Message to Victoria: Clean up sewage or Washington employees won’t come

March 6, 2016 by celinagut

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James Skwarok, also known as Mr. Floatie

Political arm twisting may be the only way to push Victoria, B.C. to stop dumping raw sewage into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. If you live in Washington and work in Victoria as a Washington state employee, your livelihood may be at stake.

Updated 3:33 pm, Monday, February 29, 2016

Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Seattle P-I), Author unknown

State employees would be prohibited from business travel to Victoria until British Columbia’s capital stops dumping raw sewage into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, says a provision in the state House of Representatives budget bill.

“International attention is the only thing that gets them off the dime,” said state Rep. Jeff Morris, a Democrat whose district includes the nearby San Juan Islands.

Or gets them off the pot.

The Capital Regional District, which includes Victoria, is set to lose $88 million (Canadian) in Canadian government money, earmarked for a sewage treatment plant, if it can’t agree on a site by March 31.

The controversy over Victoria sewage is now 25 years old, marking it from the date of a Seattle Post-Intelligencer story that shared the front page with Gulf War I.

It has been 10 years since then-British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell characterized sewage discharges from the touristy, eco-conscious friendly capital as “an embarrassment to British Columbia.”

Federal and provincial government dollars have been pledged. Yet, nothing has been done. The city just west of Victoria, Esquimalt, vetoed a sewage-treatment plant. There does not appear to be a lot of movement between the cities,” said Morris.

The cities of Washington’s inland waters, e.g. Port Angeles, Port Townsend, Anacortes and Bellingham, long ago moved to secondary sewage treatment. In past years, Bellingham mothers faced anguish when offspring proudly arrived home with buckets of clams dug near the city’s South Side sewage outfall.

Victoria long resisted. The Capital Regional District hunkered down and mounted a unique defense. It characterized the Strait of Juan de Fuca as a giant toilet able to dilute millions of gallons of human waste.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps has asked Washington for patience, explaining that seven cities and Aboriginal First Nations are at the table trying to work out a treatment plant site before the federal deadline.

“I feel as frustrated as Washington state when asking why this is taking so damned long: They’ve seen 20 years of talk, but we are moving ahead,” Helps told Metro News Vancouver.

A Capital Regional District pane, on Friday, narrowed the choice to two sites. One, at McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt, has significant cost advantages but faces continued local opposition.

At present, the two big sewage outfalls into the Strait, at Clover Point and Macaulay Point, disgorge not only 34 million gallons of raw sewage each day, but also a brew of toxics.

“It’s not just sewage: It’s every chemical you can imagine,” Morris said. “It’s crazy. Here you have a city heavily into eco-tourism, you’d think they would be more sensitive.”

Washington politicians have been breaking their picks on the issue for years.

Gov. Jay Inslee has sent a protest letter to B.C. Premier Christy Clark. He received a mushy reply from the province’s environment minister.

Clark blew off a letter from the state’s congressional delegation, saying only that sewage treatment “will happen.”

The current B.C. premier loves ceremonies and ribbon cuttings. The province has spent more than $500,000 in the past five years renting jet airplanes to fly her around. But Clark has steered clear from getting her hands dirty over the not-in-my-backyard battle over location of the sewage treatment plant.

The no-travel provision is in the House supplemental budget bill. It must be reconciled with a budget bill passed by the Republican-controlled Senate in Olympia.

But a Republican politician, then-U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, was one of the first to raise the cry about Victoria’s use of an international waterway as its toilet.

Vancouver Island politicians have been intensely sensitive to criticism over the dumping.

A Victoria graduate student, James Kwarok, outraged city fathers and mothers by fashioning a 6-foot turd costume, with a sailor hat, and christening himself Mr. Floatie. The falsetto voiced Floatie tried to run for mayor of Victoria, only to be kept off the ballot by a court order.

It has been 12 years since Kwarok, now a teacher, first donned his Mr. Floatie costume.

“I think the (House) action is not surprising since British Columbia has been promising Victoria would get sewage treatment since 1992,” Kwarok said. “Everyone is concerned about the impact this will have on the tourism industry. It is imperative that they approve a site for a sewage treatment plant ASAP.

“People are tired of talk and more talk. They’ve already spent $65 million planning and consulting with the public.”

Some, in Victoria, have grown impatient at protests from “the States.”

Then-Canadian Environment Minister David Anderson, a member of parliament from Victoria, protested angrily after jokes about the “privy council” and “speech from the throne” made it onto the KCTS-TV “Seattle Week in Review” program. He was a regular Channel 9 watcher.

If the Senate agrees, and Washington state employees can’t travel to Victoria on business, the ban would last until July 1, 2017, if the budget proviso is not reauthorized.

Or it could be lifted if Victoria finally gets on the path to a treatment plant. And shaming has been about the only action that produces movement.

 

 

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