plan's requirement for a continuous stream of garbage from the region's municipalities puts it at odds with the City of Victoria's goals, Helps said. "We're moving towards zero waste rather than more waste."

Now, with an imminent decision Wednesday at the CRD board meeting, Helps is calling on regional politicians to put the brakes on the Integrated Resource Management plan.

In a staff report to the environmental services committee, CRD staff makes a similar recommendation. 

Helps said she originally supported the plan to combine the three waste streams because of the potential for revenue and climate change benefits.

"All of those things are fine at the idea stage, but as we move into procurement, and we have to get real about it, we have to check our assumptions," Helps said. 

"What we heard from the consultants is there isn't a plant anywhere in the world that combines in one operation sewage sludge, kitchen scraps and municipal solid waste. And so, we don't want to be the first."

Meanwhile, she said, the proponent that was recently selected for the sewage sludge processing plant will produce fully dried biosolids at a lower-than-expected cost, rather than Class A biosolids which are "still quite wet." 

Since 2015 in Sudbury, dried biosolids from a sewage sludge treatment plant have been sold to be spread on land by mining companies and southern Ontario farms. But a ban in the Capital Regional District prevents their use here as fertilizer or fill. (Erik White/CBC )

"They'll actually be useful as a marketable product in and of themselves. And so, that, for me, is also a game-changer," Helps said. 

CRD staff recommend issuing a request for proposals from potential buyers of the dried biosolids.

Helps said it's suitable for uses such as fuel for cement kilns, but an existing ban prohibits spreading biosolids on land as fertilizer or fill. 

The regional district staff report also recommends a decision to initiate steps toward a composting facility for kitchen scraps and yard waste at the Hartland landfill. Currently, kitchen scraps collected curbside in the CRD are shipped off-island for composting in Delta.