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This location in Esquimalt, at the entrance to Victoria's inner harbour, is being considered for the controversial proposed sewage treatment plant. Murray Langdon story.

Diana Nethercott/diana nethercott The Globe and Mail

After decades of debate, years of planning and millions of dollars worth of studies, Greater Victoria is poised to put an end to the controversial practice of dumping raw sewage into the ocean.

B.C. Environment Minister Barry Penner said on Wednesday he has approved Capital Regional District plans for a $782-million sewage system upgrade, including a massive treatment plant in Esquimalt capable of processing 40 billion tonnes of effluent annually.

The announcement came just over four years after Mr. Penner ordered the CRD to develop options for a new system in the region.

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"I'd like to congratulate [the CRD]for its work in this to date," the minister said. "After four years of planning and almost $13-million of studies, I concluded that this plan does meet the province's requirements to properly treat sewage."

Greater Victoria currently discharges up to 130 million litres of raw sewage per day into the Strait of Juan de Fuca via two large outflow pipes about 70 metres below the ocean's surface - one at Clover Point in Victoria, the other at McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt, where the new treatment plant will be built.

The practice has drawn considerable criticism from politicians and environmental groups over the years, particularly in Washington state, and hurt the city's image as an eco-friendly destination.

"For the core area municipalities, this is a landmark day," said Saanich councillor Judy Brownoff, chair of the CRD committee responsible for sewage treatment.

"This has been tarnishing our reputation for a long time."

In addition to the McLoughlin Point treatment plant, the plan calls for overflow tanks in Saanich, an expansion of sedimentation tanks at Clover Point and an 18-kilometre pipeline to transport recovered biosolids from the new plant to the Hartland landfill.

The sludge pipeline was added to the project to quell protests from Esquimalt residents who opposed the CRD's original plan to take the biosolids out of their neighbourhood by truck.

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Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins said the CRD has ignored her municipality's concerns about the McLoughlin Point location and failed to consider other options that would have better served the entire region.

"I'm deeply disappointed by the minister's letter. It's the wrong location and the wrong plan completely," Ms. Desjardins said. "We are the capital of B.C. and we can do better."

Ms. Brownoff said the new plant will be fully contained, odour-free and remove about 80 per cent of biosolids and other contaminants, such as heavy metals and pharmaceuticals.

In June, the CRD abandoned plans for decentralized treatment plants in favour of the larger McLoughlin Point facility.

Ms. Desjardins met with Mr. Penner late last month but was unable to change the minister's mind.

The federal and provincial governments have committed to funding two-thirds of the project, leaving CRD taxpayers to shoulder an estimated $260-million.

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The project will cost property owners an extra "$210 to $500 a year," depending on flow levels and the infrastructure needs in each community, Ms. Brownoff said.

Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard said he's not opposed to the extra cost given the large contributions from senior governments.

"You can argue the science of sewage treatment, but you can't argue the cost of this project," he said. "A lot of cities have built sewage treatment without matching funding, and this isn't going to be built all at once so the costs will be spread out over time."

The McLoughlin Point plant is expected to serve the region's sewage treatment needs until 2030, when plans call for additional treatment facilities on the West Shore.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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