A consulting engineer’s report for a coalition of development industry groups said that the $2 billion Capital Regional District (CRD) water management plan is flawed and likely to give taxpayers sticker shock for many years to come.
“Everyday residential water users in Greater Victoria are not aware that the CRD plan will result in unprecedented rate increases that will greatly impact the bottom line on their municipal water bills,” said the report by Jonathan Huggett, who led the turnaround of the troubled Johnson Street Bridge replacement.
The CRD supplies drinking water for 400,000 people in the Greater Victoria area. The board passed the plan in August 2022 to meet water quality requirements set by regulator Island Health and satisfy future demand for water amid longer, hotter summers. The marquee item is the estimated $1.1 billion Goldstream water filtration plant. Huggett estimated the plant would drive half the planned 500 per cent increase in costs to water customers.
“The fiscal management of the [CRD] plan is inadequate,” Huggett concluded. “The cost estimates are likely to be grossly understated given recent experience and a full risk management is missing.”
Huggett warned that the regional government could be going down the same path as Metro Vancouver. The North Shore Wastewater Treatment Plant project in North Vancouver at one time was going to cost $770 million, but unofficial estimates are now approaching $4 billion.
Gord Baird, the CRD Regional Water Supply Commission chair, said no political body likes to increase costs for residents, but called it “virtually impossible” to have detailed costs on projects prior to their design stage.
“We still stand behind the works that [engineering consultant] Stantec has provided for us,” Baird said in an interview. “But, that being said, the master plan was also a very high level roadmap, and any of these projects that are listed there on the roadmap, they would basically still be undergoing initial design assessment and public consultation on each of the plans as we move forward.”
Huggett said that CRD staff have skipped directly to implementation of a new development cost charge bylaw to pay for the Goldstream project, which is to be built by 2037.
“Limited public consultation was completed during the adoption of this plan by the board during the COVID lockdown period. It is not clear there is broad public awareness of this plan which would dramatically impact the cost of living to current and future residents,” Huggett wrote. “Given past public and media scrutiny of the CRD capital projects, the CRD staff must demonstrate a high standard of public consultation before embarking on a multi-billion dollar adventure.”
CRD believes engagement has been adequate, with presentations at open committee, commission and board meetings that were promoted on social media. A report to the commission in July 2022 said a public engagement website garnered 753 visits, documents were downloaded by 157 participants and 22 commented or asked questions.
Before the board adopted the plan in August 2022, the commission approved it, with dissent only from Victoria councillor Benjamin Isitt. Minutes from the July 20, 2022 commission meeting show Isitt unsuccessfully proposed postponement of the master plan so that commissioners could read it, ensure its publication on a commission agenda and allow comment from the Malahat Nation. Baird was among the 10 commissioners who defeated Isitt’s motion.
“I couldn’t tell you about the individuals,” Baird said. “I know that I certainly did read the report and that that I’m quite comfortable with what was in there and with the master plan, and I have no concerns about that.”
Huggett conducted his report for the Urban Development Institute (Capital Region), Victoria Residential Builders Association, West Shore Developers Association and Sooke Builders Association. UDI estimated the plan would add $9,044 in development cost charges for each new single-family home and $7,914 per townhouse and duplex, which would be passed on to the buyer.
UDI executive director Kathy Whitcher said her group hopes the CRD “puts on the brakes a little bit,” does proper due diligence and invites more public engagement.
“Two billion dollars is a big figure and I’m thinking that even half of that, if we were able to put that towards creating better transportation in the capital region, it might be a better use of money,” Whitcher said. “But I guess we’ll see how badly we need the upgrade. That will come out, I guess, with more consultation.”
The Johnson Street Bridge was originally estimated at $63 million for completion in 2015. After Huggett’s 2014 report for City of Victoria, he was hired as project manager and the bridge finally opened in 2018 for $105 million.
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