The Realities of Wastewater Treatment for James Bay

By Sarah Pugh

Residents of James Bay were deluged this week with information about the planned sewage treatment plant at McLaughlin Point. For the first time, complete plans of the impact of the project on James Bay were publicized, and residents packed meetings on two evenings to learn about and discuss the project.

The first meeting, hosted by the James Bay Neighbourhood Association, was held on March 30 at the Coast Hotel. Marg Gardiner, president of the JBNA, gave an overview of the planned impacts: extensive drilling near the James Bay Anglers Club, pipe assembly down Niagara Street (the extent of which had not been determined), trucks delivering equipment and removing materials to the drill site, construction of a significant extension to the existing Clover Point pumping station, and construction of a pipeline from Clover Point to Camel Point, running along and possibly compromising the Dallas Bluffs. Once complete, noise from the plant is expected to hover around 35 decibels in the western, harbour-facing areas of James Bay – a level well below bylaw maximums, but still audible. Gardiner also expressed concern, echoed by many of the residents present, that the neighbourhood had been insufficiently notified and consulted given the degree of upheaval that James Bay was destined for over the next few years, and that James Bay would not receive any of the compensatory funding that Esquimalt was promised, despite shouldering a similar burden during the construction of the project.

John Gunton, a local engineer not affiliated with the project, presented an overview of a possible alternative to the in-ground pipeline that would not cause the same degree of upheaval to the neighbourhood: a seabed pipeline running from Clover Point all the way to McLaughlin point. This option, he claimed, would be both less expensive and less potentially damaging.

At a second meeting on April 5, hosted by the CRD at the Hotel Grand Pacific, a letter prepared by Stantec Consulting was presented to publicly refute Gunton’s claims. The letter’s author, Reno Fiorante, Senior VP of Water at Stantec, pointed out that a seabed pipeline was considerably more fraught with difficulty than Gunton had claimed. Such a structure would, he wrote, pose difficulties for marine traffic, and require a great deal of specialized marine construction equipment, as well as violating a federal migratory bird refuge and damaging eelgrass beds. Notwithstanding the potential opposition to such damage, obtaining the necessary federal environmental review and approval for it would take several years. Moreover, Fiorante claims that while the CRD has extensive experience in maintaining in-ground pipelines, they have little expertise and no equipment to maintain seabed constructs.

The April 5 meeting also provided a showcase of experts and information intended to allay residents’ concerns about the project. Experts on traffic, engineering, sewage plant management and plant technology were on hand to answer questions. Some of the answers seemed welcome: yes, the Anglers Club would be demolished, but a temporary structure would be put in place to accommodate the club, and the boat launch would remain largely usable throughout the drilling period. A 5 m high noise wall would be constructed prior to drilling, mitigating drill noise. Once the drill gets down to the level required to tunnel beneath the harbour, it will be 50-60m below sea level and drill noise should be minimal, although obviously other equipment will need to function as well.

Residents’ concerns over odour were also addressed, as CRD staff provided handouts detailing other plants operating in similar situations that apparently have no odour complaints associated with them. (An entirely unscientific check on Facebook confirmed that the plant in Kelowna emits no discernable odours.)

CRD representatives were, however, unable to give a definitive answer on what the disruption to residents would be during the pipe assembly phase up Niagara Street.

Andy Orr, senior manager of corporate communications with the CRD, commented after the meeting on the JBNA concerns over the lack of compensatory funding for James Bay. He said that while there are never benefits tied to construction work, “there are benefits to Victoria being worked out around the Clove Point facility” and that James Bay may benefit from other ways – for example, roads may be repaired – and other necessary utility work may be coordinated to lessen the overall impact. From the CRD perspective, the impact to James Bay is strictly construction. “What you try and do in construction is limit [impact] as best you can,” Orr offered.

Residents who have concerns over the proposed wastewater treatment plant should contact the JBNA (www.jbna.org), or, for copies of the handouts and technical information the CRD distributed at the April 5 meeting, contact the CRD (www.crd.bc.ca/project/wastewater-treatment-project/contact-us).

Then and Now: 517 Michigan Street, James Bay United Church Thrift Store

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