CRD Ponders Sewage Loan Question
Goldstream News Gazette
March 18, 2010
With $300 million in local taxpayers money on the line, the next question might be whether to ask a question.
The question in question? Whether to borrow the Capital Regional District’s one-third share of the estimated $967 million needed to build the region’s planned secondary sewage treatment system.
Members of the CRD’s core-area liquid waste management committee have been told that sending it out for elector approval isn’t required, but is an option.
“That’s really up to the regional board to decide. It’s a political or public policy decision for this democratically-elected regional board to
decide,” said Vancouver lawyer Don Lidstone.
The CRD has a number of options to gain elector approval for borrowing, Lidstone explained. The regional district could send the question out in the form of an alternative approval process, better known as a counter-petition — as Victoria recently did with its bid to borrow funds to replace the Johnson Street bridge.
Or the CRD could seek approval by way of a resolution from each of the seven participating municipalities’ councils.
And, because the CRD is following through on a provincially approved liquid waste management plan, it could ask B.C.’s Inspector of Municipalities for an exemption and skip elector approval altogether, Lidstone said.
Committee chair Judy Brownoff said she supports referendums in many cases, but not for sewage.
If a referendum ended in a “no” vote, it wouldn’t kill the project — but it could force the CRD, with no money of its own, to go to a
public-private partnership model where the private partner provides the financing.
“You’re still under an environmental order (from the province) to do it. The only way I can see it happening is if it went to a complete design, build, finance, operate — which is contrary to all the public engagement we’ve had within the community,” Brownoff said.
The private-financing P3 model carries a number of concerns. The large capital layout required reduces the number of companies that might be able to bid — possibly down to just one in North America, warned Lidstone and other members of a peer-review panel.
If that’s the case, “we lose the benefits of competetion,” said Victoria Coun. Philippe Lucas.
And if the private partner ran into trouble, or the CRD found it necessary to buy out a contract, taxpayers could be on the hook for the full $967 million.
Saanich Coun. Vic Derman, however, said if a referendum resulted in a “no” vote, the CRD could take it as a cue to find a less-costly treatment model. He’s considering making a motion seeking a referendum.
The sewage committee will decide whether on a P3 model or build and run the system itself March 24.